An alternative to EA’s NHL series is finally here! The question is, is it any good? Find out what we thought in our Bush League Hockey Review!
|Release Date||March 28, 2017 (PS4/PC) / November 29, 2017 (Xbox One)|
Hockey video games took up a good part of my childhood. I received a new PC for Christmas at the tender age of 5 years old with NHL 94 installed on it. As you would expect, it became one of my favourite games. It was the beginning of my love of hockey games. I’ve played almost every hockey game in existence since then, but that game (and NHL 95) started it all. Naturally, when I found out V7 Entertainment was creating a new game with that type of gameplay in mind, I got excited. It claimed to have everything a good arcade hockey game should like line brawls, big hits, fast-paced action, and quick goals. Even with all of that nostalgia, I couldn’t shake the fact that this game just doesn’t live up to the hype.
At first glance, Bush League Hockey sparks nostalgia as it looks like something straight out of the 70s. I really like the cel-shaded look as that is perfect for a retro arcade hockey game. It’s a bit ugly in all honesty, but it fits the era it’s trying to mimic. I will say that this game is not kid-friendly, it’s rated Mature for 17+. You can expect blood, violence, and profanity throughout.
The first game I played in Bush League Hockey, I felt like I had never played hockey before. I’ve never gone into a hockey game and gotten destroyed like I did (and this was on the medium difficulty level). I went into that game excited for what I was about to play and that lasted until I lost the first faceoff. After 3 or 4 games, I started to get the hang of it and got a bit more enjoyment out of it.
I tried both control types, the simplified face button controls, and the advanced controls. I can honestly say that neither one really made much of a difference in terms of enjoyment. I felt like the face buttons were actually more difficult to use, but that might be due to me being so used to using the right analog stick in hockey games. The game is very easy to pick up and play and that makes it accessible to a wide audience who may not normally like sports games.
This is supposed to be an arcade game at heart and that’s where I run into some big issues that start to ruin the game for me. The type of game I was expecting was NHL Hitz meets NHL 94, what I got was really nothing like that. The game is slow, oddly slow. There’s more speed in NHL 17 which seems absurd to me. Everything just feels very sluggish and it’s hard to explain unless you actually play the game. Passing, although improved in an update, is still a touch off and I find it very hard to make any good passing plays. One-timers are nearly impossible, there always seems to be a delay in the shot. That takes a lot of the fun out of the game for me. I like to cycle the puck in an arcade or a simulation game and you just don’t see that here.
The skating is by far the biggest hurdle to overcome in Old Time Hockey. I don’t really know what they were going for here. It seems like it’s a cross between arcade and simulation skating. It’s very hard to control and the players feel almost robotic. More precise control would have made this game so much better in my eyes. It’s next to impossible to skate in a straight line to line up someone for a hit. I realized quickly that the hip check was the only viable option to hit people in open ice.
The hitting may leave something to be desired, but there are additional ways of getting the puck from the other teams. Poke checks, stick checks and hooking all allow you to steal the puck. At least they do when they work. That’s the underlying issue with everything. Sometimes the mechanics work, sometimes they don’t. I even have a hard time switching to the right defenceman at times. It gets ridiculous running around in circles trying to get the puck away from the CPU players that somehow avoid everything you throw at them. The one good thing is that the goalies are pretty good most of the time so it’s not as detrimental as it could be.
You’re probably saying, ok so the actual hockey isn’t so great but at least there are awesome fights! No, not really. The fighting system is primitive at best with a block and a punch button. If you hit your opponent 3 times before they hit you, they become injured. It’s cool that there are stick fights, goalie battles, and line brawls. Those are all great things to add to a game like this. The problem is that the fighting is boring right off the bat. For a game that touts this as a feature, I expected it to be more fleshed out. Fighting should feel way more exciting, but like the rest of the game, it just felt sluggish and uninspired.
The game’s main mode other than Exhibition is Story Mode where you try and take the Hinto Brews to the championship game. After that, Story Mode Plus unlocks and you can play with any team. You don’t start off with every skill at first and you learn new things for a handful of games until you can do everything a normal hockey player does. This was a pointless concept and I really don’t get why it was put in in the first place. The thing I do like is the objectives that must be performed each game. It breaks the normality in the game and allows you to try to do things you wouldn’t normally do. These objectives range from scoring a goal in the last 15 minutes of a game to getting into a goalie fight. They’re never too difficult and they offer a nice change of pace.
Bush League Hockey does include a local multiplayer mode which is great for those couch co-op sessions and it certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience. The more puzzling thing to me is why they didn’t include online multiplayer. In a 2017 sports game, that’s a pretty big omission. I feel like that really could have slightly saved this game.
|Couch co-op||Slow, clunky gameplay|
|Humourous story||Primitive fighting system|