What a massive disappointment Old Time Hockey is. A game that clearly tried to bring back the feel of arcade hockey games like Blades of Steel and Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, it falters far too often. While it clearly draws from places of good movies like Slap Shot and a deep knowledge of how hockey used to be, those inspirations are more damaged than honored. Any fan of those old hockey games is likely to be excited about a game that looks to bring back the fun and fast pace those games offered, a sure-fired differentiation from today’s simulation games, but they will be sorely disappointed.
The one thing Old Time Hockey does well is the capturing the overall aura of hockey back in the day. Although, this doesn’t seem like it’s that hard to do as the game seems to take most of its cues from Slap Shot. From the way the characters look, to the announcer, to the humorous names the teams have. You play most of your games in half-full arenas with fans that don’t seem to care, and players fight as often as they play hockey. It’s all slap shots and brawls with Old Time Hockey, and while that may sound great, the actual product is a bummer.
Old Time Hockey is split into two different modes, exhibition and story. In the game’s main mode, the story mode, you start out as the awful Schuykill Hinto Brews who are just looking to possibly win a game. Their best players are injured, their team is garbage, and it’s up to you to help the Hinto Brews get back on their skates. Your control of the team happens mid-season and your goal is to get them from the bottom of the bracket into the playoffs. There are updates throughout the season that come in the form of newspaper ads but it always falls flat. I felt like the game was telling me a story through loading screens, not through actual storytelling methods. While it was funny to trade a beer cooler for a player, I just didn’t find the story mode all that interesting.
When I began my season with the Hinto Brews I noticed I had a hard time doing anything the computer did. I couldn’t take a slap shot, I couldn’t check another player, and I couldn’t play good defense. That’s because, for some unknown reason, these skills are locked behind awful, boring tutorials that the game insists you play. Now, these aren’t special abilities that help you win, they are key abilities that are essential to the game of hockey. To say I was frustrated is a massive understatement. I eventually got these skills and started playing decently with my awful team, only to realize that the secondary objectives would drive me just as mad. Most games don’t just want you to win, they want you to pull off special moments like starting a fight with a goalie or scoring a ridiculous amount of goals. The fact that your CPU-controlled teammates are next to useless doesn’t help matters either.
The game’s story mode aside, the gameplay doesn’t do much to win over hockey fans either. It often feels slow and boring. For a game that is clearly leaning to the arcade side, I felt like I enjoyed the smooth gameplay and feel of NHL games, and wanted that kind of smoothness and speed in Old Time Hockey. When you’re focusing on big hits and a lot of fights, the speed is key. The reason Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey was so popular was because it was fast, frenetic, and just flat out fun to play. Old Time Hockey, on the other hand, can feel like it’s chugging along when all you want to do is rush to the net and score.
While Old Time Hockey tries to give the game a dash of style with its cel-shaded look, it comes across as rushed and awkward. To be honest, the game just doesn’t look good and the animations feel like they were pulled from a N64 game’s beta. While I appreciate the look of the players, silly mustaches and glasses, that’s about the only thing the game has going for it visually. In the same vein, the sound is just boring. There are certainly some fun hockey classics like “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors, but the main thing you hear throughout your time with the game is the commentary. While the commentary was funny in the first game, it suffers from an enormous amount of repetition with little to no color commentary. This led to me tuning out the commentary more often than not.
It’s worth noting that the way to play Old Time Hockey is with friends. The game offers up to 4 player co-op but even then I wouldn’t recommend it. While it can be fun to get a group of friends together for some couch co-op, the game just isn’t that fun to play. The novelty of it all wears off fairly quickly and before you know it you’ll be looking to play better games like Blades of Steel or Gretzky. To be honest, you’re probably better off playing one of those anyway. Old Time Hockey tries to capture the attitude of hockey’s past with the arcade fun of historic hockey games, but it does neither particularly well.