I think it's fair to say that arcade-style sports games haven't really been a going concern for a while now. While EA and 2K continue to push the limits of accurate simulation, other facets of the sports genre have been largely absent. Games like EA's attempted NFL Blitz revival just haven't sold, and the new Mutant Football League took years to get through its crowdfunding stage. Whether this is because of player disinterest, a shift in priorities for publishers, or license holders keeping a tighter leash on their brands, it's a real shame that sports games now only cater to the superfans. Old Time Hockey is a valiant attempt by V7 Entertainment to buck this trend and bring players back to the glory days of Midway Games, but its adherence to modern mechanics in certain areas robs it of its true potential. There is a fun game of hockey to be had here, but it doesn't quite reach the "pick up and play" ideal that made arcade sports the great equalizers they were back in the good old days.
Old Time Hockey tells the story of the BHL, a fictional Canadian bush league from the 1970s that is struggling to stay afloat. The game's campaign mode takes you through half a season with the league's worst team, including all the small town trials and tribulations you'd expect from local sports. Headlines greet you between games reporting on drunken player brawls and other scandalous behavior, and the rinks you play in are sometimes barely filled to half capacity. Considering the type of all out brawls that the game brings to the table, the setting is fittingly grungy and reminded me of many old spring afternoons stretching out in empty bleachers and watching the Charlotte Rangers play baseball. You'll also get incidental cutscenes that attempt to give a character to the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, but most of your time will be spent on the ice attempting one timers and avoiding the referee's glare.
Once you strap on your skates, you pretty much know what to expect from Old Time Hockey. The movement is loose, the physics are a bit wonky, but everything in the game runs a bit faster than the latest NHL. This is especially true of the clock, which runs down faster than you might want, especially when the other team has players in the penalty box. Still, this does keep the pacing up, making an average game last not much longer than fifteen minutes even with multiple human players scoring goals and triggering the same two repetitive cutscenes over and over. In fact, the entire game lacks variety when it comes to player animations, and you might see everything the game has to offer within your first sixty minutes.
Luckily, during that time you'll at least get to experience Old Time Hockey's pitch perfect presentation. From the stilted announcer voice pausing just a bit too long before saying each player's name to the way that selected players and the puck look on the ice, everything about the look and feel here evokes hockey video games of old. Even the music on the menus is a standout, with a wide selection of tunes that make you feel like you're eating dinner next to a jukebox in a Canadian sports bar. Of course, the announcer's lines repeat about as often as the player animations, but there is certainly an undeniable charm to the proceedings that will carry you through some of the game's other sore spots.
Speaking of, the game's controls stick closely to the tradition of arcade games playing fast and loose with how sports operate, and it's not really to the game's benefit. I never really felt that I was able to line up shots in Old Time Hockey, and I scored often by rushing the goal and cheering the puck past the goalie instead of aiming and firing from a distance. The game is also missing features that were around in the genre's glory days, such as the ability to control the goalie and execute a one timer. This gets worse when you use the game's "Advanced" controls, which assigns all manner of trick shots to the right stick and passing to one of the triggers. From my limited experience with modern NHL titles, shooting with the right stick is standard practice, but I'm just not a fan. Thankfully, there are multiple other options that put shooting and passing onto face buttons as Gretzky intended, including a "Beer Mode" scheme that sees all you controlling the entire game with one hand and leaving the other open for a beverage of your choice.
During my time with the game, the career mode was in rough shape due to forcing players to use the right stick shooting and throwing random objectives in the way of progression. Both these moves flew in the face of the casual attitude that the game wanted to cultivate, and the developers seemed to agree, as they've both been fixed via patches since release. Of course, without those challenges, the single player mode lacks a real motivating force to continue outside of the stylish cutscenes and story bits. This leaves the game without a lot of selling points, and it was already pretty much running with the most basic set of modes a sports game can offer nowadays. Even so, these changes are still ultimately for the best and shows that V7 Entertainment is willing to stick with the game and do the work needed to make Old Time Hockey the best it can be.
Despite their best efforts, Old Time Hockey doesn't quite scale the mountain. If you're just looking to have some fun with friends and want a hockey game on the cheap, then this will fit the bill, but you're getting what you're paying for. As it stands, you might just be better served to break out your nostalgic favorite. The graphics will look pretty similar, the controls will be better in some cases, and you'll get to play as your favorite NHL teams instead of fake Canadians. Old Time Hockey fails to improve upon the classics that came before it, and your enjoyment of the game really hinges on whether or not you can forgive it for that. Well, that and whether you want to listen to "Good Old Hockey Game" by Stomping Tom Corners on loop. Old Time Hockey has that on lockdown.
Old Time Hockey was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developers. It is also avialable on Xbox One and PC via Steam.
Old Time Hockey rushes out of the box with a great presentation but trips up once it hits the ice and has to prove itself. The game just can't match up to the retro classics that were its inspiration.
- Classic Graphics and Sound
- Plenty of Control Options
- Feel Good Soundtrack
- Loose Gameplay
- Missing Mechanics
- Slim Set of Modes