In the mid-2000s, while I was in middle and high school here in Massachusetts, my gym class played host to one of the most amazing sports I've ever known. The area gym teachers called it speedball, and it combined elements of football, both European and American, as well as basketball. As the name suggests, speedball was a fast-paced game of complicated rules but fluid gameplay that rewarded smart players for being in the right place at the right time. The game provided some of the most fun I had throughout my public school years. When I moved midway through high school and found myself in a bigger city that not only didn't know about speedball but didn't even offer gym class to anyone past their sophomore year, I reluctantly came to accept that my speedball playing days had come to an end.
A decade later, VIDEOBALL
has arrived on Xbox One. To my surprise, the game features many of the same basic tenets of my preferred gym class activity. It combines several sports, rewards heads-up plays, and works at a pace so frantic that you'll often sweat from laughter, frustration, or somehow both. Videoball
is categorized as an action game on TA currently, but for all intents and purposes, it's a sports title. It just so happens that it isn't famous athletes of which you're taking control, but rather differently colored geometric shapes. Each game begins with two teams that can be sized from one to three teammates. Each team has a goal to protect and the somewhat amorphous ball in the middle is meant to be attacked unceasingly. Shooting projectiles from your avatar can advance the ball toward your target, stop its movement en route to your own goal, or even temporarily disable, or "tackle", your opponents.
Charging your shots can change the flow of a game drastically. A short burst can inch the ball forward, while a medium sized projectile can really push the ball downfield. The biggest of the three-tiered offensive strikes performs like a knockout punch, sending the ball screeching toward your oppenent's endzone; if countered it can mean just the same for your own goal. Holding the action button (which can be any button on the controller -- your choice) creates a large box with intent to obstruct shots on goal from the other team. There's so much strategy to be found in this portion of the game. Knowing how to attack the ball, or when to not
, is crucial to success and stands as the premiere highlight of the game.
Don't be intimidated by all this geometry. It takes about ten minutes to get acquainted with it all.
Across local matches played solo or shoulder-to-shoulder, online modes for up to six players, and an arcade mode meant to challenge and instruct players, Action Button's sport of the future finds varied levels of success. The arcade mode is played in unfair two versus one scenarios, which try to make up for the AI opponents that are often lacking intangibles, to borrow an overused phrase from real life athletics. The opposition is made up of several named avatars, like Brainy, Punchy, and Ready, each of them displaying different skill levels and play styles that you can usually predict from their names. Some of them were hilariously bad, the type that wouldn't make it out of geometry training camp on a roster. Others, like the infuriating Punchy, spam you with tackles so unceasingly that the game feels broken. Really, Punchy paid no mind to the ball, choosing only to assault me with an endless barrage of triangles and keeping me out of the game entirely while I watched two AI players battle for ball control without their teammates.
Meanwhile, the online modes have so far been entirely dead. I waited to join those who bought the game when it officially launched earlier this week, but was still never able to find an online game. Local co-op and competitive modes are where Videoball
earns the most praise. It's quite simply one of the best games on current-gen consoles if you're looking to play side by side with a friend or family member. The game's top-down air hockey-like gameplay, combining terminology and gameplay from basketball, American football, and even baseball, works best when you needn't worry about AI that is either too stupid or too stifling. Playing with another person makes the game one of the best sports experiences on Xbox One. It's maybe for that reason that the lack of any season or tournament mode isn't such a great loss, but it's still disappointing to find a sports title launch without some sort of cumulative stat-tracking, championship mode. Surely friends can get together and do that themselves, but it remains a striking absence.
Each match ends with a detailed list of stats, though they're strangely labeled "Facts"
The constant bleeps and bloops of the game create an old school arcade quality, and the basic but clean visuals are similarly conducive to such aesthetics, too. While the introductory color scheme of pastel green and pink wasn't for me, I was pleased to find that the game offers many different builds of its menus and in-game action. The royal blue and vibrant orange was a perfect replacement, and just one of several that is available if I wanted to get a fresh experience. A game that is focused so intently on one thing, its on-the-field gameplay, still made time to allow users to customize the UI. It's something that not a lot of games would or even can do, but it makes sense here and the game is better for having included it.
The customization extends beyond just colors, too. The game's rules can be adjusted to great lengths. The number of balls in play at one time, score and/or time limits, choice of announcer (granted, neither of the two is great), and even how much different scoring plays are worth represent just some of the rules that can be adjusted. Along with that, many different types of fields with unique obstacles, differently aligned or sized goals, and even the game's music can all be chosen by the player at any point. I, not typically being a fan of a retro-styled game, ultimately shut off the game's music in favor of personal favorites on Spotify, and the game was better off for it. If you're a fan of nineties-era game music, you'll have no issues with the modest library in Videoball
. Its energetic beats are complimentary to the on-screen action. I just took much more enjoyment out of the game when it was played to the tune of my favorite artists, since it's almost an entirely visual experience anyway.
Don't like the scoring settings, the color scheme, the look of the playing field? Change them!
The achievement list can best be described with one single, ugly word: grindy. There are several achievements that are linked to scoring milestones, none more ridiculous than the one demanding that you score 10,000 touchdowns
. Another requires you to play a 3-ball, first-to-100-points local multiplayer match on the Pro arena
, which is the one that features the smallest goals like those on a real life air-hockey or foosball table. These two are perhaps the grindiest, but they're indicative of the entire list. It's going to take a long time to earn a completion and, sometimes, it'll be difficult too. Thankfully, offline modes as well as private online games make Videoball
very boost-friendly, which is the only way that the vast majority of players will ever finish the list. Give special attention to the game's arcade mode
. I experienced a strange difficulty spike on level six, which again just left a poor taste in my mouth in regards to the AI behavior.
As I said at the top of this review, Videoball
reminds me of one of my favorite activities from my adolescence. That coincidental nostalgia isn't the only reason that I enjoyed my time with it, however; such a personal link pales in comparison to the game's addictive, unique amalgamation of several sports that would be fun no matter my history with something similar. When played against AI it can be a frustrating or tediously easy experience, often failing to find a happy medium. On the other hand, Videoball
is a wholly different experience with friends -- extremely fun, ultra competitive, and endlessly rewarding. Rivalries will form and bonds will be tested, but in the end, Videoball
does more good than harm and exists as something unlike anything else that you've played.
- One of the best shoulder-to-shoulder multiplayer games of its generation
- Deep customization options
- Easy to pick up, hard to master
- Inconsistent AI opponents
- Lack of a season mode
The reviewer spent six hours on the digital field/court/gridiron of Videoball, netting only three of the game's 20 grindy achievements. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.