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Ballblazer

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Released: 1987

Publisher: Atari

Developer: LucasArts

Submitted by: John Delaney

You. Your opponent. The ball. Somewhere over the horizon, the goal. That’s all there is to this game, but that sheer simplicity is what allows Ballblazer to be a sheer joy to play.

Ballblazer is essentially a streamlined game of soccer. You and your rival pilot a pair of futuristic bumper cars around a soccer pitch and attempt to punt the hovering ball between the posts. The posts constantly slide over and back across the pitch. The ball sticks to your front screen when you possess it, and the range you score the goal from affects the points you earn; nudging it between the posts earns you a single dot, firing it from near range earns two, and scoring whilst the goals aren’t visible over the horizon earns three.

One of the very first games that allowed two players to face-off against each other in 3D, what really makes Ballblazer such an impulsive waste of time is the smooth controls and scrolling. Your bumper car is just a blast to ride. The craft spins automatically to face the ball; if you possess it, you’ll always face the end of the pitch that you’re aiming for. As a result, you can just glide around as much as you like without having to worry about losing your opponent or getting jammed in a corner. The quick, smooth scrolling of the chequerboard field gave an impressive sense of speed, and the floaty, nippy ball physics are spot-on.

I’m half-worried that I may be seeing this through rose-tinted glasses, and that the smooth manoeuvrability isn’t going to make newcomers see past the simplicity to what I get out of this game. It is very simple once you know what you’re doing. There are still some tactics you can employ; shooting the ball against the sideline and then catching the rebound can cause some nice confusion, and it’s easy to net three points by slowly backing away from the goal until it’s out of sight before firing. Pro Evo it ain’t, but if I could pick any 7800 game to play today, it’d be this.