I remember the days of EA Sports NHL ’94 on the Sega Mega Drive, though I wasn’t too into sports I remember the excitement I’d get from this game smashing the puck from one side of the court to another and occasionally getting into fights. It was also way more accessible that sports games nowadays with a simple three-button control system.
This joy of a simple hockey game has been lost now sports games are opting for a more realistic approach, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but it does mean that those of us who prefer a more casual game can’t just hop in and out. In comes Old Time Hockey however, to not only reinvigorate the old-school hockey video game, but to remind us all where hockey came from.
This simple stylised approach in Old Time Hockey is a welcome change from the sports sims many know and love today, with classic top-down gameplay, various control systems from “Two Button” to a more advanced style of play, this game hits me right in the nostalgia feels, it’s just a damn shame is so freaking hard.
Old Time Hockey features two playable modes, Exhibition Mode, where you and up to three other players can jump into a custom game, or a Story Mode which has you taking a down-and-out team and bringing them up the ranks of old-school hockey. Naturally, you’d jump into the Story first as you’d think that’s where the meat-n-taters of the game can be found, however, aside from being forced to use the “Advanced” controls, there’s nothing overly appealing here.
Also, if you’re looking for a deep tutorial to get to grips with the game’s controls, you won’t find it. That’s because V7 have attempted to wedge the tutorial in amongst the story mode in the form of challenges. With a Primary and a Secondary challenge to complete, progression is only achieved when the primary challenge is met and these challenges are often incredibly difficult.
You see, in order to “complete” the match and move onto the next scheduled game, you must complete this primary objective which in some cases also acts as a tutorial, giving you absurd things to do such as starting a fight or scoring a number of goals with a single player. It wouldn’t be so much of an issue if they were all thrown at you within the first few games, but these often appear when you’re deep in the Story, which can be really frustrating when you just want to progress.
Because these tutorials are so spread out, it also becomes difficult to really master the controls which is a real shame as trying to remember the entire control configuration at once can be a little perplexing, especially as the Exhibition Mode allows you to become accustomed to a more simplistic way of playing the game. which in itself is confusing.
While I love the idea of sports games, I can often find it difficult to dive right in as games often assume you’re familiar with the rules and various styles of play, offering little in the way of direction if you’re a rookie. Old Time Hockey does indeed allow you to set the difficulty for a more casual experience, but as far as hand-holding goes, there’s very little and for the first few games you’ll often be completely walked-over by your opponent.
After a bit of practice however you soon start to get to grips with the controlls, especially if you stick with the Story Mode, though you’ll quickly find yourself at the bottom of the league table and eager to restart your journey as the Schuylkill Hinto Brews.
Gameplay aside, Old Time Hockey transports players back to the seventies in an era where helmets weren’t a priority and fighting was all-the-rage. All of that is present in this game and when you do hip check someone who’s feeling particularly salty a brawl can ensue. Cue some well-timed button mashing and you can come out on top, and is a nice addition to the game, especially when the other team are a little too keen on the old Hooking technique.
Speaking of teams, V7 Entertainment have done a great job of bringing personality to the game with each team having their own back story. Though it has little affect on the gameplay, it’s a nice touch.
In terms of player AI Old Time Hockey does feel like an old-school game in that respect as the AI is pretty dumb, especially if they’re your team mates. More often than not if your opponent manages to get to your goal zone, rather than trying to tackle, they’ll just skate around doing sweet fuck all. This causes you to frantically cycle through players until you find one to defend with, but by time you do, they’ll often already score.
And let’s not even mention the goal keeper. Unfortunately you’re unable to control the goalie leaving it up to the AI to successfully defend against the enemy, however you’d have more luck with a cardboard box in their position as the opponent often managed to get behind the goalie and simply tickle the puck into the goal.
I know the idea behind this game is to offer an authentic old-school hockey experience both in its gameplay and in its execution, and I know these players aren’t supposed to be NHL standard, they’re old-time players from the 70s when rules didn’t matter. But to aimlessly let the opponent walk the puck into the goal was frustrating.
Overall Old Time Hockey is a blast from the past, but similar to when companies remake those retro chocolate bars they discontinued decades ago, they’re not as good as you remember. While I did enjoy my time with Old Time Hockey when I had more control over the gameplay (in Exhibition) the Story mode is often a frustrating and bitter experience.