There's a big battle brewing...

Stormball logo

Publisher: Millenium/US Gold Price: £24.99

It's just as well that the software industry doesn't follow the pessimists. Just think if they followed that "the end is nigh" bunch - there would be no such thing a future sport. And where would we be then? No Future Basketball, no Speedball, no Speedball II, and God forbid, no Cyberball and no Stormball.

Just a few weeks ago Dan Trent was wishing that the world was at an end. He was a major star on the Stormball circuit before he lost his hand in a freak accident while playing. Thanks to the miracle of modern surgery he was fitted with a mechanical glove which enabled him to keep playing the sport he loved. And now he's back, hungry for success.

You can take on Dan Trent and the rest of the Stormballers to make your way to the top of the league. The basic rules of Stormball are a doddle. Two opponents move around on hover boards over their own half of the pitch. The ball is then thrown into your opponent's half, hopefully in such a way that your opponent can't intercept or catch it.

By throwing the ball over bonus tiles and score multiplier you rack up points. The player with the most points at the end of the four quarters is declared the winner.

This is a one or two-player action-packed game. In one-player mode you can practise against a droid known as SIDD to hone your skills. When you have attained the appropriate skill level you are ready to enter the league.

...take on Dan Trent and the rest of the Stormballers to make your way to the top of the league

To play the professionals you must first put up some money - the better your opponent the more money it costs to play him. If you win you get back your original stake plus the same again as a bonus. Of course, if you lose it is back to the training ground.

If you are really confident of a win you can always stake a bet outside the arena with Dodgy Dexter. He is the man responsible for getting Trent back into the Stormball arena after his injury but he is despised nonetheless, and the feeling must be mutual as the odds the gives on your winning are never that good.

Control fo the man is fairly easy - simply movement causes the board to move over the pitch, and to catch the ball position your man to one side as it passes. Then throw it back and try to aim it so that your opponent can't reach it. This can be frustrating as he catches it with no difficulty and you race all around your half in a seemingly pointless pursuit.

If you become bored with the computer-generated pitches you can always design your own. Stormball really only comes into its own in two-player mode where the screen splits to allow both players the same view. There's loads more pleasure in beating a mate than beating the computer opponents. But this is the same for all games in this genre.

Unfortunately, a less than brilliant use of colours mars what could have been an excellent sports game. When it comes to the crunch, buy Speedball 2 instead - it's infinitely more playable and more fun than this. Stormball is a real disappointment, but Millenium will bounce back.

Stormball logo


So what have I got to do? But why? These two questions demand immediate answers in any sports sim. Sport stresses, on a basic level, physical action above mental effort. So, to focus a player's abilities during the vital first seconds of play, the goals need to be obvious for both scoring and motivation purposes. Unfortunately, in Stormball, while it is crystal clear how you play the reason why you'd want to is initially left begging.

Stormball is a futuristic hybrid of squash and tennis played on a symmetrical court. The two players roam their half of the pitch on small hover pads, in pursuit of a floating ball. Catching and throwing the ball into the opposition's half scores a point for every tile it passes over.

Scores total up until the ball is caught by the other player, or it rebounds off the force-field walls that surround the court, back to you. Bonus and penalty squares litter players' halves, again placed symmetrically. As the game gets tougher, these become the major targets, because they score hundreds and not single points.

A match sees the two players vying for position, looking to find or block that high-scoring opportunity. Each pitch is laid out differently, so the first quarter of any game is concerned with experimenting to find the most lucrative point areas, trick squares and opponent's tactics.

These mechanics are easily grasped, but motivation is difficult. On a practical level the perspective of the floor makes life difficult. The pitch is flat and the tiles are shades of the same colour, so seeing where to hurl the ball is a matter of luck and judgement.

On a gameplay level, once the best scoring area becomes apparent Stormball can degrade into a tit for tat slinging match because the early opponents fail to anticipate shots, no matter how predictable.

You quickly learn where opponents will throw the ball so you can limit the points damage, but they don't learn this lesson. While victory under these conditions is still sweet, it is hardly unexpected and lacks any real tension.

The logic behind the game only becomes apparent after a solid session against the higher-level opponents. At the outset the lack of goals leaves players uncertain why they are being outscored. The mechanics and tactics of scoring only become obvious after you've spent hours chasing the ball around your own half watching others rake in the points because when you're scoring it's hard to tell exactly which tiles are being hit and with what result.

Hard knocks
Experience is the only way to gain the necessary skills to judge which tiles should be attacked or defended. Once gained the game changes into a tactical cat-and-mouse battle and the enjoyment level is suitably upped.

The future-sport trappings can be ignored and it becomes a 'squash plus' game, where two or three shots are traded just to suck er an opponent into a vulnerable position. Unfortunately it lacks impetus to carry you through to this stage and demands real commitment.

Stormball's graphics and sound misrepresent the game as a futuresport of the Speedball stable. Once a few matches are played its real character emerges, revealing a sedate, tactical game. This transformation takes time and that is Stormball's weakness. It is worth struggling through to the later stages but many find the struggle to get this far too off-putting to be worth the effort.

Nomen ist nicht immer Omen!

Stormball logo

Rein namensmäßig wandelt Millenniums futuristisches Sportspektakel auf den Spuren von "Speedball 2" - ansonsten hat es leider nicht viel mit dem Meisterwerk der Bitmap Brothers gemein...

Zwar wird auch hier um eine Stahlkugel gerangelt, aber von der Regeln her muß man sich Stormball eher wie eine Mischung aus Flippern und Frisbeewerfen vorstellen: In 40 verschiedenen Arenen treffen je zwei Athleten aufeinander und mühen sich redlich, das Bällchen so zu schleudern, daß es diverse Punkt- und Bonusfelder berührt.

Dabei bekommt man es mal mit hinderlichen Mauern und Tor-öffnungen zu tun, dann sind wieder die Extra-Felder anders angeordet. Da gibt es welche, die den Gegner betäuben oder die eigene Energie steigern, manche schleudern die Kugel in die Höhe oder lassen sie abprallen, und wieder andere lösen eine Explosion aus, die Mann und Maus in unmittelbarer Umgebung bedroht.

Der Punktereigen ist freilich zu Ende, sobald der Kontrahent die Kugel aufgefangen hat. Und das können die zehn Computergegner recht gut, schließlich geht's hier um Kohle - nur Sieger haben genügend Bares, um den nächsten Recken zu fordern.

Das Gameplay ist flott, verliert aber auf flott an Reiz! Und das trotz Zwei-Spieler-Modus (Split-Screen), Data-Link-Option und Turnier- bzw. Trainingsmodus. Ja, selbst die hurtig zoomende und stets um das Spielersprite rotierende 3D-Grafik kann nicht verhindern, daß die Motivation binnen kurzem im Keller ist.

Denn: Was nützt die schönste Ausstattung, wenn das Konzept den Unterhaltungswert einer Kinderrassel hat? So gesehen ist der monotone Soundtrack auch schon egal...

Stormball logo

Stormball is the latest in a long line of future sports games. You know the sort of thing - metallic-looking graphics, 'atmospheric' futuristic intro sequence, and a basic game that (stripped of all the frills) turns out to be something very simple indeed. Here it's Pong (you remember, the very first bat-and-ball computer game) that gets the treatment.

You play a chap standing on a floating disk in the iddle of an arena and it's your job to bat the ball into the other half of the pitch, have it travel over some point-scoring squares, bounce off the far wall and hopefully travel back into your half, where you can collect it and try again. The only problem is that the other guy's out to intercept the ball, and then do exactly the same to you.

Initially the game looks very impressive. The pitch is a pretty 3D thing, viewed from just behind your little floating player. Points whizz up into the air coin-op style as you score them, there's an animated betting sequence before each game (you have to pay an 'entry fee' before you can challenge anyone, and it's only by gambling that you can earn enough money to take on the sport's more expensive star players) and there are various practice options allowing you to customise and save your own layout of playing pitch.

All well and good - the problems come once you start playing, when everything quite rapidly begins to make very little sense indeed. Since the walls to the oddly shaped courts you play on - located in the middle of a larger arena - are actually invisible, judging how the ball is going to bounce proves very difficult indeed.

I'd just got to the stage where I'd a vague idea of what was meant to be happening when - what is this? - the ball actually went right through one wall and continued across the arena floor for a bit (you could see its little shadow and everything). Hmm. Obviously these are 'elastic walls' - which bend when the ball hits them like the ropes in a boxing ring or something - which complicates things further.

Add this confusion to the fact that it's very hard to see where the targets are - let alone keep track of the ball - and you get a game that looks good, but in play proves very off-putting indeed. Nothing about it made me want to persevere at all.

My recommendation? Scrap the pretty 3D, gives us a simple top-down view, and you'd suddenly make it twice the game.

Stormball logo

Following in the pixel pathway of such futuristic games as Speedball 2, M.U.D.S., Cyberball and Disc, Stormball's been programmed by Paul Caruthers, the brains behind such hits as Archipelagos, and 3D shoot 'em up, Resolution 101. The scenario is woefully familiar: In the near future Stormball has literally taken the sporting world by storm and is watched by millions of fanatical fans. It's a deadly sport, played with superfast hardened metallic balls capable of shearing off the odd arm or two - and that's if you're lucky!

The pitch is made up of a number of coloured tiles in an enclosed arena. There are over 40 such pitches to choose from, each with a different layout and combination of high and low-scoring tiles. There's also an editor option with which you can create up to 60 new ones.

Stormball isn't a team game, but involves two players in a race to accumulate the most points in a four quarter match. Points are won by slamming the ball across an opponent's half of the pitch - each tile the ball passes over scores a number of points depending on the tile's worth. Various tiles act as blockers or ramps and some can boost the speed of the ball or wipe out your score for that particular throw. Additionally, there are bonus symbols which appear at random and, when hit, can bestow greater speed on a particular player, incapacitate your opponent for a limited time, add 500 points to your score or 100 credits to your bank balance, and send shards of energy in all directions picking up masses of points into the bargain.

There are some nice touches such as a stats breakdown after each quarter, a practice droid to hone your skills before taking on players from the professional league, and being able to place a bet on the out- come of each match. Unfortunately, the game fails in the playability stakes. The players move awkwardly, it's hard to distinguish the different coloured tiles, and the scrolling is far too jerky for my liking. The 2D sprites superimposed on a 3D playing field only highlights the lack of animation in the players' movements and points are practically scored at random in many cases. It's also incredibly slow.

Obviously, comparisons will be drawn to the Bitmaps' Speedball, if only because the game is widely held to be the best of its type. Perhaps if Stormball had adopted that game's overhead view, the gameplay would have been more accessible. As it stands, Millenium's new release is nothing more than a glorified 3D version of Arkanoid, and a very slow one at that.

Stormball logo

Duncan MacDonald once kept dry during a cloudburst by cutting a football in half and using it as a rainhat. This made him the ideal person to review Stormball from Millennium.

What's all this Stormball lark about then? Well, it's a bit like ice-hockey really, with goals and a puck which bounces off the pitch boundaries (or invisible force fields in this case). The again Stormball isn't like ice-hockey because a) there are only two players b) the pitches come in loads of different shapes made up of patchwork quite like 'tiles' and c) the participants ride on hover-boards. Oh, and d) the ball isn't called a puck, it's called a 'shuttle'.

The opening screen allows you to practice against a crap droid (easy), take on one of the many computer-controlled opponents (impossible) or, if you prefer, got head to head against a friend in horizontal split-screen mode. So much for the options situation, then. But how's the game played?

Well, once you've chosen a pitch (there are heaps) you get a viewed from above 'rotating sequence' where you can see exactly where the goals (yellow tiles) and hazards (various other coloured tiles) lie. The beige hazard tile will bounce the shuttle off in the good old 'angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection' style - just like the boundary walls do.

This is good news if you're canny with a shot but very bad news if you're not, as it's possible to bounce directly back onto your own goal tile (or tiles - there are normally more than one). There are other hazards too: score-reducers (grey tiles) and many more besides. But as well as the hazard tiles, there are (as you'd expect) bonus tiles, from 'score-enhancers' to 'glue your opponent to the spot' to... well, etc etc. Get the picture? Sort of Speedball-ish, but from a first person perspective.

Amiga reviewDunc: First impressions often count, and I'll tell you my very first impression of Stormball - Masterblazer in different clothes. And it would be, but for one important difference - Stormball isn't crap. But it's not perfect either, and I'll get straight in with my main criticism.

Because you're playing from a first person perspective (i.e. near the ground), the horizon is foreshortened (like in golf games). This means that, although you get a run-through of the pitch from above in each pre-match intro sequence, it doesn't take long in the actual game before you're a bit lost and don't really know what exactly it is you're aiming at - or how far away it is you're aiming at - or how far away it is.

Whack a 45º diagonal ball towards your opponent's left hand boundary for a 'cunning bounce-off' into his supposedly guarded goal area and you suddenly think "Eh? Why hasn't it bounced yet?" The reason is that it hasn't reached the boundary - it's still en-route, because the boundary - it's still en-route, because the boundary is a bit further away than it looks. This can be very off-putting when you're on a really complicated pitch with loads of hazards and 'sticky-out-bits'.

I must emphasize that this isn't one of those 'instantly playable' games. Once you actually get to know a pitch things start to shape up, but it can take ages, and it's still easy to get totally disorientated after a bit of a rally. "What a goal!" you may scream, only to find that you've bounced the shuttle into one of your own goal areas. (Maybe the inclusion of an overhead map would have made all the difference).

On the plus side, Stormball is fast and furious. In two player mode it's excellent - really competitive stuff, guaranteed to turn the closest of friends into the worst of enemies within minutes. But on the down side is the feeling of disorientation and confusion at times, regarding your exact position. I think it's one of those games you'll either love or loathe. Against a mate it's great, because you both have the same disadvantages. But as a standalone? I'm not so sure. Stop