From the moment I saw Old Time Hockey it instantly appealed to me. I love sports titles, especially those that are designed to replicate the arcade experiences offered by the classics of the 90s, so the ‘goon-like’ nature of the game really resonated with me.
Unfortunately whilst Old Time Hockey has moments where it shines, for the most part it doesn’t deliver the same kind of experience gamers got to enjoy with the likes of ‘NBA Jam’ or ‘Mutant League Football’. It takes a slightly different approach to the classic hockey formula with its emphasis on old-school brutality, but it doesn’t have the enjoyable frantic gameplay to go with it.
Old Time Hockey features a story mode that sees you taking control of the Schuylkill Hinto Brews: a fictional team who take part in the also fictional Bush Hockey League alongside nine other teams. Heading into the season as one of the favourites to win the league, disaster strikes when the opening game sees three of their best players wiped out and subsequently ruled out for the rest of the season. With their hopes of winning the BHL in tatters, you take over in an attempt to salvage the season and reach the play-offs, with failure resulting in the team folding and heading into hockey obscurity. You’ve got to believe though – even if the team’s star players have been replaced with some interesting ‘goons’ who like to play a bit dirty…
The story mode is a neat addition and something we’ve seen more of in sports titles over the years, with games like ‘FIFA 17’ and ‘Fight Night Champion’ having their own narrative modes to play through. Each match gives you a different goal to complete too, so it’s not simply a case of having a small back story play out in between matches. It adds something new to the whole ‘win at all costs’ nature that’s typically associated with sports sims, whilst it also correlates with the fact that the Schuylkill Hinto Brews are now underdogs who simply aren’t expected to win every match but rather perform in a certain manner.
There are multiple controls schemes on offer in Old Time Hockey, with simplistic two-button controls mixed up with more advanced methods that use almost all buttons on the controller. If you’re looking for a simple way to play the game that’s easy to adjust to, the two-button scheme is more than adequate. Alternatively, if you want to utilise the more complex manoeuvres of the game, the advanced option is easy enough to pick up after a bit of practice – it’s the one the purist hockey fans will want to go for, with hip checks, high sticks, and more controlled shooting offering gameplay that an enthusiast will appreciate a lot more.
Be warned though: you’ll need to play through the story mode to unlock the advanced control scheme. It actually seems an odd choice and limits players who might be more used to hockey titles from the get go, although it does come with the benefit of teaching you how to use each mechanic beforehand if you’re new to the sport.
Comically there’s even a ‘Beer’ control scheme that allows you to play the game with one hand. You know what? It actually works. Of course, I’d never fully recommend it, but it’s an addition that will certainly be useful for those party nights where you get together with friends for some local multiplayer.
I won’t go through all of the rules of hockey and how each aspect of the sport is represented in-game, but rather the things Old Time Hockey gets right and wrong within its gameplay. One of the things I noticed from the get-go was how the game felt oddly slow, with players seemingly trudging around with no pace. It took away from hockey’s grace of players dicing the ice with their blades, with the absence of speed eliminating any form of high-paced excitement from the game.
Passing could feel a little inaccurate too. Whilst I can appreciate that sending the puck in one direction isn’t going to automatically reach another player à la ‘FIFA’, the fact that it’d often just glide away from any of my players was just frustrating. It’d be easier to accept if there was consistency to it, but there were too many occasions where sometimes a pass would go towards a player whereas other times it wouldn’t. It just felt odd and became something I struggled to adjust to throughout the game.
Something else that became a struggle to adjust to and was equally cumbersome was the player switching. There are a smaller amount of players on a hockey team compared to other sports sims, so the fact that Old Time Hockey struggled to consistently switch to the player nearest the action was just odd. There were even a few occasions where I’d attempt to switch players and nothing happened at all, which was even more annoying. Like most of the other problems in the game there wasn’t a real consistency to the issue, but when it occurred it would slug down the already slow pace of the game.
The most disappointing part about all of Old Time Hockey’s issues is that the game isn’t all bad. When everything works together nicely it can actually be a lot of fun, with some instances of the game really showing off the attacking flair that the sport of hockey really has. Despite its brutality, hockey is a surprisingly tactical game; you’ll be surprised at just how satisfying it can be to orchestrate attacks between your players will the end result being a slick looking goal.
Defending could be a lot of fun too, albeit a little difficult to get to grips with. I never mastered the art of defending in Old Time Hockey, but wiping out players from behind with the stick was a lot of fun. I know it’s a slightly unconventional way to play the game, but Old Time Hockey embraces brutality with open arms – I think it’d be an insult to the developers if I didn’t too.
Now it wouldn’t be a hockey game without some element of fighting, though unfortunately this is an area that Old Time Hockey doesn’t get quite right. I’d have thought that given the ‘goon’ nature of the game the fighting mechanics might’ve been more strategic, but instead it resorted to mashing punches and hoping you don’t miss. Every fight seemed to look the same too, with a lack of variety in the beat-down animations.
There are certain bonuses you can receive from fighting such as restoring a fatigued player’s energy, but they feel so redundant when combat is so unsatisfying. That being said, I did love that you could force a team to forfeit a match by injuring too many of their players – it’s an unconventional approach, but it really reminds me of classic sports games where you could get away with anything. It might not be the true way to play hockey, but these absurd moments add to Old Time Hockey’s charm.
Whilst Old Time Hockey is heavily inspired by the old-school nature of hockey both in its style and gameplay design, there’s also a heavily retro aesthetic too. Don’t go into it expecting the near photorealistic visuals you’d have gotten used to in modern sports releases, but rather a more grainy cel-shaded style that whilst competent at conveying the sport, could look a little ugly at times. It’s an endearing kind of ugly though; it feels oh so very 70s-esque, which is something the game designers were clearly going for.
With their porn-star handlebar moustaches and Brian Fantana style hairstyles, each player of Old Time Hockey essentially epitomises the 70s. The slight fade around the rim of the screen also reminded me of the old CRT TVs from that era too – it’s a nice touch. All of these small details and the way they work into the game shows that the developers put a lot of care into attention into not only creating a hockey game, but one that evokes memories the brutal glory days of yesteryear.
Old Time Hockey has local multiplayer, with online play something the developers might introduce in the future. This is actually where the game shines the most – when playing with friends it’s easy to overlook the flaws, with the game’s emphasis on providing on old-school experience not only bringing back feelings of nostalgia but providing hours of fun too. The simplicity on offer with the controls means just about anyone can pick up and play too, whilst the aforementioned ‘Beer’ mode means you don’t have to stop drinking in the process. I’d call that a result.
Old Time Hockey isn’t a complete disappointment, but I did find myself feeling a little underwhelmed by it all. Gameplay just felt slow and at times unresponsive, which is a far cry from the slickness I expected from a hockey game.
It does have moments where it shines though, especially with the surprisingly enjoyable story mode with its varied objectives and the extremely fun multiplayer which is easy for just about anyone to pick up and play. There was just a lack of consistency to these shining moments, with the game featuring far too many frustrations to overlook in-betwen.
There’s certainly fun to be had with Old Time Hockey, but it’s not the brutal puck-smashing arcade affair I was hoping for.
Developer: V7 Entertainment
Publisher: V7 Entertainment
Release Date: 28/03/2017 (Playstation 4, PC) TBC (Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch