Future Death Sports - A BIG article special from new guest writer Psychoroid!
As games evolved, it became possible to try to recreate succesful movies in interactive form. Some devs tried to do so with the Rollerball movie, starring James Caan, in which the players from two teams of 9 rollerskating (and 3 motorcycling) players are fighting over a steel ball in a circular track. When a team captures the ball, they need to score by placing the ball in the defending team's goal. It is a very violent sport and injuries are very frequent. But the future of the world is at stake... It is important to note that Rollerball had a huge impact on our vision of the future, not only for video games but also movies throughout the 70s and 80s. It is among the trend starters for the bleak dystopian future worlds and as such, has inspired many creative minds.
Based on Rollerball (the cover art even features a guy that looks very much like James Caan), this game kept the same concept as the movie but without the motorcycles and only 5 players. It feels fast and looks pretty good for a 1985 game but there are some issues. The limited viewpoint makes it hard to figure out where you are on the track (despite the numbersat the bottom) and you don't know where players are. However, it retains the fun element of the sport and the players move fast. Very decent early shot at a Rollerball game.
Also inspired by Rollerball, The Bitmap Brothers decided to go for a top down perspective with goals on the top and bottom. The perspective really helped as you always knew where you were, passes thus becoming an integral part of the game. They didn't stop there as they also added power ups, bumpers, rpg elements : the captains have different stats which they share with the team and damaging an enemy slows him down, a hole in the field makes the ball reappear on the other side, allowing for some advanced passing strategies. And as usual with the Bitmap Brothers, the game is highly polished and features top notch graphics, sounds and music. An important game in the evolution of the genre that would lead to the greatest death sport of all time.
This is a game of American Football with 7 robotic players (instead of the 11 in a regular game). The main change here is that the ball progresses from "cool" to "critical" and then explodes if the player holding it is tackled. You must cross the 50 yard line to defuse it back to "cool". Gameplay feels slow and graphics are hideous but it does play alright. It's not a very fun game and i would rather play either mutant league football or a regular game of american football like madden or Tecmo bowl. There's also a sequel named Tournament Cyberball 2072 released a year later on Arcade and Lynx.
This game has the exact same concept as Rocketball: 5 players on rollerskates trying to score goals on a circular track with little to no rules (Elite League actually requires you to injure all the opponents). Visuals are pretty good and the added colored arrows help knowing where you are on the track. The added map also allows you to know where your other players are. There are some small cutscenes that add to the atmosphere and the animations are pretty good. You have some variety in moves (you can kick players behind you) and you can set different formations for attack and defense. The fact that you can actually slow down or even go backwards and also pass the ball allows a much more varied gameplay than in Rocketball. Overall, another decent effort and enjoyable Rollerball-like game.
This 1989 game is also inspired by Rollerball, the big differences here are that it uses a different perspective (side view) and adds new elements. It also ditched the circular arena for a more regular field with goals like in Speedball but this time on each side. Each team has three players, including a goalkeeper who skate on ice and attempt to put the ball in the opponent's goal. The goal of the game is either to score five goals OR kill three players in the opposing team. In addition to this, the arenas are filled with deadly traps and holes. By making it much easier to understand than Rocketball or Killerball and even more violent than the Rollerball movie, Ubi Soft definitely had something going. The design was alright for a 1989 game and the portraits added to the futuristic/cyberpunk atmosphere but comparing it to the Killerball and Speedball, you'd think that this game is older. The gameplay was however only alright as well. Sadly, while the idea to put them on ice was good on paper (making it harder to avoid the traps), it makes the game a bit of a pain to handle.
This game is basically Speedball with a Basketball makeup. Sadly, the top down perspective doesn't work for a basketball game where you need to throw the ball in a hoop and thus this game is kind of a failure. Graphics were alright but not very cohesive and a bit amateurish and controls made it impossible to really play this game. You have to keep a button pressed to add more height to your shot but good luck ever managing to get good at this game!
And now, the game i consider the best of the bunch, the real champion of future death sports: Speedball 2 Brutal D eluxe. The Bitmap Brothers really outdid themselves with this one. Improving on the already proven formula of Speedball, they changed the field to a bigger one, adding horizontal scrolling to have bigger players on screen. Everything is just bigger here. More ways to score (you get points for scoring a goal, injuring a player, hitting a bumper and also hitting the stars on the side with a bonus for the full set), scoring multipliers (you get a multiplier based on the roll gutters on the side), etc. With 9 players that you can either train and improve or replace with free agents, the game gained a lot of depth as the stats are really important, especially defense and attack, as those 2 are used to determine who wins in a fight, and speed that allows you to move much faster. You get 3 substitutes to replace your injured players (of which you'll have a lot at the start of the league mode). The only negative thing in this game is that i would like more teams, more free agents and more leagues. It's a classic for a reason so i really recommend that you try it (but stay away from the recent remakes that failed to replicate the tight gameplay in this gem).
You can see right away that they copied some of the Speedball series aesthetics (the dark stadium from the intro immediately makes you think of Speedball 2), the character portraits, etc. but in a less inspired way. The color palettes are especially poor, considering the game came out on Amiga! The game itself is a headache inducing mess where you're trying to catch the ball while also moving the pitch, attempting to score points by having the ball thrown over bonus tiles. Please note that this game was released AFTER Speedball 2... It's slow, dull and frustrating and couldn't even compare with games released 3 or more years before. Avoid at all costs!
The game's concept is really similar to Speedball 2's as it uses a bigger field and a big team (10 players). You can choose to dribble with the ball or grab it, you can pass and the objective is to score more goals than the opposing team. It's way less violent than Speedball and the other games on this list, i merely included it because you can indeed hit the players and gameplay is a bit similar to Speedball 2. It plays differently, however and is a bit more "messy" in the gameplay. Definitely give it a try if you're a Speedball 2 fan as this one feels like a japanese arcade clone.
While 16bit consoles were starting to take over by 1991 (Super Famicom was released in late 1990 and Megadrive was already 3 years old), this NES game proved that the earlier 8bit machine could still provide great entertainment. In this game, you play baseball but robots replaced the players. There's 4 different types of robots: an android, a tank, a flybot and a motorcycle (wink wink, Rollerball). They have parts that can be upgraded and can also be repaired after a game...which becomes very important as fighting is an integral part of the game as three dead robots means defeat. When 2 opposing robots are near each other (near bases), they start fighting in a separate side-view and this is where the different weapons come into effect. You can also damage robots by hitting them with a pitch. Graphics are awesome for a NES game, it's fast paced and there's even a cutscene when you hit a homerun. Very fun game which i definitely recommend playing.
Another game of futuristic baseball that features robots. In this one, however, there are also male and female humans (they have the big advantage of not blowing up) and can be equipped with armor, sensors, jetpacks. There are some rules change over regular baseball as homeruns are now harder to pull off (if you don't hit it directly over centerfield, the ball comes back into play). There is a big focus on upgrades as you can upgrade the abilities of your players for money (that you earn during the match for hitting some objectives like strike-outs, homeruns, up to $10,000 for a grand slam) and you can even upgrade a human into a much more powerful robot. Graphics are great for a 1991 game, especially on the standout Neo Geo version but gameplay, while good, doesn't feel as fun as in Base Wars. Still a good game, though.
I feel like this game could have been in the Fantasy Death Sports page since it features samurai and some old aesthetics but it's set in 2010 (the future, back then) and has a robot team so here it is. It's a game of "Hyper Handball" with little to no rules and power shots (different for each team), tackling, etc. It's very fun and a great arcade game, graphics are top notch with animations, cutscenes and everything you'd want for this type of game. It is similar to the Neo Geo title Soccer Brawl with some welcome changes and additions. Windjammers also on Neo Geo has similar looks and feel but applied to frisbees. Definitely worth a play !
Some strange mix of Rollerball and Hockey. Players have a blade-glove they use to grab the ball, mines, projectiles and also slash at their opponents. Lack of polish and hard to control characters along with early 3D polygonal graphics with no textures made this game less enjoyable than it could have been.
Forget injuring your opponents with tackles or punches...here you'll use chainsaws, laser guns, try to break their necks and so on. Take Speedball 2, push the brutality knob to 500% and you get Dead Ball Zone. Designs are a bit bland and there's less to do than in Speedball 2 (only way to score is to put the ball in the goal but you can score more from further distance). The game is fun, however, it's pretty fast and precise compared to the other 3D alternatives from this list and i recommend trying it if you have a PS1.
And now the biggest disappointment in this article... Speedball 2100 is the 3D adaptation of Speedball 2 on Playstation, made by the Bitmap Brothers themselves...what could go wrong ? Well pretty much everything. The camera feels too close to the field, graphics are way too dark, the players move very slowly (you'll pass much more often) and graphics are subpar...especially for a game released in 2000. It's not the worst game you'll play but Speedball 2 is such a masterpiece that i'd rather play Dead Ball Zone than this one.
This game is some kind of mix of association football (soccer) and handball (you can either pickup the ball or dribble with it). You can hit players from the opposing team, there are power shots and special moves. While it sounds interesting, it's a bit of a mess, controls are frustrating and clunky. The AI is beyong stupid and the graphics so bad for a 2002 game that most of you probably never heard of the game. NAPS Team kind of reused the same mechanics for one of their other games, Football Madness which somehow works better without the sci-fi setting...
In Deathrow there's no ball...instead you try to throw a disc into a tiny round goal...but the rest is pretty much similar to most of the games on this page. Injure your opponents by hitting them (there are combos) and prevent them from scoring. Gameplay is simple yet works well and graphics are way above any other 3D game we've covered so far. It's a fun game and better than the other 3D alternatives even if the camera could have been better and a map might have helped figure out what was going on while you're focusing on keeping your opponent on the ground...
Lastly, i couldn't finish this article without talking about some of the mangas that also took inspiration from the Rollerball movie and contributed to the imagery used in the games we've reviewed here. Both Gunmm and Space Adventure Cobra included their own takes on future death sports. In Gunmm, the motorball is more or less a futuristic version of Rollerball. Contestants get chopped in half, utterly destroyed and it's very dangerous. In Space Adventure Cobra, the Rugball is a very violent Baseball type game, where deaths happen quite often and every dirty trick is in play...
Future Death Sports are definitely a product of their era, originating from the 70s/80s tendencies in books and movies to depict bleak future worlds in which humanity has a thirst for violence and conflict...but don't let that prevent you from playing the hidden gems and classics featured here! After all, if wars can be replaced with Rollerball games, why couldn't we just replace violence with video games?
Links :1) My Website - Article by Psychoroid