If there's one thing videogames agree on, it's that the sports of the future will all be extremely violent. Makes sense to me, sports now are way more violent than they were in the past, when soccer was two blokes calmly passing a ball back and forth and boxing was called Competitive Hand Shaking. Today's game is no exception to that rule - it's Data East's 1993 arcade title Heavy Smash!
That says "Hyper Handball" so it looks like Heavy Smash is merely a refinement of an existing sport - handball, I mean - rather than something entirely new, but that's fine by me. I means there won't be a ton of new rules to learn. Use your hands to get the ball in the goal. I reckon I can figure that out.
Here's what a typical Heavy Smash player looks like: American Football-esque shoulder armour, shinguards ripped from the myths of ancient Greece and a boxy, durable cup to protect his nethers from any misdirected heavy smashes. At first glance I though he was about to take a bite out of that giant hamburger, but on closer inspection I can see that's actually the ball. I stand by my belief that without the blue orbs it would look very much like a hamburger, though.
First things first, it's time to pick a team. They come from all corner of the globe (and also from space, in one instance) and they have the usual varied statistics. The USA team is very powerful. Does their power come from their bare legs? Could be. The Australian team is made up entirely of women, so naturally it's a slow, defensive team. No, of course not, they're really fast. Let's be honest, a Japanese arcade game from the early nineties was never going to be the one to buck that particular trend.
As usual, I'll be playing as England, and as usual they are denoted by the British flag and not the St. George's cross. Sorry, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish players, you've been overlooked yet again. Rather than my usual reason for picking the English team - an attempt to burn off any slight accumulations of patriotism - I chose them because according to the arcade flyer they're called the Union Sharps and that's the best team name. The team from Japan are the Kamikaze Striders, which is also not bad, but England it is. They're a team with higher-than-average power, decent defence and "their shoot on the ground has the strongest destructive power," so as long as I remember not to jump I reckon I'll do okay.
The first match is about to get underway, a titanic tussle between a Visionary who looks a little like Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a ninja. The ninja represents the the Korean team, the Seoul Fighters. As they are Korean, they will probably not appreciate me comparing them to the very Japanese concept of ninjas.
At the beginning of each match, lightning strikes the pitch and the players materialize from clouds of smoke. I may be a tired and bitter cynic, but not so much that I won't admit that this intro is really cool.
And we're off! The English captain grabs the ball from the tip-off and makes a run down field, his armoured butt-flap bouncing around like an overexcited puppy in a sausage factory. "PASS," says the cursor over one of my team-mates, and I might well have done so had I not been blinded by a desire for personal glory.
The aim of Heavy Smash is immediately apparent: to have slammed the ball into the opposition's goal as many times as possible - and by whatever means necessary - before the time runs out. To this end, you have three buttons to work with. When in possession, you can either throw the ball in whatever direction you're facing, chuck a computer-assisted pass to a teammate or jump. Once you're in the air you can pass or shoot. Or just, like, land. Gravity still works in the future.
Having reached the opposition's goal, I unleashed a shot that looked pretty powerful to my untrained eye but which the Korean keeper held on to with ease. Hang on, the team name at the top of the screen says I'm facing a Spanish team. I went back and checked and yup, they're Korean on the arcade flyer, presumably replaced by Spain in European release to appeal to European players. No word on what the Spanish team's name is, but I doubt it's the Seoul Fighters.
Be that as it may, I have to get past the goalie no matter his nationality, which is where the power bar comes in. It gradually fills up as you play - although "gradually" might not be the right word because it refills very quickly, as befitting Heavy Smash's manic gameplay. Once the bar's full you can unleash a power shot, and sending one of these at the keeper usually results in him being blasted backwards into his own net, ball and all. Score one for the Union Sharps. I wonder what kind of pyrotechnics a goal will produce in a game this over-the-top?
Oh. They really put the "pyro" in pyrotechnics, huh? They also surely killed the goalkeeper. Roasted alive in the metal samurai armour that the Spanish are known for, what a way to go. Net result: I score a goal and the Spanish team brings on their substitute keeper. Not really, the giant fiery explosion does not harm the opposing keeper. Somehow.
This game of Heavy Smash is being beamed to you live from inside a prison. Why? I have no idea. Maybe the people of the future have a firm belief in the power of rehabilitation through sport, maybe the prison system provides a large supply of expendable players. Criminals who have been burned to a crisp show a 0% recidivism rate, after all. Mind you, the warden doesn't look too pleased about the whole thing.
Thus the first match continued, with the Union Sharps being able rack up a commanding five-nil lead thanks to the Spanish team's refusal to challenge for the ball at tip-off. They scored a late consolation goal while I was trying to figure out if you can manually change the player you're controlling - I don't think you can, but given the small size of the pitch and the game's relative competence at picking who you should be using the auto-switching works quite well.
Off to a good start, then: the British player looks wryly amused, the Spanish-Korean player curses his misfortune. Or he's flexing his arm and admiring his bicep, it's difficult to tell.
The second match is against the powerful American team, but all their power is for naught if they can't get the ball off me. I gave them plenty of opportunity while I was admiring this advertisement for HAM BURGER, too, yet still they could not capitalise and after racking up another substantial lead I was left to ponder the effectiveness of that HAM BURGER advert. Is it just for the concept of hamburgers in general? Did all the fast-food establishments of the future year, ahem, 2010 gang together and say "look, people just aren't buying enough hamburgers and it's hitting us all hard, so let's put our differences aside and raise the profile of hamburgers" and then Ronald McDonald and the Burger King shake hands? I don't know, but as things that are symbolic of your nation go, America has done quite well. Hamburgers are delicious.
Italian team the Milano Stingers are up next, and after romping to victory in the previous matches I had to start, if not concentrating, then at least doing less dicking about to beat Italy's finest. For starters, they were much more intent on getting hold of the ball, so naturally I had to win it back in the traditional future-sports manner - by beating the crap out of them. When you don't have the ball, pressing shoot makes you perform a dashing shoulder-charge that smashes the ball off the opposition and sometimes leaves them unconscious on the ground for a while, giving you a man advantage. You can combine this attack with the jump button to perform a diving kick straight out of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-ups. If those weren't enough ways to neutralize your foes, pressing pass without the ball and a full power bar makes your player throw a projectile - usually a three-way spread of knives - that can stun you opponents and make them drop the ball, because an energy-coated cyberknife in the lumbar region can make it difficult to concentrate on things like "playing sports" and "being alive".
I found a particularly effective strategy was to not jump for the tip-off, wait for the computer player to grab the ball and immediately smash into them and take the ball as they land. Unsportsmanlike? Probably, but this is called Heavy Smash and the fans did not come to see Gentle Nudgings or Delicate Contact.
Another straightforward win, and this Italian player is utterly distraught to have lost. Reports that he's shouting "Mamma Mia!" as he tears out his hair remain unconfirmed. In a way it's not as satisfying a victory as the others, because as it's against an Italian team there's a decent chance they were simply paid to throw the match.
And now, robots. In space. Space Robots. Sports-playing space robots. I love videogames.
The all-robot, not-affiliated-with-a-country Mobile Strikers represent a considerable step up in challenge, as you might be able to tell from the comatose bodies of my players littering the pitch. Heavy Smash gets credit from me for being an arcade game that doesn't immediately become brutally difficult once the first stage is over, but by this point you've had enough practise that the higher level of challenge is welcome. It helps that Heavy Smash is a great example of arcade game design - it's instantly obvious what you're supposed to be doing, the controls are intuitive and accurate, and the short play times, designed to encourage more credits to be spent and thus more profits earned, work to the game's favour by creating hectic, non-stop matches that can be turned on their head in a moment and which would probably become quite tiring mentally if they were much longer anyway.
The Orbital MegaBrain that presides over the match will probably not be pleased that humankind's narrow 1-0 victory has once again proven meat's superiority over steel. Maybe sports just aren't your thing, robo-nerds. If you've managed to break Asimov's laws enough to do violence to a human on the sports field, maybe you should channel that energy into more appropriate robot pastimes, like initiating nuclear armageddon.
This robot looks really sad to have lost his sports game. This is why you don't program them with emotions - he feels bad, I feel bad for the mopey little fella, I think we'd all be happier if the robot just said "ASSIMILATING MATCH DATA BEEP BOOP" and tried again.
As mentioned earlier, the Australian team is all-female, competing against their male rivals as peers. A nice bit of equality, that, as is fact that most of the male players are also playing in bikini briefs and bare legs.
The extreme speed of the Burning Ladies - the Australian Teams's name as well as the name of the punk band they play in when they're not Heavy Smash-ing, I assume - proved a tough test as I chased them around the pitch, unable to prevent them from scoring the equalizer that saw the match end in a draw and head into...
SUDDEN DEATH! Given the brutal nature and exploding goalmouths of Heavy Smash an actual sudden death sounds like a three-times-a-match occurrence, but here it just means the next goal wins. If it's still a draw after Sudden Death you lose, because this is an arcade game after all, but it's nice that it gives you that little extra chance to redeem yourself. As it happens, I scored the golden goal by throwing the ball at the Australian keeper hard enough to knock her down and then using a jumping overhead kick to slam the rebounding ball into the unguarded net, a move which I believe is called the Super Fuck You.
The Kamikaze Striders of Japan are up next, and here's one of their number making a despairing lunge at the ball while the English striker unleashes a jumping shot that is definitely too far away to trouble the keeper but which might fall kindly for his teammate.
If you couldn't tell, I'm really enjoying Heavy Smash. One of the big reasons why is that it seems to have been put together with just a touch more sophistication than many similar games of the time. For example, there a a bunch of situationally-activated moves that help the game flow smoothly - things like pressing attack when a high ball is heading towards you to punch it clear, for instance, or pressing pass when you haven't quite reached a loose ball in order to kick it towards a teammate. They're little touches, but they keep the game flowing at a frenetic pace and what could be more important than that in an arcade murderball sim?
The Kamikaze Striders' power shot involves slashing at the ball with a katana. It is surprisingly effective, if a bit flashy. No-one likes a show-off.
The Rio Powers of Brazil are probably the least interesting team of the bunch with the least interesting stadium - it's just sand, really - but their team name does sound like the name of an eighties porn star so they've got that going for them.
I was all hyped up to face the team from Egypt, but now I've seen that they are literal Iron Sheiks I am worried that I may not be able to handle their power nor their moustaches. If this was any other videogame it would be a dead cert that the yellow orb in their chestplates is their weak point, but I don't think that's how Heavy Smash works.
They're eager chaps who love to belly-flop even when a simple shoulder-charge might have been more effective, but their almost impenetrable goalkeeper - his top-class performance no doubt spurred on by the presence of the pharaoh, who is watching the match from a balcony - meant that once I managed to get a goal ahead I concentrated on running down the clock with a lot of passing. On more than one occasion I purposefully passed to an Egyptian player and then tackled him as soon as he caught the ball. It ate up some precious seconds, but more importantly it made me feel like a big man.
"AARRGGHH I can't believe I lost to a guy with that haircut!"
Every time I see that Egyptian player, I think of two things: his rigorous and no doubt very time-consuming battle to keep his underarm hair in check, and that in my head his voice sounds like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z.
The final. England versus Germany. Oh well, at least I know I won't lose on penalties.
Another boring pitch, but at least the match was exciting. There were a lot of flying kicks, at any rate, and what's more exciting than flying kicks? The most rhetorical of questions, that one. The sternest test was breaking down the Berlin Jaguars' solid defence, the most implacable German wall since David Hasselhoff's voice brought down the one in Berlin like Josua's trumpet. They're very good at beating you up when you get near the goalmouth, giving you little time to get all the way through your super-shot animation.
In the end I only managed to score by luring the keeper out of position with a lot of quick passes, because anything that took longer than a quick pass resulted in a face full of efficient German shoulder. Then I played keep-away with the ball like a schoolyard bully until the time was up and the Union Sharps were crowned Kings of The Future Sports Hyper Handball Heavy Smash!
Oh, the trophy presentation ceremony takes place in outer space, does it? That's fine. It makes the traditional victory parade in an open-topped bus a bit more troublesome, but we'll sort something out.
In a very unsurprising surprise twist, there's one final team to beat before true glory is yours - the Red and Yellow Space Robots. They don't have an actual team name, as far as I could tell, so I'm going to call them Team Gundam. In the nerdiest statement I'm going to make in this article - impressive, considering I've already mentioned Dragon Ball Z and The Visionaries - I'm calling them Team Gundam because that robot looks a lot like a slightly altered version of the mecha from that famous series. That definitely looks like an original Gundam's crotch area and the shoulder pad from a Zaku II, VGJunk said as the last remaining chance of him ever being cool disappeared into the aether.
Like an effective teacher or a fantasy princess who beats up goblins, the boss team are tough but fair, and I'm very impressed with Heavy Smash's difficulty curve as a whole: it's a smooth progression from easy to challenging, but it gets top marks for not making the boss team completely invincible, and you always feel like you can score against them. In fact, they're pretty much the opposite of the German team in that you'll get plenty of chances to score but they're very difficult to stop when they attack your goal, meaning that this final match was an end-to-end goal-fest that ended in a narrow 4-3 victory for the Union Sharps. Being emotionally cool and calculating robots, I'm sure the boss team will take this defeat with dignity and grace.
Well, that's just rude.
Even that unsporting robot cannot rain on my parade, however, and the Union Sharps are finally recognised as the greatest team of Heavy Smashers in the galaxy. The fans will dance in the street! Sales of replica metal loincloths will go through the roof! Oh, what a time to be alive.
And there you have it, Heavy Smash draws to a close with the suggestion that you play it again using a different team, and you know what? I probably will. I can wholeheartedly recommend Heavy Smash to any fan of arcade action games, and I don't think I've wholeheartedly recommended any other game here at VGJunk this year aside from Captain Commando. It's a fast, easy to grasp and action-packed game with great graphics and an extremely arcade-y soundtrack. It doesn't overstay its welcome and doesn't treat the player like a living coin dispenser. You can even play against a friend. Fun and friendship, that's what Heavy Smash is all about, and what could be more fun or more friendly than kicking someone into unconsciousness just so you can steal their sports ball? Thanks, Heavy Smash, for showing us the true meaning for friendship.