Sportsball: Hearts will soar
If I were to describe Sportsball without delving into its presentation, I would have to say that it is an imaginative update to the classic '80s game, Joust. Instead of fighting on the back of an ostrich, there are 16 different birds (including one dinosaur) that the player can choose from, each with their own unique stats and play style.
Though there is a "sportsbrawl" mode similar to Joust, Sportsball's main objective is to bounce balls into a floating soccer goal, which gives the game an extra layer of strategy.
Similar to Sportsfriends and Runbow, this is a local multiplayer party game, so there's not going to be much fun had by yourself. Players choose from four teams, each with their own set of unique birds to ride.
Most of the problems Sportsball runs into are typical of its genre. There's only four players available, so there's only so many team combinations to try. Fortunately, developer TOO DX included a mode called Rallyball, in which players can cooperate to keep the ball going for as long as possible, so you can experiment with the entire team.
Another glaring issue is that the teams are imbalanced in very unusual ways. If playing free-for-all, gigantoraptor can generally block and destroy everyone with its massive hitbox. If playing teams, I found that rhea's pumped-up stats and flamingo's hitbox make them a pretty spectacular team. Though it's difficult to say how deep the balancing issues go without many hours of play with every team combination, there definitely seems to be some bird pairings that work much better than others.
High-level gameplay starts to look much less like a Joust clone and more like a tornado of birds and balls darting around the screen.
Considering that most screenshots look pretty bland, you really have to watch the game in play to get a feel for Sportsball.
First of all, this is one of the few menus that legitimately got me pumped up for a game in a long time. Featuring an '80s action movie ballad that my friends and I all took turns singing, the menu guides players through a series of ridiculous modes ("explosive chaos"), followed by a series of ridiculous teams ("Pink Pros"), to a stunning variety of birds that probably should never be ridden in real life, ranging from cockatoo to rooster to gigantoraptor.
Last but not least are the hilarious stage names. Like many retro arcade games Sportsball pays tribute to, this game is set in a vaguely futuristic Earth. Names like "Neo-New Hampshire" and "Tokyo Space Dome" breathe life into what would otherwise be a few background swaps and platform changes.
I didn't expect much from Sportsball except for it to be Joust with a twist, but I'm legitimately impressed with the game and world TOO DX has created. At the very least, I'll have the theme song stuck in my head for days.
Experimenting with team strategies and limitations is a blast, and the silly face the game puts on makes for a good time among friends.
Sportsball is available for $9.99 at the Nintendo eshop. If you have three buddies and a Wii U, I recommend giving it a shot.