Title: Bush Hockey League
Developer: V7 Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: V7 Entertainment Inc.
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One [reviewed], PC
Release Date: Nov 28, 2017
EA are pretty much the kings of the simulation sports world, so whenever another developer takes a crack at a sports title it gets my attention. So when Bush League Hockey came across my desk I was excited to lace up my skates and hit the ice. Unfortunately, EA has nothing to worry about, no matter how much I was rooting for this title to succeed. Hell, 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge, my favorite arcade hockey game from all the way back in 1996 doesn’t even have to worry. This is because, for all the great intentions, Bush League Hockey never lives up to anything it presents the player.
The game draws heavily from the 1970s and movies like Slap Shot. It’s an irreverent take on the sport from a time where helmets were an optional fashion choice on the ice. Fights are common and the action on the ice is loose and frenzied, with referees that often seem to have minds of their owns. All of this seems like a fantastic idea, and an arcade-like hockey game has so much potential, but Bush League Hockey just never finds its own voice and seems like it’s always grasping for something just out of reach.
Visually, this download only title isn’t going to win any awards, but the almost cell-shaded style it employs works in its favor. The 1970s atheistic works well with the game engine, giving the title a very unique look and feel. So much of the presentation simply works, so it’s a real shame that when you get to the meat and potatoes of the gameplay, things seem messy at best. It’s a mish-mash of ideas that just never really get fully developed.
One neat idea is how Bush League Hockey gives players the option of playing through a story mode. Even with major AAA sports titles this is a pretty new idea that has yet to be fully taken advantage of. Bush League Hockey fails in this regard as this mode is nothing more than some text between loading screens. It’s all a facade over what is essentially a basic season mode, where you take the Hinto Brews, the rag-tag story mode team, from last place to first.
This is a nice idea, but it just doesn’t really matter. I don’t say this in malice, as the game also makes it clear that it doesn’t really matter. Because your team is so bad you aren’t even required to win games to advance in the story mode. This makes playing more of a chore as the game does very little to push you, instead focusing more of achieving objectives during a match. I would find myself replaying games not to beat the opposing team, but simply to earn a few objectives. This is not how you get people to keep coming back. In a traditional season mode this would be okay, but in a story mode, not pushing the player to win the cup feels lackluster.
Aside from the story mode, the gameplay is also a little problematic. On the surface it seems like it would work exceptionally well, pulling a lot from games like NHL 94, before that series got super into the simulation aspect of the game. There are a number of control settings that include a beer mode that lets you play with only a single button, all the way up to an advanced option that feels more like a full simulation.
In my eyes, playing with the basic settings should make the game a simpler experience, and work to get you accustomed to the game so you can move to more advanced controls. Bush League Hockey doesn’t do that, rather, your opponents seem to always play with the advanced controls, making the beginner setting nothing more than a masterclass in frustration. If you don’t experiment with the controls, you’ll be left wondering how your opponents are managing to pull off all sorts of moves and shots.
Action and shots just feel more random than anything. Breakaways on goal are about as effective as random shots from anywhere on the ice. More often than not, I’d score a goal by accident than anything else. What doesn’t help is the fact that everything feels a little bit laggy on the Xbox One. Sticking or smashing your opponent feels delayed at best, and completely random at worst. The biggest issue is with the AI, especially that of your own team. You’ll almost always be going on goal by yourself as your teammates will just stop at the center line for some reason instead of smoothly following your down the ice.
Bush League Hockey fails to capture almost anything of what made arcade hockey games fun. Sure, you can get into fights, seemingly at random, but the experience is so wonky it’s laughable. Animations are very jerky, so while you can avoid your opponent’s strikes, it’s incredibly difficult, even on the easy setting. Because of this, fights end up feeling random with fight animations totally at about three. Every single fight is exactly the same thing with no depth to it that you’ll find getting into them more frustrating than anything.
On paper Bush League Hockey sounds like a great idea, but it feels like the developers just never had a cohesive direction to follow through on. Add on top of this the fact that the game has no tutorial mode of any kind, and you are left confused trying to figure out even the most basic of elements to playing the game. Strangely enough the game is that the game is also pretty borked with even my download edition crashing twice during this review. There were also a few strange glitches, including one time the puck just dispersing and skaters just moving about randomly.
Bush League Hockey could have been something special, and lord knows we could use some arcade-like sports titles with the deluge of EA simulation sports titles. It just sucks that Bush League Hockey isn’t it. Yes, there is some fun to be had here, but not enough to cover up so many failed elements that cause so much frustration. Skip this one and just find yourself a copy of 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge, or pick up Blades of Steel on the NES instead.
*Review Code Provided by Publisher*