Electronic Arts might be the Ice Hockey kings, but one thing they’ve not offered much to arcade fans since the pretty awesome 3 on 3 NHL Arcade back in 2009.
With a hefty gap since any arcade hockey game hit home consoles, Bush Hockey League arrives featuring punch ups, big hits and story based progression, it all sounds very promising so let’s take a closer look.
Drawing inspiration from the film ‘Slap Shot’ Bush Hockey League is based in the mid 70’s, you go on te road with the Hinto Brews, a mediocre Hockey team falling apart at the seams.
During the story mode, you’ll take control of the Brews from a basic menu which allows you to check league and player stats and your dire ‘player stat’ collectibles earned as well as the calendar before jumping into the teams next game.
Every few matches you’ll find the story progress, usually by way of a simple newspaper clipping informing you that your sponsor is rumoured to be going bankrupt or that one of your players is in some sort of trouble, it all paints a pretty dull picture for the Brews, so it’s up to you to do your best……
That’s right, do your best, for the first few hours, you simply play through the games, win or lose and continue to the next, you’ll have objectives much later on that require winning the match, but most of the time your challenge for the match is as simple as winning a few fights or pulling of a set number of hits or shots, It makes progression incredibly dull as the more achievable challenges are often as simple as playing through the match while others seem out of reach due to a few other issues we’ll take a look at.
Unfortunately I never found myself rushing into the next game in the hope of a genuine challenge, because time and time again I was being told it didn’t matter if I lost.
Slowly but surely your teams 3 stats (Attack, Defence and Fighting) increase and you slowly start to build up the hope of winning a few matches, but sadly Bush Hockey League has other ideas.
It might not sound too bad initially, add to the story based progression some clear and varied music and opinions are pushing above average, even the stylised cell-shaded graphics which come across as a poor-man’s GTA loading screen have a certain appeal.
Sadly, things aren’t all that positive as Bush Hockey League has one pretty severe issue, and that’s how poor the actual gameplay is, with three controls schemes including a 2-button mode and a 1 handed ‘beer mode’ you’d think it would be easy to control, but with slow, laggy and unresponsive controls it’s difficult just to move the puck from one side of the arena to the other. Add to this inaccurate passing, hard to time face-offs which are equally as unresponsive, fighting that feels more like pot-luck and a hit system which is as hard to judge as identical twins in a beauty contest.
Movement isn’t too bad when you get the puck, though doing so often relies on fortune as you skate towards an opposing player to try and tackle, sometimes you’ll knock him clean off his feet, but more often than not, you’ll be left frustrated as you fall behind or worst still, find the game has automatically switched to another player.
Scoring goals is fun, but more often than not I’d rely on space on the wing before cutting in for a slap-shot, even breakaway goals had less success, and fully charged power-shots had as much chance of going in as a accidental flick.
There’s a handful of other issues, such as textures tearing on players costumes, over the top blood from fights, but relatively weak hits causing the scrap, due to the unresponsive controls the matches never seem to pick up pace, which leaves games feeling slow and sluggish rather than fast and exciting.
There’s a degree of fun to be had, especially against a friend, but with no online and enough frustration to keep single player enjoyment to a minimum it’s difficult to find a reason to recommend Bush Hockey League.