Released: March 28th 2017
Ice, blood and whole-hearted violence. No, not an Antarctic war atop a blistering tundra, Ice Hockey. Score anyway you can, vicious right-hooks, vengeful body slams and barbaric swings are all fair game when victory hangs on the line. Get fired up, start a fight, pry victory from the cold, crunched hands of the enemy.
“Are you kidding me?”
Ice Hockey has its roots in brutal brawls, occasional fatalities and fistfights with referees, an aspect that doesn’t come through in mainstream NHL titles, yet Old Time Hockey celebrates these gritty realities for all their bloody and brilliant worth. During a match, you can slug another player to the ice on your pursuit for the puck; likewise, a plucky opponent can bay for your blood, turning the hockey ground into a different kind of arena. As matches unravel into chaos, players are banished to the side-lines, but not before knuckles are cracked and bruises branded. Build up enough aggro through needless attacks, and a pair will forget the match, entering a no-frills brawl segment. Here you duck and weave, trying to land hits and grapple your opponent to the floor before earning the right to hammer them even further. At the price of a penalty and being ushered away, these brawls can weaken the victims, softening the opposing team. Aggression can run so high that hockey sticks themselves are added to these tussles, smashing teeth in when blood finally reaches boiling point.
These anger-fuelled fights are not just great, reflective additions of but are also masterfully apt summaries of the gameplay, because Old Time Hockey is an exercise in white-hot rage. It becomes very easy to understand how people have lost their mind on the ice, as even on the easiest difficult you’ll be decimated countless times before you score a goal. Maybe this isn’t an issue for hockey fans, but those uninitiated are climbing a slippery slope, one encased in ice with pelting rain and falling rocks and hounding wolves and gunfire pouring from the sky. Oh and there’s lava.
Trying to decipher the controls is also a Heraclean task, flashcards strewn with sport’s jargon delivered in bulk discussing every slight trick or pass available is enough to fry anyone’s brain. On “Newbie” mode all of this information is redundant anyhow, as controls are limited to two buttons, yet still punches, passes and shots still only seem to work half the time, as if all the members of your team are utterly apathetic, more a peewee league than anything resembling international.
A single player story campaign with an indescribably nebulous UI echoes this, your team the lowest of the low having not won a match in years. You guide them to victory, not necessarily winning each match, but completing three missions that range from scoring in a certain time frame to assaulting a specific player. It’s a fairly lacklustre affair, but through it you earn trading cards that detail each of the fictitious players. Old Time Hockey does a very good job of capturing the spirit of the sport, with rural team names like the Portage Lake Widow Makers and the quasi-feral Cascadia Timber Cats, the cartoonish reality presented is embellished with vintage American aesthetics, you can almost soak in the stench of hotdogs and disappointment. Old Time Hockey’s music is easily the highlight, ranging from a rendition of the Adam’s Family theme to Glen Miller, a standout track from Old Time Hockey’s jukebox is a tune of the same name by band “The Donnybrooks”, a tribute to the caviller violence and passion of Hockey lovingly presented throughout the game.
Any fan of the sport has a wealth to enjoy here and whilst single player is hell on ice skates, multiplayer, with a few pals, can even the field, the hilarity of being smashed sideways now enjoyable with living people instead of AI. A very niche sport title, it’ll delight its specific audience with its slapstick tribute to the sport, but clunky controls and an unforgiving difficulty spike from the outset sadly alienates the rest of us.