It is very safe to say I've not heard of Ballblazer. Nowhere have I seen it written down, nor caught sight of it in a retrospective. I am clueless as to what it is. For all of a few minutes, that is, because after you fire it up, Ballblazer is a little like Rocket League - space football with cars, kind of thing...
The game isn't difficult to pick up. It's a sports game where you pilot a 'rotofoil' around the arena, attempting to grab a ball and fire it through a goal. Absolutely nothing to it, but I was nevertheless immediately caught off-guard by the camera.
Your movement is graceful and locked. You glide over the playing field with a first person view which automatically focuses on what you need to see, either the ball or the goal you need to put the ball into, but only in 90 degree increments.
Reading that is easier than playing it, at least at first, as in some situations your camera seemingly goes nuts as it tries to keep up with what's going on, only settling down when one player finally gets into some space with the ball. It helps that you can see both your view and your opponents, whether against a human or CPU.
It doesn't take long to get the hang of it (though in the heat of the battle you might say otherwise), at which point you find out the CPUs tactic for scoring - head for the corner and sit there.
This tactic doesn't make a whole lot of sense at first, until you realise that the goalposts move along the length of the field, meaning you can park yourself in the corner and wait for them to come to you, netting a point for your score when they do.
Naturally I copied it, as shown above - my view points me towards the goal, or the goal end of the field, and the CPU camera below points to the ball, currently just beyond my rotofoil.
It wasn't long before that tactic became cheap (and I assume on other difficulty levels, or against a human opponent, more can be done to steal the ball away from someone who is doing this), so out came the trick shots.
Depending on how you score, you are able to get either one, two, or three points per goal, with the perfect game ending with one player scoring ten points. If you drive the ball into the goal posts you get a single point. Fire the ball from a little way away from the goal and you get two points if it goes in, and if you really start showboating and shoot from so far out the goal posts haven't even rendered on your screen and you'll get three points.
Suddenly the ball is whipping around everywhere, the camera doesn't know what to look at, you don't even know if you have the ball until you slow down (it has a habit of wobbling as it floats in front of you).
The clock will keep ticking down until there's nothing left or there's a clear winner, but the scoreboard acts like a tug-of-war between players, rather than a simple count to ten. If you have seven points and your opponent has two, but then scores a three pointer (the jammy bastard), the scoreboard will now read six points to you and four to your opponent.
The number of tactics available should lead to all kinds of games, especially between two human players, and with goals that shrink each time you score, that clock quickly starts to look ominous.
Ballblazer is a simple game that looks so good, or at least moves it. It does look so simple as well though, which may put some people off, but then again it looks a little reminiscent of the Sonic series, which of course hasn't come out yet at this point in time.
If you want more in the graphics department you'll have to imagine a stadium packed with hundreds of screaming Ballblaze fans (thousands if it's a cup tie), St. Johns Ambulance staff waiting for something interesting to do, a line for the hotdog stand, a pitch lined with advertising hoardings for some kind of local rotofoil repairs service - I don't know, it's been a while since I've been to a football game. The point is, you don't need all that to make a sports game, you just need some solid rules of the game, and Ballblazer has that.
I'm not digging the music however, but I am digging the fact that it's comfortable to play on the Atari 5200, as well as the 7800 shown above, and I'm sure many - if not all - of the other platforms it appeared on too. For a pick up and play game that isn't set in space and doesn't have a story... yeah, I'd recommend Ballblazer. Won't knock your socks off, but it's not half bad.
The ball in Ballblazer supposedly weighs 1,000kg. I bet goalkeepers complain about its flight through the air all the time...
Ballblazer, developed by Lucasfilm Games, first released in 1984.
Versions played: Atari 5200, 1984, via emulation.
Atari 7800, 1987, via emulation.