BattleSport seems like a missed opportunity. While the concept and design aren't exactly earth-shattering, they do lay the groundwork for an exciting game with outstanding replay value. As in so many video game to PC translations, the developers seem to have made little to no effort to harness the PC's capabilities. As a result, what could have been a fast-paced and addictive action title runs out of steam after just a few hours.
And that's too bad, because BattleSport (originally crafted for the PlayStation and Saturn) serves up an appealing mix of strategy, tactics, and down-and-dirty action. The basic idea is straightforward enough: Controlling a hovercraft (the game calls them "tanks") in arenas of various sizes and layouts, you and a single opponent try to grab a constantly moving ball and fire it into a goal. Exhibition matches against one of ten computer opponents provide a quick dose of action; in the tournament mode you must battle your way to the top of the BattleSport ladder, using cash winnings to outfit your current tank or buy a new one.
Sounds derivative and even a little boring, but a slew of creative design elements give BattleSport a surprising amount of depth of play. Each of the 50 arenas is unique in both layout and the types of obstacles and power-ups it contains - computer-controlled guns, teleporters, walls, and ramps mean that there's almost never a direct path to the goal. Then there's the goal itself: It can have one, two, or four sides; spin or remain facing in a single direction; move around the arena; blink out and reappear somewhere else. To complicate things even further, making a shot from a distance earns two or even three points instead of just one.
And remember those tanks? Besides being able to grab and shoot the ball, they're also armed and armored - missile hits can cause fumbles, and destroying your opponent's tank is a viable defensive tactic. There are over 25 add-on components available, ranging from the usual upgrades in lasers and missiles to more exotic devices that blind your enemy, block the goal, attract the ball to your tank, or even add an extra period to the game if you're on the verge of defeat. The only drawback here is that you're only allowed to carry three add-ons into a match - and in tourney mode you have no way of knowing if the stuff you're about to tack on to your tank might already be lying around in the arena.
What all this adds up to is some pretty intense action that will have you ready for one match after another - up to a point. The problem is that after just a couple of hours of practice, even average players will find they can easily handle any of the five opponents available for exhibition matches. You'll run into much stiffer competition in the tournament, but the bottom line is that you'll either win the tournament and have no desire to play it again or run into someone you just can't get past and quit out of frustration. Either way, most gamers will have had their fill of the single-player mode after ten hours or less.
This should be no big deal since there's a two-player mode, but it's saddled with several problems. First, the only way to go head-to-head is via a split-screen at the same computer: There's no support for play over a modem, network, direct connection, or the Internet. Even if you cotton to split-screen play, you'll run into another problem: Only one player can use a joystick or gamepad. Considering the game supports the Gravis GrIP, this is practically inexcusable - a situation made even worse because there's no way to reconfigure the keyboard commands to your liking.
Unless you have a programmable gamepad or joystick, there's no way to reconfigure button commands, either. That might not sound like a big deal, but once you get in the arena you'll discover that cycling through the three special weapons is almost impossible. With a standard four-button gamepad you have to press two buttons at once for weapon cycling (you also have to press two buttons at once to activate the special weapon you've selected); I was never able to pull it off with a Gravis Gamepad. The task is easier for Gravis GrIP users because weapon cycling is handled with the X button; unfortunately, the only way to jump with the GrIP is to press the left and right paddles simultaneously, and with the missile and shoot buttons side by side (B and C), it's all too easy to shoot the ball when you really want to fire a missile. All these problems could have been solved with a simple joystick/gamepad configuration option, but it's just not there.
Even with all these problems (and without even mentioning mention the blocky VGA graphics), BattleSport will provide more fun than you might expect, but you'll wish the fun would last a little longer.