If popular culture is anything to be believed, the future is going to be a sadistic place. Case in point: HyperBlade, Wizbang! Software's ultra-violent vision of Ice Hockey circa 20xx.
I'm not much of a sports fan, and that generally extends to my videogame habits. If I were ever to dive into a virtual team game there would need to be a fantastical or futuristic element to spark my interest. Games like Speedball or the more recent Rocket League do it for me far more than Madden or FIFA. HyperBlade is more or less ice hockey that's grabbed ideas from other sports and run riot with blood and violence. My interest is sparked.
As soon as a match starts, you can tell this will not be a normal sports game. The 'drome' arenas looks as if it's been built inside a zepplin what with its curved play field and huge size. Situated at each end are the goals which, like hockey, are rather small and guarded by a keeper. You don't have direct control of the keeper, but you can switch between your on-field teammates at any time. Each blader is on skates which allows for some nice gameplay styles that are normally seen in extreme sports titles. If you reach the apex of the half-pipe field you can perform a simple trick before getting back in the game with a roar from the crowd. It's little more than an aesthetic choice but definitely a welcome and empowering one.
Like ice hockey, brawling is also a big part of the experience except here decapitation and dismemberment are listed as some of the consequences. At least you come armed with a 'jak', a futuristic version of a hockey stick that looks and acts like a sword. You can use it to swing at your opponents in a variety of fun moves which are expanded on more difficult settings. The fast moving nature of the game means that it takes practive to actually hit others, and the oddly placed controls don't help (changing them in the menu is a must). If you're able to get hold of the puck (or 'rok' as it's known), it sticks to the end of the jak like a magnet, ready to be lobbed to a goal. In this respect I guess it plays more like lacrosse than hockey, but what do I know?
The playfield is littered with a variety of obstacles and traps. Some spin wildly, slashing you with their blades if you get near. Others will add multipliers to your score. There's one nice gizmo that will charge the rok with electricity turning it into a deadly projectile. It's fun to discover all of the different traps which vary in type and placement between dromes. The developers seem to have stewn them accross the playfield with little regard offering next to nothing to your game strategy. Throw the objects up in the air to see where they land and you'll get the same outcome. It reminds me of the many hurdles a horse has to navigate when show jumping. But with beheadings. The different dromes locations don't offer much either, differing only in the object layout. Any variety the game may have certainly isn't in the visuals.
Before you enter the drome, you're able to choose your team - two strikers and a goalie as well as a couple of inexperienced subs. There's a major bias towards US teams with almost half hailing from those shores. That leaves only one UK based team called the Leeds Knights. It's a funny choice in name considering how bad the Leeds sports teams are (or so a reliable source from Manchester tells me). They each have a variety of stats but I didn't notice much of any difference. Perhaps those who have more than a casual interest in such games will make better use of them, but I just spammed attacks until I got lucky and scored. It wasn't often.
There's not much of a story set up to HyperBlade. There's no blurb to describe the background, the world's existence or anything to suggest what's going on in this world. Apparently, the reason for the violence is that medical technology has advanced so much that a decapitation or severed limb is no more of a permanent injury than a paper cut. The only way it's portrayed in-game is through some nice faux-adverts during the loading screens. The world building is there, but it's sparingly presented.
The 3D graphics are made up of basic polygons that give a simplistc and clean look which compliments the art style. It's smoothly animated too. The developers took great advantage of motion capture techniques to bring realistic movements to the player. Naturally, they used hockey players as their subjects. There is an advanced 3DFX mode that adds some nicely detailed textures but I've yet to get it working. Even so, the gameplay is all there and it is by no means ugly.
Although I didn't take the time to get deep into the team stats and gameplay strategies that I guess would appeal to the more sporty types, I was still pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had. It's no Speedball or Rocket League which will forever be my go-to sport games if I'm ever in the mood, but it has a bloody charm of its own. It's the best it could be for 1996. There were few 3D sports games like this 20 years ago so I was shocked to learn of its commercial failure. The PlayStation and Saturn ports were subsequently cancelled as was the intended DOS support which is a shame. It has neverthess garnered quite a following with many fans making do with running it in a glitchy compatibility mode (none of that here!). It did - and does - deserve better but if I'm honest it's not really a game for me.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 343 Mb. Install Size: 656 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
IMPORTANT - Run the PLAY shortcut withing the emulation to begin the game. Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.
HyperBlade is © ActivisionReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me