Old Time Hockey delivers a satisfying combination of arcade inspired ice hockey gameplay, entertaining humour and mildly comic casual violence.
Here’s a great example of a game that does exactly what it says on the tin. Old Time Hockey is an all-round good ol’ time. Just like a tale straight from the playbook of The Mighty Ducks movies: the underdog triumphing over stacked odds. In this instance however, the underdogs aren’t a lovable bunch of rag-tag teens; instead they’re a team of borderline alcoholic, chain smoking street brawlers.
Old Time Hockey’s sound track is an absolutely stand-out attraction. It’s been lovingly crafted, featuring a great selection of licensed music. Mainly composed of punk-inspired klezmer and country tracks, it’s a shame that the energetic and uptempo beats don’t continue once you’ve entered a match. They bring a liveliness and a rough-and-ready attitude to this already full of personality package.
In story mode you’ll begin your career as the new manager of the Schuykill Hinto Brews – currently the worst team playing in the BUSH ice hockey league. Tasked with rescuing them from their current losing streak, you must finish the season in reasonable standing. Almost every skill and move is initially locked off at the start of the season, giving the player almost no hope of winning any of their first few games. This caused me a fair amount of frustration as I tried in vain, not realising that I wasn’t supposed to be able to win. However, progressing through the season’s calendar will unlock upgrades for the Hinto Brew’s offensive, defensive and fighting skills, making the player feel like they’re gradually improving, along with their team.
There are primary and secondary objectives to complete in each match, such as knocking down 10 players or winning by a goal margin of at least two. Given this, it’s possible to lose a match yet still complete the required objectives, allowing the player to progress. Proving that winning isn’t everything. Obscure objectives also count here.
Out of the three difficulty options available, I found myself sticking to the easiest. Not because the game is particularly hard at all, but selecting easy mode strips out some of ice hockey’s more stringent rules like icings and offsides. This laxing of the game’s rules allowed me to enjoy other elements of the game more and keep things moving at a faster pace. Purists looking for an authentic hockey experience will find some things to like here as harder settings do include the conventional rules of the game. Though it will probably have a limited appeal as Old Time Hockey never strives to be what it isn’t. If you’re looking for an ice hockey game that leans towards simulation as opposed to more arcadey gameplay, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
Exhibition mode is the standard affair. Up to four players co-op or versus is possible, making Old Time Hockey a good option if you’re looking for an easy to pick-up-and-play party game. V7 Entertainment, the developers of Old Time Hockey have also included a smart two button control scheme for the game. This keeps it accessible to casual players regardless of the format you’re playing on.
The gameplay is solid, though not as frenetic or complex as other ice hockey titles such as EA’s NHL series. What the game lacks (or chooses to deviate from) in terms of realism, both in gameplay and visuals, it makes up for by oozing cartoonish personality. The whole package feels purposefully designed to be amateurish. Not from a gameplay perspective, but in its presentation. From the deliberately poor punditry (such as “he put some extra pepper in the soup!”) to the cel-shaded, cartoonish visuals. This furthers the narrative of a part-time team of novices, and creates a more immersive and believable setting for the player.
My only major criticism of the moment-to-moment gameplay is that player’s lack finesse and feel sluggish when manoeuvrings. I like to think that this is the result of a debilitating hangover from the player’s previous night’s antics. More likely however, is that it’s a game design choice, and not one I would have made. Again, this doesn’t really take anything away from the game as it plays into the narrative of a bunch of ice hockey wannabes, more concerned with their drinking off the rink than their performance on it. But I do wish they’d cranked up the reaction times of the players a notch. Sometimes a player will receive a pass from a team mate, but freeze for a moment or two before they come under the player’s control, able to perform their next action.
Occasionally, Old Time Hockey throws in a unique and interesting idea that makes me appreciate its’ decision not to be another run-of-the-mill hockey simulator. For example, if the referee notices an infraction, they may decide to let play continue until possession is turned over to the opposing team before awarding a penalty. If, during this time the player manages to knock down the referee, they’ll forget what they’re doing and forget to award the penalty. It’s moments like this that show hints of great ideas and potential packed inside Old Time Hockey.
A staple of lower league hockey games, fights are as common as ice in some matches. Old Time Hockey‘s fighting mechanics are pretty shallow and not particularly gratifying – hit an opponent three times before they hit you. One button to punch, and one to dodge. Players injured in fights receive penalties for the rest of the game making fighting an important part of the game. It’s a fun distraction, but a weak addition to the game’s collection of otherwise decent mechanics. It feels tacked on, more for comedic effect rather than to really enhance gameplay. Although watching your team of players face-off with the opposing team and one-punch knock them all out, is pretty hilarious.
The AI can be a little hit or miss – sometimes choosing to skate back into their position on the rink, rather than chase a loose puck right at their feet. There were a few other technical issues I noticed but nothing hugely problematic. Small things like a player’s tight turning circle making them awkwardly skate circles around a stationary puck, unable to pick it up. These issues, although minor did detract me from the experience a little. However they can be somewhat forgiven as they would be far more glaring in a game gunning for realistic physics and photo-realistic visuals.
Worth noting is that during my first five days of playing Old Time Hockey for review, it would regularly crash, about once every 30 minutes. There was no common factor behind the crashes that I could identify. Only that it always happened during a match and never whilst navigating menus. The game saves at the end of every match, meaning I had to replay a frustratingly large number of my matches due to the game crashing. However I’m happy to say that a pre-release patch seems to have fixed the crashing issues along with one or two other bug-bears I had. Therefore there’s no need to mention them further in my review.
To sum up, Old Time Hockey is worth being checking out by casual hockey fans and the hardcore alike. As long as you’re not expecting a simulation heavy, photo-realistic experience, you should find something to enjoy. Despite its infrequent technical issues, it’s still good fun to play alone or with friends. And personally, I’m going to be humming the soundtrack for weeks to come.