Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe - Commodore Amiga - 1990

After producing a sequel to their debut game, Xenon, the Bitmap Brothers turned their attention to creating a follow up to Speedball.  Although Speedball won the best 16-bit game at the 1989 Golden Joystick Awards, it has largely been forgotten as Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe surpasses it in every way.  The pitch has been enlarged, the graphics and sound improved, there are more players on pitch and the single player game has been greatly expanded.
Even with the pitch only being one screen wide, the original Speedball (left) looks and feels a bit sparse against Speedball 2
The best of the initial releases were for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.  Graphics are up to the usual Bitmap Brothers high standards with both versions looking and playing identically.  Aurally, Speedball 2 on the Amiga is streets ahead of the ST version with some excellent effects and speech.
Speedball 2 is a futuristic handball game played in an enclosed arena with two competing teams of armour clad players.  Each game is played over two halves, each lasting 90 seconds.  The teams swap ends at half time.  The object is simply to score more points than the opposing team.  Each team consists of nine on-field players and three substitutes.
Speedball 2 can be played either as a single player or as a two player competitive game.  In the single player game you take control of the titular team Brutal Deluxe and can take part in league and cup matches among others.
The game starts in the gym where you can train your squad by spending money on improving their attributes.  You can also use your credits to buy star players to greatly boost your team.  Additionally, the gym allows you to change your player’s position on the pitch (midfield, defence, goalkeeper etc).
It's easy to distinguish my four 'star players' in this team.
There are eight customisable attributes for each player – Aggression, Attack, Defence, Speed, Throwing, Power, Stamina and Intelligence.
When playing the game you control the player who is nearest the ball.  If you are in possession of the ball you can pass it at waist height or choose a higher, longer throw.  If you do not have the ball your player can tackle opponents or attempt to intercept the ball if it is airborne.  If you win a tackle, your opponent loses energy and vice versa.  When a player’s energy is reduced to zero they have to be substituted and are stretchered off.  The energy bars for the active player is shown at the bottom of the screen.
The aim of the game is to score more points than your rivals but, unlike it's predecessor, this does not necessarily mean to score more goals.  Although scoring a goal awards 10 points there are plenty of other ways to improve your tally.  There are two bounce domes on the pitch with 2 points awarded every time you hit them with the ball.  Each team has a cluster of five stars at the edge of the arena.  Lighting each star garners 2 points with a 10 point bonus awarded to the side which lights all five (2 points are subtracted from your score if an opponent turns a light off).  You can also gain 10 points for every opponent who is stretchered off.  The amount of points you accumulate can be increased by up to 100% by throwing the ball up the score multiplier ramp.  Like the stars, this can be cancelled by the opposing team who can also use the multiplier.
Using the 'multiplier' to boost my score.
Finally there are four electro-bounce units in the arena.  Throwing the ball against these electrifies the ball and it will knock over the first opponent it touches.  If you retain possession of the ball it will remain electrified.  The effect is cancelled if the opponent gains possession or the ball stops moving.
On the pitch power ups regularly appear consisting of tokens and armour.  Picking up tokens have varying time limited effects such as freezing or slowing an opposing team, making your team immune to tackles or reversing your opponents joystick controls (in a two player game).  They can also change stats for the entire team such as increasing all attributes to maximum or reducing the opposing teams attributes to minimum.  Armour affects individual attributes for a single player depending on the item picked up. Coins can also be collected to be spent in the gym. 
The single player game is fairly solid but, as with most sport sims, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe is best played against a human opponent.  This is how I mostly played it back in the day and it was particularly nail biting if you and your friends are evenly matched.  I would go as far as to say is probably my most favourite two player video game of all time.
Example gameplay...


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Secret of the Silver Blades - PC (MS-DOS) (1990) & Commodore Amiga (1991)

First things first - Secret of the Silver Blades is not one of my Favourite Video Games of All Time.  It’s by no means a bad game, but the only reason I played it through, apart from completeness, was to prepare my party for Pools of Darkness. 

Secret of the Silver Blades is the penultimate title in the Pool of Radiance quartet of games.  Set in the Forgotten Realms AD&D universe, it follows on from the events in Curse of the Azure Bonds.  From what I read the game is much more linear and has more of an emphasis on combat than the previous games.  There is also no overworld map - travel between areas is by way teleportation gateways.  By all accounts it seems to be one of the weaker Gold Box titles.  My experience bared this out which is why it doesn’t deserve a ‘proper’ entry on my blog.

Secret of the Silver Blades continues to use the venerable Gold Box engine as before but eschews the 16 by 16 level layout for much of the game.  Instead it contains several sprawling levels filled with random encounters.  The maze-like area of the map below is supposed to represent a ruined town but is made up of corridors, rooms and doors and took several hours to create. Apart from one place you are directed to, I only found two other caches of treasure.  As much as I like mapping and combat, this is too much and feels like padding – it was unrewarding and added nothing to the story.


A more minor issue is that I had to answer riddles at the end of several levels to continue.  This breaks the fourth wall as I had seven characters in my party, two with 18 intelligence.  Surely one of them would have been able to solve them?
There were a couple of riddles that weren't this simple to solve.
The game did have a wide variety of opponents and some nice fixed combats, but they were just too few and far between to make up for the innumerable random encounters.

As I said, Secret of the Silver Blades is far from being a bad game, but much of it felt like a slog which I only played to completion as a means to an end.  I’m hoping this is the weak link in the series and that Pools of Darkness won’t be as disappointing when I get to it in 1991.