We've seen the future...and soccer is NOT the sport of choice
At first glance, I figured that Accolade's Pitball was another radical attempt to make a 'neo-sport', a new age sport using technology from the future. The 'neo-sport' concept flopped and seemed to die after several unsucessful attempts on the Genesis; was reborn on the Playstation, and is now surprisingly sucessful. With a good concept, chock full of options and features, Pitball could very well be one of the best sleepers this year. Despite a few needed minor adjustments, this game is definitely one of the better games Accolade has put out this year.
The story here is that during the intergalatic 23rd century, the universal sport of choice is not soccer - but Pitball (no ping-pong?!). In this game, the object is to throw a ball into your opponent's goal (the object in almost any team sport). The catch? The ball is a sphere of pure concentrated energy to be thrown into elevated goals about 10-15 feet off the ground. The opponents? Pairs of the best athletes/warriors from each of the12 planets who are mad at you, all equiped with special moves like the Napalm Uplifter, and the Noxious Flames (don't ask). So needless to say, getting the ball into the goal is no easy task because everyone comes at you with everything from combos, super special attacks, to death moves: this game includes all the trimmings.
It is advertised as a sports game, but the best elements of an action game are all here. There is fighting with several special attack moves and strategies, about 12 different powerups, and a fun multi-player option. The controls of Pitball are very hard to get used to at first, and do need a bit of tweaking, but they offer a lot of options.
There is a good variation of levels and fighters, although the arenas could be a bit larger. One plus is the camera angles, which are all very playable. The close up view is probably the most enjoyable because of the crisp graphics and increased speed. The 'sliding' effect is the most annoying feature here and is responsible when you end up overrunning an object.
Although the concept is original and fun, because of the premise (2 on 2, you can only control your player), relatively small size of the levels, and the lack of actual scoring strategies (because of so few players) it can get a little redundant at times. But don't doubt this game's replay value. The difficulty factor is very hard on 'Hard', and the features of the sport's side of this game give you more than enough to tinker with.
What really struck me about Pitball was that it's more than just an arcade funfest - it's also a very complex simulation game. There is a full season mode and playoffs with 3 leagues, along with full statistical tracking for all players throughout the season. But the money is where this game really shines. As the owner you try to make as much money as you can by attaining sponsorships based on your number of wins, taking a loan from the bank, and (get this!) bribing - a completely original feature that I love. You can even gamble by placing bets on other games occuring throughout the season. You can build up your money to buy powerups for your players, or even free agents. A lot of these are attributes that even mainstream sports don't have, but could use. Imagine a game where NBA players are trying to lure a sponsor to endorse them.
My biggest complaint about this game is the difficulty for a human character to make a goal. The computer (whether your teammate or your opponent) seems to have no trouble with this. Although it kind of works to an advantage that you can't beat your teammate, you mainly end up fighting to get the ball and feeding it to your teammate instead of scoring yourself. Also, mixed teams and 3-on-3, 4-on-4 matches would be a great addition and add even more variety to this game.
All in all, if you are looking for something fun, not too serious yet sports related, well - it's a perfect date. But for hardcore, serious, mainstream, statistically motivated people... I wouldn't count it out of the picture, but I would rent it first.