Old Time Hockey on PS4
It’s a tough gig out there for a niche sports game. With the major annual releases from Electronic Arts and 2K Games, standing with the giants is no small task. Enter Old Time Hockey, a scrappy sports title that brings a lot of heart and a desire to give hockey fans another option to get out on the digital ice. Lacking the NHL licensing and big-budget production, Old Time Hockey instead puts players in with a fictional league filled with booze-guzzling, violence-prone players that wouldn’t make the cut for the big leagues anyway. There’s certainly a need for something to fill this space, but does Old Time Hockey do it right?
Old Time Hockey has some pretty solid points in its favor when it comes to ideas. A couple of game modes, a handful of made-up teams with varying stats, and a distinctly old-school feel resonate very well for fans of 16-bit era sports games and the knock-down, drag-out hockey of old. The game’s cel-shaded approach and arcade-style effects and animations do a great job at creating a wonderfully classic look, and the game packs in most of the basic features we’ve come to expect from a sports title, including a fitting soundtrack, plenty of options for camera angles, and various other trappings.
Of course, sports games live or die on more than game options and a good aesthetic. Here’s where I’ll admit that I’m a bit conflicted on how Old Time Hockey actually plays. If the developers over at V7 Entertainment were truly intent on creating the experience of an amateur team taking the ice with a legal-limit-breaking blood alcohol content, they’ve done a fine job. While you’ve got all your standard passing, shooting, hitting, and fighting, the whole thing feels how I imagine it would feel to try and guide a beer-stunned moose across an ice field using nothing more than a maple-soaked carrot.
The biggest problem with Old Time Hockey, probably, is that the booze-fueled inaccuracies seem to affect player-controlled teams far more than the opposition. The game’s controls feel sluggish and lack precision, while rival teams seem not to contend with quite as much struggle. Sure, they’re not out there making highlight-reel plays — this is bush league hockey, after all — but they often seem to be able to skate circles around any team you’ve put on the ice, regardless of how the stats read out in the preview.
That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had here, though. With its violence-first approach to the pastime, Old Time Hockey makes it easy to throw devastating hits against the other team, your own team, and even the referees. When they’re working right, the passing and shooting work well enough to hack it through a game, though the lag in response and overall player slowness needs to be accounted for if you’re going to get anywhere. The game dispenses of most NHL rules, such as offsides and icing, in favor of keeping the action going; play pretty much only stops if there’s a goal or the puck goes out of play. Penalties can be called, but they’re pretty rare and certainly inconsistent — you can even take out the ref that’s thinking of calling one to make sure the teams stay even.
Unfortunately, classic arcade flair and humor-filled story and loading screens can only carry a game so far. Old Time Hockey is definitely trying to fill a spot that hockey-fan gamers know exists, but the dragging controls and other in-game inconsistencies leave it far from the mark. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to enjoy the game more than I did; I’m a hockey fan, and an alternative to the almost-identical yearly churnings from EA is something I’d love to get my mitts on. Sadly, it seems that Old Time Hockey spent more effort in trying to claim its niche than in doing it well. If you’ve got the itch for something different, you can pick up Old Time Hockey now for $11.99 on the PSN Store or on Steam.
Score: 2/5 – Poor