In an attempt to fill an arcade hockey shaped void on Xbox, developer V7 Entertainment has released Bush League Hockey for Xbox One following some delays in development. The game evokes sensibilities both in gameplay and style from an era bygone – but are they worth the price of admission?
Bush League Hockey provides users with the ability to play through a story mode, following the fictional 1970 team the Hinto Brews. Both its team and ownership are in the dumpster, and barring a dramatic turnaround during the season, the Brews will find themselves bankrupt.
The story continues as you play through games in the regular season and into the playoffs; the narrative moves along, interspersed with newspaper headlines recounting the shenanigans of the Brews as they try to bring themselves back to hockey legitimacy.
Playing through the storyline will net you some cool hockey card unlockables.
The story is reminiscent of one of the greatest hockey movies ever made: Slap Shot, and helps pace the gameplay as the user plays through the season. The season mode did feel a little repetitive as the game progressed, however the addition of game by game challenges, and the ability to play cooperative helps alleviate this concern.
The extra development time on Xbox One seems to have done some good for Bush League Hockey, as the game appears to be mostly glitch free. Bush League Hockey is reminiscent of the classic arcade hockey of the early nineties, and the gameplay is smooth, short of a few troublesome quirks. In the single-player season, there are a series of challenges laid out for the player, most of which involve the brutal physical punishment of the other players on the ice.
The game plays relatively well, and there are two control schemes to choose from – a basic two-button setup which harkens back to the glory days of EA NHL, and an advanced mode which is more in tune with what EA has become in recent years (using the right thumbstick to shoot, etc.). The controls themselves are fairly simple to grasp, and the How to Play section within the pause menu gives players a move by move breakdown of the game itself, however, there are some small issues. Defensive play can be very jarring at times, it’s very easy to miss players who will then skate by you, and while the control on the players seems fairly smooth, it also felt like this was a control issue.
Much to the chagrin of any hockey loving fan, the one-timer is also noticeably absent from this hockey game. This favored way of scoring is unavailable to players, and will likely draw some criticism. While playing, I still had the ability to pass and shoot very quickly, however not in traditional one-timer sense. I wonder if this was a design choice to reduce the overabundance of one-timers that did plague a lot of the earlier arcade hockey games.
The violence aspect of the game is alive and well, and while professional hockey is moving away from the goon/enforcer type of hockey which is ingrained in the public notion of hockey, it’s still a fun and desired requirement for most hockey simulation games. Hitting players consecutively puts your team on fire, building momentum that allows them to skate faster and hit harder. Hitting and fighting is a big part of Bush League Hockey, and as the arcade feel is very similar to the old, the execution is a little clumsy for a game that boasts violence is key.
Where Bush League Hockey really shines is in Exhibition mode, where you locally pit player against one another in two versus two. Sadly, there is no online element, but the couch coop is a welcome mode. The game also lacks the sliders which are well known in EA’s iteration of hockey and would be a welcome addition. Here’s hoping the developer continues to support the game post-launch.
Graphics and Sound
If there’s one thing that can’t be faulted with Bush League Hockey it’s the presentation. The era is faithfully recreated in a somewhat blocky, cell shaded rendering. The loading screens in the single-player mode tell a very funny story and the animations and characters are everything you’d want from an arcade hockey experience.
The commentary is funny and another welcome addition to the game. The commentator uses the classic hockey speak, and this once again helps add to the classic hockey flavor of the game.