I have come to loathe the word tutorial. When I first started Old Time Hockey I didn’t think that would be one of my main takeaways from it, but here we are. Before I tell you why let me give you a bit of context on what Old Time Hockey is. The game is billed as an old school arcade hockey title focusing on a time when fights were a lot more frequent, and players weren’t exactly at peak physical condition. The backdrop of Old Time Hockey is the Bush Hockey League and the game is set in the 70’s.
Old Time Hockey features two modes, Exhibition and Story Mode, and unless you’re playing locally with others its the Story Mode where you’ll spend your time. Here you take control of the Schulykill Hinto Brews, the worst team in the Bush League, with the aim of turning them around and making them champions. It sounds like a simple enough premise but things fall apart quite quickly when it comes to actually progressing.
You see the story mode isn’t as simple as winning or losing matches. On top of playing a game there are objectives to complete which are split between primary and secondary. Primary objectives have to be completed in order to progress while secondary ones will net an increase in stats for your team. Some of these primary objectives are tutorials and this is where the problem lies.
I have nothing against tutorials and go through them in most games I play, but the way tutorials have been implemented in Old Time Hockey has to be some of the worst execution I’ve experienced. Instead of giving a couple of practice matches at the beginning to go through everything tutorials continues to pop up well into the season. And they’re not all simple to accomplish. Let’s take the fight tutorial which pops up way down the line. Instead of just starting a fight by hitting a player during play a few times you need to score three goals while the team is on fire and then engage the goalkeeper with a certain player.
For your team to get on fire you need to knock down three opponents by body checking them. So you do that and then try to score. But the difficulty isn’t changed to make sure you can get a handle on what needs doing. This particular match I had to play a number of times because I couldn’t score enough in the correct way to trigger the fight. Honestly, I almost gave up on Old Time Hockey at this point. After a number of retries I finally managed to do it, only for a couple of matches later for another fight tutorial to appear, which was somehow slightly easier than the other.
It became increasingly demoralising having made my way pretty far through the game and still having these tough tutorials popping up. Then some of the other primary objectives compound on top of that. In some cases it doesn’t even matter if you win a match because if that primary objective hasn’t been completed then you’re replaying that same match until you do get it done. For an arcade style game Old Time Hockey becomes so bogged down in having these objectives I can see it turning a lot of people off.
Yet there is a glimmer of what could have been when you reach the playoffs part of the story. For these series of matches there are no objectives popping up, just you and your skill at playing the game. After the constraint of having to play with objectives for so long the playoffs felt like you’ve been set free. This is then undone in the final match of the season where a primary objective once more rears its ugly head and forces you to play a certain way instead of concentrating on winning.
Old Time Hockey’s gameplay it isn’t bad but it could be better. There are a few control schemes but I stuck with the default of using the left analog for movement and the right analog for almost everything else, which includes shooting and checking. Face buttons like square, circle, and R1 had ways to hack the puck away from opponents too. Movement for the most part is fine but you can’t really pull off great plays due to the lacklustre team AI, forcing you to do everything.
Your teammates will barely go for the puck when it’s loose instead trying to return to their default positions, and any defense you mount is done without support. Every time there is a sign of fun it comes crashing down again because of the combo of bad team AI and the objectives. It feels like such a step back when it comes to arcade style hockey, and actually makes me pine for the days of Midway’s NHL Hitz series.
Most of the effort seems to have gone into Old Time Hockey’s aesthetic which looks like it would come out of the 70’s, though with better graphics. The arcade noises that play and the design of the menus, team logos, and jerseys are all on point. The game does feature a New Game Plus mode but after going through the story once I can’t imagine anyone wanting to return.
Old Time Hockey is a slog that tries to masquerade as a pick up and play arcade hockey title. Throughout the main campaign you feel like you’re dictated to play in a particular way instead. The devs have done everything right with the presentation and the commentary yet slipped up in creating a fun game. Arcade hockey games from a decade ago, even two decades ago, laid the perfect foundations to build upon but it feels like the devs of Old Time Hockey wanted to dig those foundations upon and build a series of poorly signposted office blocks where the ice rink used to be.
Version tested: PS4