Have You Played… Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

There was a time, in the late eighties and early nineties, when The Bitmap Brothers could do no wrong. The isometric wonder of Cadaver and arcade brilliance of Magic Pockets and The Chaos Engine defined my Amiga days as strongly as the work of Sensible Software, and Xenon II: Megablast blended tight design with electronica long before Wipeout came onto the scene. But it’s Speedball 2 that dominates my memory of those days, and with good reason.

There are so many instantly iconic flourishes in Brutal Deluxe: the simple animation that denotes the arc of the ball so perfectly, the medbots that remove an injured player, the cry of the ice-cream vendor…

Going back to the game now, the view of the pitch/court/arena feels too restricted and the pace too rapid. I want more control of my team as a whole, as well as the individual player sliding, crunching and sprinting after the ball and whichever opponent is unlucky enough to be carrying it. At the time, that frantic pace and sense of barely controlled chaos was the whole point though. Speedball 2 was a sport reduced to razor sharp focus on possession, scoring and violence, with no unnecessary distractions. The off-field elements do just about enough to create a sense of progression and persistence.

For all that it feels like a product of its time, I’m not sure that I’d encountered a better futuresport game until Rocket League crashed into my heart earlier this year.

62 Comments

  1. Yachmenev says:

    Definitely one of the better future sports games, that still holds up supringsly well.

    Kinda enjoyed the recent HD remake, that’s sold on GOG. Not a perfect remake, but definitely ok.

  2. Da5e says:

    Xenon II was awful. I’m not saying this as some sort of CAVE-worshipping shmup elitist (all right, I am. A bit.) but it really wasn’t much cop as a game.

    • Geebs says:

      Xenon 2 wasn’t a SHMUP, it was a shoot-em-up. It’s what we used to call those games back when they were fun.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        That was before Gen Y rediscovered them and decided they needed a hectic new name.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          Actually it all started in about 1995 when Japanese culture was invented (possibly by American teenagers), and gradually filtered over here.

    • Robmonster says:

      I recall one magazine gave Xenon 2 100%. I hope they are still playing it these days.

    • LexW1 says:

      Xenon II had an impossible amount of style, which was sorely lacking in most shoot-em-ups before it (and many after it).

      Was it a great game? Nah. I remember thinking it kind of sucked, but THE STYLE. The music. Not even the graphics, just awesome visual design for the era.

      Most shooters seemed kind of dumb and hideous, even if they actually had better gameplay at the time, when it came down to it. (On the ST, anyway)

      Speedball 2 was pretty amazing, too, played tons of it.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Yep this was the thing about Bitmap Bros. games – rather like Psygnosis it was all about the presentation. Most of their games were enormous fun to begin with but got far too hard far too soon. Xenon II’s second sector is a nightmare – but replaying the first one is entertainment enough in itself. Chaos Engine was much the same, and the only thing that was good about Gods was the intro credits.

    • ansionnach says:

      Xenon 2 was the very first game I played on a PC… and I played it a lot. I wouldn’t say it was ever very good. It’s pretty static and limited once you looked past the graphics, music and novelty of the power-ups. You could probably say that for a lot of the Bitmap’s games, although SB2 was still very good. Played it again a couple of weeks ago and it’s very creaky, with stiffly-animated, rectangular characters.

      One thing I remember most about Xenon 2 are that you could go backwards as long as there was a wall to the side – just keep bumping into one while holding down. After I’d finished the game I used to use this trick to try and take out all the wall-mounted defences every time there was an alternate route. The PC speaker music was also great if you had no sound card. I think F10 quit the game at any time.

      Speedball 2 wasn’t that great for music as there was none in-game and limited sound, especially with PC speaker. MT-32 music wasn’t much of an improvement over OPL synth and you got no speech (typical enough for a low-budget game, then). With Sound Blaster you got “get ready” and “replay”. Wan’t so sure about “ice cream” but took it for another spin and you get that too when a player is injured. The game’s actually still a lot of fun. Having different ways of scoring as well as the tug-of-war in midfield around the multiplier made it interesting, as did energising the ball so it injured the other team. Doing this and/or running at the goal slightly off-centre and giving the ball some aftertouch towards centre after throwing were good ways of getting goals. When playing in the league you’d be on the look-out for money so you could improve your team. Add to all this the various other power-ups that would appear now and then and trying to always give their forward a few kicks so he’d be taken off and there was a lot going on.

      As odd as the PC controls were (Q+A for up and down; O+P for left and right), I found them fine. With a joystick I would find it more difficult to score when facing one of the directions (down?) but it wasn’t an issue with the keyboard. I think there were other games that used QA+OP as controls, but not many. I actually find it strange that controls are so standardised these days – an indication of how rarely something completely new and original comes along?

      My last memory of Speedball 2 was how you quit the game – you had to press control + break (pause) in-game. Didn’t work in the menu. Used to confuse me as not many games used this combination, which was an old-school way of quitting almost anything in DOS. I actually thought for a while that the only way out was to reboot (which wasn’t unheard of either)… but it’s right there in the manual (just checked). Doesn’t seem to work in DOSBox (not that that really matters), but it does in DOS 6.22 and Windows 98.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Ooh, I had this on the Atari ST! Fun stuff, even though I was pretty rubbish at it

    • wombat191 says:

      loved the game and the amiga much better than that crap atari st and the evil people who used them and murdered kittens

      yes the console wars have been going on a while

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Its been over for a while now. You can come out of your booby trapped jungle and go home to your family. Honest! Don’t mind any suspicious rustling in the bushes behind me.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Typical of an Amiga owner to think of their computer as a console… Actually I had both, but the ST first. The Amiga definitely had the edge thanks to its custom chipset. A dedicated graphics processor, who’d have thought it, eh? That’ll never catch on. I remember always being super-proud that the ST had a midi port, while the Amiga didn’t, even though I never once connected it to anything.

        • Baggypants says:

          I connected the MIDI ports to things. There are few things with as rock solid timing as an Atari ST for MIDI.

  4. Microrocksima says:

    For some reason (maybe my age) I enjoyed the original Speedball much more than the sequel. Damn those were fun days :)

    • Paul B says:

      Get away, you Speedball 1 loving hipster you (j/k) :)

    • Cederic says:

      Despite Elite, despite Paradroid, despite Silkworm, despite everything Geoff Crammond and the Yak did.. Speedball remains my favourite game on the Commodore 64.

      Raw unmitigated brutal brilliance.

  5. AJ says:

    Speedball2: Brutal Deluxe was my favorite game on the Amiga. Ahh those were the days… No future sports game has risen to the heights achieved by Speedball2 since unfortunatly.

    Pure unadulterated addictiveness.

    Oh god, you’ve gone and made me look up another Bitmap Brothers classic – Magic Pockets – That soundtrack alone will be stuck in my brain for months now :P

  6. Philopoemen says:

    Played on the Amiga…was a great team management sim as well.

  7. Chris Cunningham says:

    Mutant League Football was very good as well, which isn’t surprising considering that it was a Madden underneath the robots and exploding balls.

    I’ve been meaning to buy the Speedball II remake for a while even if it isn’t very good. At least it probably loads faster than Blood Bowl.

  8. PostieDoc says:

    My brother still comes around every couple of weeks to either play this, SWOS, Kick Off 2 or Crack Down on the Amiga.
    There are so many great games on that machine, I will never get rid of it.
    I don’t understand the hate for Xenon 2 these days. It wasn’t the Bitmaps best game but it wasn’t bad either.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      I can’t quite grasp this either. In the internet/emulator/post-console age I think it’s easy for people to forget that in the Western world of home computers, shoot ’em ups were few and far between, and mostly pretty dire.

      • ansionnach says:

        Can’t speak for everyone but seeing as Xenon 2 was the first PC game I had… and it was all I had for yonks, I can appreciate that these games were few and far between (especially on PC compared to Amiga and ST). I loved it but it was still quite a long time ago when I looked back and thought: it really wasn’t that good.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          Even on the Amiga & ST, there were a lot of platformers but not so many shoot ’em ups. I’m actually struggling to think of any beyond a shoddy port of R-Type, a shoddy port of 1945, several defender clones, and a couple of psygnosis games. In the same era the Megadrive had a few apparently interesting shoot ’em ups but they were almost completely unknown and almost completely unavailable outside Japan. I think folks here who are criticizing Xenon II were not player computer games in 1989 in the UK.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            A minute’s silence please in honour of the memory of the edit button.

          • ansionnach says:

            Okay, silence observed! Perhaps some of them weren’t playing computer games back then. Others might have and their criticism is more because they don’t think it’s worth digging the game up. As of right now there are freeware games that are much better options and Xenon 2 couldn’t be recommended over something like Cho Ren Sha 68k, even if Xenon 2 was also free. There’s now much more awareness of shooters on the Mega Drive, PC Engine, Saturn and Dreamcast. A very quick look even reveals some contemporaryish Amiga games that may be worth a look, like Apidya, Z-Out and Battle Squadron. Never heard of them myself. While I did play what I could get my hands on back in the day I do like to keep an absolute assessment of a game’s worth, not just a relative one.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Fair point, my analysis has more to do with its importance in context than how I think it ranks in the whole history of shoot ’em ups. Perhaps people are just after a fun game to play. In which case I wouldn’t recommend Xenon II, and probably not Speedball either. Most of Xenon’s impact was down to its graphics and sound which, although they still look good, are nothing special today. The only Amiga games I’d actually recommend digging up to play alongside today’s offerings are Lemmings, Cannon Fodder, and SWOS (over Speedball).

          • ansionnach says:

            Nice picks. I’d definitely go for Lemmings and Cannon Fodder. SWoS is great as well. What else? Perhaps Another World, although that has risen again. I suppose exclusivity was something rare for old computers. There are plenty of great games where the Amiga one is clearly the best; others where it isn’t quite as simple. I actually prefer the PC version of Lemmings for its F1-F12 shortcut keys and it just feels smoother. I also like the cheapo adlib synth music and would take all this over the lack of very few voice samples. If recommending the game to someone it’d be hard to look past the Amiga version, however.

            Other Amiga games I’d recommend would be several adventures (e.g. Fate of Atlantis and Monkey2), although they were usually best on PC; Frontier (PC version’s good and it’s free); UFO (PC version probably? better)… and maybe Speedball 2 as an outlier. As you say, it is similar in ways to SWoS, and not as good as it (would be better zoomed out) but it’s still an interesting curiosity at the very least. I’m not terribly familiar with the Amiga version but I think it’s quite noticeably better than the PC one I would have played. In the realm of curiosities, I’d also point people to Syndicate, although the PC version might be better there. AI is very simplistic but it’s worth a few hours of your life.

            Never owned an Amiga but it was a great machine (and I really wanted one, even though history has been kinder to my 386 PC ). Out of the box hard drive support and no loading times often wins it for the PC as far as I’m concerned, even where the music and sound were better on the Amiga (or the PC version wasn’t VGA or better). I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty of games because I’m not aware of them, but yeah – Lemmings, Cannon Fodder and Another World are still the best games in their class (although I’d say More Lemmings is the best of those).

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Great games but I tried to avoid picking things that were either better on the PC, or have been greatly surpassed by subsequent PC games. Otherwise I’d have had Eye of the Beholder II, half a dozen Lucasarts games and a number of flight sims on that list too… Dungeon Master doesn’t make the list because the ST version was the best ;)

          • ansionnach says:

            You’re right, of course.

            There don’t seem to be too many differences between Amiga and ST DM (wall knocking, fountain drinking, monster noises?). Not something I’d know too much about so I’ll take your word for it!

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Hehe, I think it’s purely because it was the first platform I played it on and was firmly in the ST camp at the time (until I actually played something on an Amiga!) There was also the fact that the ST version fit on a single floppy, whereas the Amiga one required two.

  9. kentonio says:

    One of my favourite games of all time.

  10. C0llic says:

    God, I loved this game. I had it on the mega drive. It was amazingly good fun.

    It even had a football manager type game mode, that almost seemed hidden, where you could add points to upgrade your roster and trade players.

    I had no idea it also had a PC version.

    • ansionnach says:

      The PC versions of these games were decent enough. Not as good as the Amiga versions. Didn’t play them back-to-back but I’d be pretty sure. My Speedball 2 was a budget version by Kixx. It came on a single 720K floppy disk in a tiny box not much bigger than the floppy. The game’s manual was a single piece of paper folded up like a map with instructions in maybe three other languages as well as English. Maybe it also had the Amiga and ST instructions on it – could check but it would probably only be of interest to me!

  11. Laurentius says:

    It’s amazing ! Also hard as nails, wining second division is pretty ok, when you know the drill and grab money for good transfers but first division, proves your team to be kindergarten again and often one loss is enough to be out of first place. I would be playing it a lot to this day, if not this terrible controls for PC version: QA and OP for directions, meh…

    • Paul B says:

      In all my time playing Speedball 2 (and I played it a lot when I were young) I never topped the first division. The closest I came was second on a number of occasions.

      Sometimes I think about firing up WinUAE and seeing if the intervening years have been kind to my joystick abilities, but I fear the opposite is sadly true and my Speedball skills, much like my Sensi Soccer ones, have simply atrophied away.

      • Quimby says:

        I seem to recall there was 1 team in the first division that was far and away the toughest. I couldn’t beat them even with a maxed out side. Super Nashwan I think they went by.

  12. TehK says:

    Oh, I never played that. But I do remember playing Hypa Ball on my C64, which was pretty awesome as well.

    • SooSiaal says:

      Yes,that game was good fun, I wonder if I still got it on a floppy somewhere

  13. Asurmen says:

    ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM!

  14. Robmonster says:

    Since we have a bunch of old Amiga gamers here at the mo can anyone help me remember a game I used to play?

    It was a fantasy american football style game ( not Blood Bowl or Mutant League Football) . From what i remember the pitch had a moat at each end you had to jump over to score, the ball was actually a small living creature that could be enticed to run towards the opponents goal. There was also a training / minigame whereby there were a few poles with creatures say on top of that you had to knock off, coconut shy style.

    Any ideas?

  15. Mr_Blastman says:

    Their game “GODS” is still awesome. It is so much fun.

  16. geldonyetich says:

    Pretty sure I rented a copy of this for my Amiga 1000 back in the day, but it’s been so long that I can’ remember if it was Speedball 1 or 2.

  17. jj2112 says:

    Great game. I still have it for Amiga and the original Gameboy, and it was pretty good on both systems… But it was quite easy to win all the leagues.

  18. melnificent says:

    Still own it for c64. Though the sid chip is dead in my machine.

  19. Titler says:

    One of my fondest memories was of the very first time I saw an Amiga at a friend’s house, and the loading screen of Speedball 1; the steel fist smashing through the background, and then the amazing music kicked in; Shadow of the Beast and Kick Off 2 and Gridrunner on the same day and after coming from a Commodore C16, I was sold, I had to have the Amiga myself…

    Fast forward a bit and there was Speedball 2, a much better game. Wonderful fun in 2 player, but I can still destroy the AI today; Delay a tackle at the start a second or so, until the computer leaps for the ball, then nail him whilst he’s in the air. Run to the side, and send it through the Score Multiplier, then start hitting stars; when the computer comes over, throw it high towards the multiplier again, and punch him again when he leaps for it or tries to scoop it. Repeat until his team is crippled and you have a silly score from the stars. Buy an ultra hard forward to really put the hurt on, and run merrily up the league laughing as you go.

    What you absolutely DONT want to do is buy the new Speedball 2 for PC. I ignored the warnings and did so, and the damn thing never got past the title screen for me. It was said to be an issue with gamepads plugged in, but I never got a work around for it, so the game remains totally unplayed to this date. Bah humbug.

    • SooSiaal says:

      Perfectly playable here, so go ahead,DO buy it…

      • Titler says:

        Really, really don’t buy it Assuming we’re talking about the same game; that experience was from 2009, so you can imagine how much more broken it is with 6 years more of hardware changes! Stay with original and best Speedball 2.

  20. Ranjeev says:

    I very much loved this game to the point of keeping the soundtrack for the past 20 years. I played at my uncles house and never had much luck against the computer until my uncle’s brother showed me how to rack up bonus points and kind of ignore the goal?

    The team-building elements really elevate this above it’s predecessors.

    I think becuase of this and Hyper Blade, I love future sports.

    Apart from Rocket League as mentioned, where are you ? o_0

    • Bugamn says:

      Hyper Blade was such a fun future sport, but I never see any reference to it anywhere. I wish GoG could revive it.

  21. Raoul Duke says:

    Let us all revel in the glory of the intro music… so amazing!

    link to youtube.com

    Still a great game, everyone must remember the old “throw it up above the goalie’s head and then diagonally slide into him” move.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Just one of the many great tracks put together by Richard Joseph (aka RJ – yes, the RJ)who also worked with Sensible. Sadly not with us anymore. For me he’s the sample heavy opposite number to Barry Leitch and those two are tied as my favourite Amiga game composers.

  22. Christian Dannie Storgaard says:

    The soundtrack to Speedball 2 has been my ringtone since that sort of thing became possible; still is to this day (the C64 version, even though I played it on my beloved Amiga). Amazing game.

  23. RuySan says:

    This game is so much part of my childhood that i had to write about it in my blog (sorry for the plug):

    link to amigamemoirs.blogspot.pt

    It’s still fully enjoyable nowadays and the Bitmap Brother’s metallic aesthetic still looks great.

  24. Spinkick says:

    Icecream!!!!!

  25. Thathanka says:

    The Bitmap Brothers ruled for a few years back in the late 80s / early 90s. Xenon 2, Speedball and Gods were my childhood. Thanks B Brothers