Great Old Gaming Gems – Faceball 2000 (Gameboy)

After a brief Hiatus Great Old Gaming Gems is BACK! And we’re back with a game I absolutely loved on my original Gameboy. That game is, of course, Faceball 2000.

With hardware advances the FPS shooter is one of the most popular genres around. However back in 1991 both DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D, unarguably the two games that made the FPS genre, were two years away as they didn’t see release until ’93. 1991 did however see the release of the first FPS I remember playing and a game I really, truly, loved as a kid. That game was Faceball 2000. And yes. You read that right. A 3D First Person Shooter was released in 1991 on Nintendo’s original Gameboy.

It’s time for Damo to die. All of your floaty head enemies had fun and quirky names.

Based on the 1987 Atari ST game MIDI Maze, Faceball 2000 saw you as a Smiley Face who was trapped in ever bigger mazes, with other smiley faces who wanted to kill you unless you shot them first. The action was neither fast nor frantic but to me it was so much fun. You could fire one bullet that would slowly go towards your enemy and you hoped you hit them first time. You couldn’t shoot a second shot until that first bullet had either hit your enemy or carried on until it finally hit the wall by which point you were most likely dead.

By today’s standards the graphics look very primitive. It’s that monochrome green tinged screen and the draw distance wasn’t very far in front of you at all. It was, in a word, crude. But that didn’t matter. The controls were sheer simplicity which meant it was a joy to play. The D-Pad controlled movement, walk forwards, back, turn left or right, and the A and B buttons fired. That was it. It gave a real sense of being in a 3D environment on an 8-bit handheld console. In 1991. Whatever way you want to look at it that’s one hell of an achievement.

Dazza? You’re in my sights! Static screen shots definitely don’t do this game justice.

What made this game for me, as a kid, was the multiplayer. Two player FPS death matches? Check. This was the best part of two decades before Call of Duty. This was 6 years before Goldeneye. Yet we were there running around trying to shoot each other in fully functional 3D.

If you were lucky enough to have 16 friends, with 16 Gameboys and 16 copies of the game, along with 7 four player adapters, you could actually have 16 player death matches. It was the only Gameboy game released that ever supported that many simultaneous players. It was a technological marvel for it’s time. Granted those playing it today have issue with the framerate, the draw distance, and perhaps the graphics as a whole. It’s easy to criticise but we must remember that this game was released at a time when most Gameboy Developers couldn’t make a half decent 2D platformer. It truly did open my eyes to the third dimension.

Did I mention it was released by Bulletproof Software? They handled the conversion from Amiga to Gameboy and might have also released an obscure little title called Tetris.

Tetris had one of the most iconic soundtracks of any game ever. Faceball 2000? Well it’s not quite Tetris but it’s a damn catchy soundtrack that helps with the immersion. If you track down a copy you’ll be humming the music along that’s for sure. The soundfx however? Well compromises had to be made somewhere… A beep is about your lot.

As well as floating evil smiley face heads you sometimes found pods with powerups. In this case? A plaster which gave you an extra life.

Faceball 2000 was also released on the Gamegear and the SNES. A version was 80% complete for Nintendo’s failed Virtual Boy but, allegedly, the 3D immersion was so convincing it caused motion sickness and eye burn. Then again didn’t every Virtual Boy title cause that? There are a few prototype review cartridges around for that version that pop up on eBay every now and again.

If you’ve a working Gameboy kicking around it’s a relatively rare cartridge but you can usually pick one up online for less than £15.