I love sport. I love vainly attempting to play them and I love supporting the local team. My favourite sports are probably the ones with balls in, but I also enjoy the shouting ones in which men sit on each other, all the sports really. I tell you what sports are the best though, video game ones, and you know why? It’s because many sports are dangerous and the hippy in me likes to see that no one can get hurt, and if no one can get hurt, then the latent predator in me likes to see blood… pixelated blood. I give you Future Death Sports!
While most sports games do their upmost to provide an accurate simulation of their proposed event, there are many games out there that just simply flip the whirlies to that notion. After all this is a video game, in a medium that excels in the preposterous, why not just strap on the rocket boots or fit a mini-gun to your goal post?
The inspiration for many of these games is the original future sports film from 1975, Rollerball. In the distant future, the year 2010, the world has been taken over by corporations in what could be one of the most prophetic calls in Sci-fi movie history. Years later in 2018 a violent sport called Rollerball (a kind of Motocross/Demolition Derby on Roller-skates) is fed to the masses with the ultimate aim to show them the futility of individual effort. The champion Jonathan E, played by James Caan, becomes so good at not dying, that he threatens to undermine the Corporation. If anyone can win Rollerball, James Caan! (ahem)
So it wasn’t long before this massively influential flick massively inspired some wonderful geeks to make games based on the idea. The first unofficial game is also the one that closest resembles the sport in that seminal movie. The Commodore 64 title Rocket Ball! This is a Rollerball game in anything but name.
But hey, you shouldn’t be a game designer if you lack imagination, so many of the subsequent games tended to add their own twists to the future sport theme. The Atari ST Hockey styled game Skateball threw lots of crazy technological crap at the idea, until nobody had a clue what the fock was going on.
It is of course Speedball, or more accurately its superior sequel Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, that has become the most popular and enduring of all of Rollerballs babies.
The Bitmap Brothers classic is still the subject of remakes and fandom because it captured the tone so perfectly and is, above all, shit-loads of fun.
But I’m not here to celebrate an already much celebrated game. I’m here to draw attention to the lesser known and just as credible games, or in the case of this next crock of fock, the least credible.
Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball deserves special mention due to the fact that it rips off Speedball almost completely.
The first mistake this game makes is using that top down perspective for Basketball, a game defined by hoops that are vertical in nature, yeah well done there. Secondly, there’s the outlandish premise that in the year 2030, basketball legend Bill Laimbeer (who probably didn’t realise what he was endorsing), is seemingly in control of the world and forces what look like the rapist bikers from Mad Max to play Basketball to the death. I don’t know what’s more outlandish, the plot, the shoddy game mechanics, or the fact that all the players seem to have the basic Basketball handicap of being white.
So now that I’ve vented all of that crunk out of my system we can concentrate on some of the hidden gems of futuristic combat sport.
Konami beat em ups shouldn’t really fall into this sports category but this one takes it’s setting right from Rollerball, so here it is.
Rollergames is a simplified take on Rollerball, stripping it of its ball and scoring rules. Points are awarded simply for taking out more opponents than your rival team captain whilst hurtling around at reckless speed. Despite being fast and fun, Rollergames didn’t set Arcades alight and only saw one home conversion (the Arcade game equivalent of getting a record deal), the unrecognisable, but equally enjoyable NES game, which ditched the sport setting for a more straightforward scrolling beat em up, albeit on roller-skates.
But you know, I’d dig sports a whole lot more if they were played by deadly robots. So bring them on.
Base Wars builds itself around the premise that robots would be much better at Baseball than actual humans, plus we can pay them a lot less. Even for an 8bit NES game, this has bold and literally striking Sprites.
…and they fight. Man do they fight. Kick him right in the rotator!
If blocky old 8bit Baseballers aren’t flashy enough for you then there’s also an offering from the stretched limo of 90′s consoles, the NEO GEO.
Words cannot express how happy I am that this exists.
While we’re here on Cybertron, lets vacuum pack some robots into some more sports. Hell, If they get a good enough Translator droid involved I might actually understand the rules of American Football.
In fact, it’s my utter Britishness that stops me from fully appreciating what could be one of the best games on this list, Mutant League Football for the SEGA Megadrive/Genesis.
Based on the much loved 16bit Madden NFL games, this note perfect, and utterly anarchic gem will make you laugh with it’s morbid humour, and then cry at the endless selection of stat sheets.
So, because of my lack of understanding of the sport, and my allergic reaction to statistics, I’ve chosen to highlight the other, equally as macabre, title in this series.
Line up for the face-off.
After you take his face off kick him in the shins!
Ah Hockey. Gotta love it. You simply slide around demolishing everybody in your path and then slap that tasty puck into the longing mouth of the net. Of course, afterwards you have to celebrate in crowd pleasing fashion.
…and who needs the support of cheerleaders when we’ve got our own hometown Slug riders?
So now that we’ve exited the robot zone and brought in the hideous mutants let’s continue doing just that with an Amiga classic that also made it to the Atari jaguar.
Playing more like Rugby than American football, this slaughter-fest doesn’t hold back on the blood shed either.
Yes, that is a tortoise on the pitch.
The Amiga, where Speedball 2 found most of it’s success, was also home to this similarly themed oddity.
It’s seemingly a game of tennis with racket and ball substituted by punting small furry aliens and occasionally ducks. Perhaps it should have been called Duck Punt?
Robotic sports personalities? Check. Bloodthirsty Mutants? Check. Duck Punting? Check. What we need now to mix it up a little more is some time travel. Welcome to the dark ages, the year 621AD.
Pigskin 621AD is the spiritual successor/sequel /bastard son of Midways classic two on two basketball game Arch Rivals, which was a precursor to the enormously successful NBA Jam series
Unfortunately Arch Rivals has not stood the test of time quite as well. Pigskin on the other hand is entertainment gold.
Like Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, the Megadrive/Genesis home version of this barbaric title had the bizarre endorsement of NFL commentator Jerry Glanville.
I like to imagine that he’s stolen a time travel device so that he can escape the totalitarian clutches of Bill Laimbeer’s Arian Basketball society, but he really doesn’t do shit except turn up on the result screen looking particularly out of place against the bloody statistics.
Nope, this game has nothing to do with NFL sports commentators, again it’s more like Rugby. Rugby played by vicious Vikings. of course it has everything you would expect from a Barbarians sport…
…and more death.
It also has two difficulty settings.
This article isn’t about medieval sporting shenanigan, it’s all about Future Sport so let’s leave Jerry Glanville to his viking funeral and fire up the old flux capacitor as we travel back to the future to round up the list with what could be my pick of the bunch.
Heavy Smash-The Future Sport by Data East may not have the best title but this little known Arcade release is possibly the best future sports game of them all. It seamlessly combines the best elements of an Arcade football game with the simple combat of a scrolling beat em up.
Virtually unnoticed on its release in 1993 due to the then gaming world being obsessed with one on one fighting, this sci-fi hand-ball game featured ten teams including Extraterrestrial Death-Bots, Flame throwing Egyptians and a team of genetically engineered Australian Super-Women.
If Heavy Smash isn’t a good advertisement for why every gamer should have M.A.M.E. Arcade emulation running on their computer (or preferably in a cabinet) than I don’t know what is. Anyway, they had me when the goal exploded.
Hella-focking balls-to-the-wall kick-ass king-of-the-Jews awesome!