As a kid that grew up in Canada, hockey is in my blood. I played most of my life, bleed blue and white (go Leafs go!), and every Saturday night, it’s required by law to watch Hockey Night in Canada. Considering the sport is such a big deal up here, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the hockey is entrenched in history and tradition. Every game day my father would tell me stories of battles past. How Bobby Baun scored a goal in the Stanley Cup final with a broken leg, and how today’s hockey is played by sissy men, who lack heart, grit, and determination. Old Time Hockey is a game that brings players back to those days when men had moustaches, bench-clearing brawls were commonplace, goalies barely wore equipment, and players used sticks made of wood. It’s a love letter to 1970s era hockey feeling like the official Slapshot video game we never had. Though, it’s unfortunate that a lack of polish holds back what could have been an unforgettable experience.
As soon as players boot up Old Time Hockey, it’s clear what they’re getting into. Aesthetically, the game borrows many visual cues from 1970’s art. The menus are mixes of bright orange and yellow, with a dark blue background, all while hockey anthems play on loop in the background. While the music isn’t necessarily from that good old era of hockey, it’s impressive that developer V7 Entertainment managed to acquire music rights for songs like Stomp’n Tom Connor’s The Hockey Song among others.
Everything blends together to make an experience that feels like a game made by fans of hockey for fans of hockey, and while some might not understand that appeal, the amount of hyperbole of that bygone era isn’t lost on those this game is targeted at. Goalies hold a save percentage of .524—for those that don’t understand that stat, it’s saves divided by shots on goal, generally, .915 is average these days—old rules like two line pass still exist, and players can slash, hook, and even clothesline the opposition.
There’s even a story mode tacked on to keep players invested. It feels like the story of so many hockey movies, which isn’t surprising since the creators have stated Slapshot was a big inspiration. Players take control of a young, struggling team. They have skill but lack grit, and they’re barely winning any of their games, so they’ve got to try to turn the season around. They do this by trying to complete ridiculous tasks throughout the night. Before each game, players are given three missions to complete. They seem random, but they’re varied enough to give the story mode some actual meaning. These tasks range from hitting the star player of the opposing team, blocking a certain number of shots, injuring a certain number of opposing players, limiting the number of shots on net or even winning the game by a certain goal margin.
Players do this in similar fashion to other arcade hockey titles like THQ’s early 2000s franchise NHL Hitz. There are a few different control options to choose from for any kind of player, and there is some strategy involved. Teams can gain momentum by scoring, hitting hard, and winning fights, making it easier to well, score, hit, and win fights. Being on the opposite side of that can get frustrating, but when things are rolling the player’s way, the game can turn into a good old-fashioned gong show.
While it’s enjoyable in it’s ridiculousness, the gameplay lacks a little bit of polish. I should mention my first experience playing Old Time Hockey was filled with game crashes, though, after an update, that appears to have been taken care of. But once the game started working, it felt like I could never change to the player I needed to follow the play correctly, my hits wouldn’t line up at times despite being in the right place at the right time, and the fighting mechanic didn’t seem to work completely.
The way that works is, players line up against each other, sometimes already locked into a fight, or separated. If they’re not together, players need to lock up properly but can do so relatively strategically. It only takes three hits to land and you’re out so getting it just right is important. Users can dodge and punch, but if you’re playing against a computer, it’s very easy to get caught in a loop where the player punches and the AI dodges. It’s like the game requires the human player to take a punch to continue. Dodging doesn’t always work either, which can be pretty annoying too. For such an integral part of the game—bench clearing brawls happen at least three times a period, leaving the player to take on multiple fights in succession it’s frustrating that it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Regardless, Old Time Hockey is a great time for anyone with knowledge of that era in the sport. As a kid that grew up watching, playing, living, and breathing hockey, it hits me right in the sweet spot that few titles can. Its over-the-top presentation of 1970s hockey is honestly hilarious, and despite it's polished it can be pretty fun. Players shouldn’t jump in expecting an NHL 17 level experience in terms of depth or gameplay, but for those looking for a more arcade style title, it will be hard to find something as good as Old Time Hockey.
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