Sports games used to be populated with simulation-focused releases and simplified arcade versions. Both were fun and set to accomplish different things, but as we’ve moved on through console generations, simulation games have stayed, while arcade sports games are few and far between. Old Time Hockey looks to beef up the arcade sports game catalog with its simple controls, retro style and loud attitude. Not everything it sets out to accomplish works, and it can be frustrating, but it’s still a reminder of how fun an old school arcade hockey game can be.
Old Time Hockey has an original charm that most sports games either can’t pull off, or never get the opportunity to. The goofy soundtrack perfectly matches the tone, and the retro menu design pops on the screen and has a nice polished look. There’s a purposefully over the top, yet monotone announcer, which some may find incessantly annoying (apologies to my fiancee), but I found it perfectly captured the atmosphere and was a constant reminder of how silly and cartoonish the game wants to be.
This is an arcade hockey game to its core. There aren’t lots of button combinations to remember if you want to be a good player. You can shoot, pass and check, while other moves like deking and big hits can be earned by hitting enough opposing players and getting momentum. These minimalist controls make each game simple and fun, while the focus on an old-school hockey filled with big hits and tons of shots on goal make the quick games climactic throughout. Although the controls are basic, they can be a little inconsistent. Hitting other players can feel clunky and difficult to predict if you’ll hit someone or clip past them.
Old Time Hockey’s AI is a constant battle to deal with in games. Enemy AI can range from god mode to a toddler on skates in the same match, and your team’s AI can completely incompetent. The AI doesn’t seem to know when it should follow the puck, and this causes moments where huge advantages can be spoiled because an AI’s script for a one situation overrides a more obvious move. For example, moments where the puck breaks loose toward the opponent’s goal and your AI teammate – who’s right next to it – will skate back on defense or sit in a weird limbo waiting for the player to either switch character’s or skate in themselves. Sure, this can be seen as trying to make the player take control in important moments, but not being able to rely on AI teammates for anything creates a constant, frustrating juggle.
Goalies aren’t controllable in Old Time Hockey, which is fine, but they might as well be cardboard cutouts of goalies, because they’re completely useless and inconsistent. Goalies don’t operate with logic when making decisions, as they’ll just pass the puck off behind the net regardless of who’s there. I’ve had several instances where my goalie would pass the puck directly to an opponent, only for them to score immediately. Other times, puck that were barely shot will sneak past the goalie for a goal, which is hilarious when it’s in your favor, but when it isn’t, close games feel like cheap loses.
The story mode follows the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, a bunch of drunk, mustachioed hockey players in the 70s trying to have their under-performing team turn things around. The story is told mostly through loading screens that will explain a story element in a paragraph or two. While it doesn’t do anything ground breaking or in-depth, the story mode is a nice change of pace to help give games more meaning, even if it’s only through minimal exposure.
Graphically, it isn’t terribly impressive. It looks a lot like what Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 went for, with this weird, sort of cel-shading that comes off more like a cover up for lackluster graphics rather than a stylistic choice. The look works okay with the more classic arcade hockey feel, but the overall graphics fail to come anywhere close to the bar that the presentation set going in.
Old Time Hockey simplifies the hockey game formula in a charming way, but its few mechanics aren’t polished enough to make it fun enough. Just when the game hits its stride, the poor AI and clunky controls derail the whole experience, and impede on what should be a simple arcade hockey game. Though its shortcomings are too frequent to ignore, its highs, just as equally, should be praised.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Old Time Hockey by V7 Entertainment Inc. Review code provided by the publisher.
- Simple arcade fun
- Incredible presentation
- Charming story mode
- Unintelligent AI
- Unimpressive visuals