Bush Hockey League is a rebranded version of the same game originally titled Old Time Hockey which was released earlier in the year on Playstation 4. It tries to be a bit of a nod to the classic arcade style hockey games and is similar in style to the old NHL games on the Sega Megadrive. Filled with 70’s hairstyles and facial hair to match, Bush Hockey League is certainly very retro in its setting and tries to offer something a little different to the modern style NHL games by EA Sports that have recently been given a bit of a reboot. It is a little bare bones in terms of features with only three game modes available including Exhibition, Story Mode and Local Multiplayer.
There isn’t much to the story mode other than working through a season with a down and out team, a coach under pressure and a few objectives to meet in each match. There really isn’t anything to it other than that and a few lazy cutscenes that are just text boxes with a small and rather dull story. I lost interest in the Story Mode pretty quickly and with the only other mode being Exhibition, there really isn’t any depth to this game at all. Not only that but there are only 10 teams to choose from so not only is there a lack of depth but there is also a lack of variety as well. To have no online multiplayer modes in a sports game is a very strange decision and I’m not quite sure why the developers haven’t put it in. There is local multiplayer but there just isn’t enough on offer here to quench the thirst of even couch co-op enthusiasts.
Graphically Bush Hockey League is ropey to say the least. Character models aren’t very varied and all look very similar except for a few different mop tops and some questionable moustaches. Animations are jerky and don’t flow very well throughout, restricting how they move around the ice and the dated animations are even more prominent in the very limited fight sequences. It all looks really muddy and rough around the edges. Very little detail is present, even in the arenas, where the crowds look like an audience of cardboard cutouts. Visually Bush Hockey League is very disappointing considering that there aren’t many game modes, I would have hope that the developers would have at least tidied up the visuals to at least bring them up to today’s standards.
Unfortunately this game plays as well as it looks and is severely missing the fun aspect of what an arcade style sports game should be. There are numerous control schemes but the mid to high level control systems are far too over complicated when really they should be fairly simplified. From there though it goes from one extreme to the other as the basic controls are just a two button control scheme and while it sounds simple, that in itself can be quite complicated at first.
I never felt fully in control using this preset, but the other ones seemed far too complicated to get to grips with, so there was no balance to it all. Gameplay lacks any fluidity and at times felt like an effort to at least try and enjoy. The restrictions in the animations contributed to this and playing felt more like a hit and hope exercise with no real skill needed as tackles would fly by and miss even when timed right and passes never landed where they were aimed, leading to the puck getting lost and this happened regularly. The shooting is incredibly weak and just like the passing, the puck never really went in the desired direction resulting in some very frustrating moments.
The fights are fun at first but quickly lost their appeal once I realised that they consisted of a boring mini game where you time your punches to take your opponent down. Very disappointed in this aspect as it could of been the one feature that could of saved this title from being utterly disappointing. Difficulty levels are just as unbalanced as the gameplay with even the easiest setting offering a hefty challenge. Obviously the very mediocre and unsatisfying gameplay contributes to Bush Hockey League being more difficult than it should be but to add fuel to the fire, there isn’t even a tutorial on hand to ease players in to how it all plays so it gets off to a shaky start straight away. There is certainly a lot of potential in this game but everything feels so half hearted, even the audio is repetitive and mind numbingly dull. NBA Playgrounds, releases earlier this year is a fine example of how an arcade sports title can be done by an independent studio but Bush Hockey League falls short in so many areas that’s its hard to recommend to even the most hardcore ice hockey games.