If you think of sports games and Data East, more than likely the first thing that'll come to mind is their Neo Geo classic, Windjammers. That's hardly all they did when it came to sports games, however. Compared to the relaxed, summery tone of Windjammers, however, Heavy Smash is a little more in line with something like Speedball, with its sci-fi theme and how you're encouraged to smack around the other team. It's still a pretty fun game, and while it might not have some of the extra depth of Speedball, it's also a lot easier to get into.
In the unfathomable future of 2010, the world has adopted a new sport by the name of "Hyper Handball". Or maybe it's just "Heavy Smash". The game seems a little inconsistent about it, so maybe it's like the difference between "soccer" and "football". Going by the game's subtitle, we can also assume that Hyper Handball has replaced every other sport in the world. Whether this is the best thing ever or some kind of dystopian nightmare is up to you. But any sport where the goals are set to explode every time something ends up in them can't be that bad, right? Either way, as one of nine teams from across the world, plus a team of robots from outer space, it's your goal to beat the competition and defeat the 'Boss' team at the end of the game to earn some sort of fancy prize. That's more or less it, as this IS a sports game we're talking about, here.
The actual game itself is basically a juiced up mixture of soccer, American football, and dodgeball. Each team gets six players, with five on the field, with a sixth serving as goalkeeper. The court itself is laid horizontally, with a goal for each team at each end of the field. Much like soccer, to score points, you'll either have to get the ball into the goal, or, rather UNLIKE soccer, hit the goalkeeper with the ball so hard he gets rocketed into the goal. Whenever something ends up inside the goal, it gets shot in a firey explosion. Yes, this includes the goalkeeper. Thankfully, this isn't the sort of game that has an injury system, so feel free to blow up the goalkeeper as often as you want. Every time a goal is scored, the scoring team earns a point, and the team with the most points at the end of 90 seconds wins.
You always have direct control of the player who's either holding the ball, or whoever's closest to the ball, with the game automatically switching for you whenever the situation changes. The other players are controlled by the AI, and for the most part, they'll generally hang out at different ends of the field, depending on where the ball ends up. Your AI teammates generally aren't too aggressive, meaning it's primarily your job to get the ball from the other team, if need be. There are a few occasions when they'll attack the other team, but this is only when the other team is getting very close to their goal, and it doesn't happen terribly often. Catching the ball is automatic, but you can also kick it by hitting the first button while you're near it.
When the other team has the ball, you get a few offensive options. The first button will make you tackle in whatever direction you're holding, which will knock down anybody it connects with and make them drop the ball. The lower the enemy team's defense stat, the more likely any player who gets knocked down will be stunned for a brief period. That's about the worst thing that can happen to a player, though, and there no fouls or penalties of any sort, so you can and should beat the crap out of the other team at all times. Hitting the second button will make your player jump into the air, and by pressing the attack button while they're airborne, they'll do a diving attack that can hit players below them and knock airborne opponents right out of the air.
When you're in possession of the ball, Button 1 will make your player throw the ball towards whichever direction you're holding on the joystick. The ball can bounce off the sides of the field, if it's going fast enough, and you can throw the ball into other players to knock them over, as well. Button 2 still jumps, useful for making mid-air passes and shots that are a little trickier to catch, although you'll need to take care not to get smacked out of the air by the other team. The third button will pass the ball to the nearest teammate, handily marked by a red or blue box around them and the word 'PASS'. You can pass the ball from anywhere on the screen, even if none of your teammates are actually visible. Of course, in a situation like that, you'll have to deal with the possibility of the other team making an interception, but long-distance passes are great from putting some quick distance between the ball and your goal.
Each team also has a power meter, located on the top left and top right of the screen. Power automatically recharges on its own, and takes about two to four seconds for a full charge, depending on your team's power stat. With a full power meter, hitting the third button while on defense will make your player fire an "Energy Arm". Energy Arms shoot off a spread of three projectiles, which will knock down whatever opponents they hit as if they had gotten tackled. This is the attack the AI players will generally use if the other team is really close to their goal, and while it can be tough to hit with sometimes, due to its spread, it's great for hitting any opponents out of range of your tackle move.
If you've got the ball, however, a full charge of power will make your player do a special throw, simply performed by hitting the throw button while facing your opponent's goal from anywhere on the screen. These are generally the most impressive moves in the game, since they involve ridiculous stuff like throwing the ball so hard it turns into a dragon. These throws have so much momentum behind them that it'll carry it almost all the way from one end of the field to another. Special throws are also a lot harder to catch, and they'll generally knock down any opponents in their way until the ball starts to lose speed. If the goalkeeper gets hit by a special throw, there's a chance that he'll get launched along with the ball right into the goal, scoring you a point. You can also spike the ball downwards with a special throw by performing one in mid-air.
Each of the ten teams are mostly similar when it comes to gameplay, although they differ when it comes to stats. A team's speed stat determines how fast they move around the field, as you'd expect. Their power stat determines how long it takes for them to fill their power meter, while their defense determines how long they stay down. It may also determine how likely a goalkeeper will be to get knocked into the goal with a special throw, but it seems so random at times that it's hard to tell for sure. Other than that, they fire off Energy Arms and do their special throws the same way, although most teams at least get their own unique animations to set them apart.
There's not a ton of strategy to be learned with Heavy Smash, given how fast and frantic the gameplay actually is. That's hardly a bad thing, because it means it's really easy to get into and learn. About the most advanced the tactics get is keeping the ball moving between your players so that it's harder for the other team to intercept it, and there's a trick the game calls "Centering Chance" that you can perform to help out with this. Each goal has two glowing corners at its vertical edges, and if you throw the ball into one of these, it'll bounce high into the air. What you're supposed to do from here is move under the ball, and then hit the first button to flip kick it into the goal when it's about to reach you. In theory, this is supposed to be harder to intercept than just chucking the ball towards the goal. In theory, at least, but it's pretty tricky to pull off a Centering Chance in practice.
If you're playing the single player mode, the AI never gets too unreasonable, and the game actually has a pretty gentle difficulty curve. For the first couple of matches, you'll pretty much steamroll the other team. So much so that you might even get a couple of "Called Games", which means that the AI has basically decided to give up and just let you win. Eventually, the AI will quit being quite as terrible, and it's at this point you may actually have to use a few credits to make it through the game. It gets challenging, but it never feels like the odds are completely stacked against you, unlike Windjammers. At the end, you'll go up against the Boss team, a powered up, recolored version of the Cyber team. The ending, sadly, isn't really worth the effort for what you get, but again, it's still a sports game.
The graphics are pretty decent, and while the players on the field are pretty small, each team has a number of unique animations that help set them apart. The Cyber team, for whatever reason, will flip the screen off every time they score a goal, which is kind of hilarious. While some of the teams are just palette swaps of each other, their special throws are all unique, and they're all pretty awesome to pull off and look at. There's also a nice touch where the portrait for the German team is quite clearly a rather creepy looking Arnold Schwarzenegger, in that classic facial plagiarism that countless arcade games got away with back in the day.
Each field also has a unique look to it, which helps set the teams apart a little more. The space field is probably the most interesting looking of the set, with a crowd of aliens, and two-headed mutants, and a Moai-headed robot in the background. It should also be pointed out how awesome it looks when the ball's put in play. Lightning smashes into the center of the field, the lights darken, smoke begins to pour out, and the ball gets launched out in a pillar of light, which you have to admit is way more badass than any coin flip. The music's also pretty decent, although there's only a handful of tracks compared to the eleven or so courts to play on. There's a lot of synth guitars used, and it all actually sounds vaguely similar to the soundtrack in Konami's Metamorphic Force. Given how short the tracks are, they aren't particularly memorable, but the songs themselves are pretty decent.
Sadly, Heavy Smash made little to no impact in arcades, and it'd end up being mostly forgotten to pretty much anybody except MAME users. It never got any sort of resurgence, unlike Data East's later sports title, Windjammers, and not a single port to home consoles, either. It deserves a lot more love, given how fun it is to play, and while it might not have quite as much depth as more complex sports games, there's just so much awesome stuff to it that it hardly deserves to be ignored. The robots that flip you off alone are more than enough reason to justify playing it, too.