Title: Bush Hockey League
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: V7 Entertainment
Publisher: V7 Entertainment
Release date: Out now
tl;dr:: What if EA made NHL ’94 today, but they manage to fuck it up.
Price: PC: $12, Xbox One: $14 / £10, PS4: $16 / £15
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Believe it or not, there’s actually a “story,” in Bush Hockey League. While I use that term loosely, the game is set the 1970s and is centred around the fictional Bush Hockey League, taking inspiration from the movie Slap Shot.Players have to lead their team to the championship is order to save them from disbanding. In between games, players can read through the in-game newspapers to read what journalists are saying, grow and maintain team morale, and unlock hockey cards, among other things. While it’s not a story per se, it does encourage players by unlocking (hockey cards, jerseys) and engaging their players.

Bush Hockey League is a throwback to classic hockey games from the Super NES/Genesis (Mega Drive) era from a top down perspective and old school visuals. To appeal to wide variety of gamers, considering that EA perfected (so to speak) the control schemes for a hockey game, V7 Entertainment gives players the opportunity to choose between control schemes: Advanced (as complicated as EA’s NHL games), Retro (two buttons: pass and shoot), Two Button (same as Retro; yes it’s odd. I even compared pictures and they have the same layout) and Beer Mode (instead of the face buttons, players are to use the shoulder and trigger buttons).

One interesting gameplay mechanic of Bush Hockey League is the progress of the team via the game’s story mode. In order to “level,” up, players don’t necessarily need to win the game. Each game of Story Mode features a few objectives that need to be met in order to increase their three stats: offense, defense, and fighting. Objectives can vary from scoring X amount of goals, winning X amount of fights, block a set amount of shots – you get the idea. Occasionally, one of the objectives will be to win the game, so you’ll have to hope and pray for the best.

My main issue with Bush Hockey League is that player victories feel more like pure luck than actual skills. Even on Easy difficulty, either the A.I. players will knock your ass down and steal the puck, or the goalie will stop everything thrown at him. The few times I managed to get the lead, the A.I. would come back and score back to back to ensure a loss, making it frustrating. Furthermore, if the opposing team goes on a breakaway, cross your fingers that your dumb A.I. controlled teammates are awake, because they’ll score three out of four times. Additionally, fight controls aren’t as responsive as they should be and even dodging fails at times as you get punched anyway.

As a throwback to classic 16-bit era hockey games, the visuals do the job, with cool comic book-like drawings in between games that explain the story as the team is going through a rough time. On the audio side of things, it’s pretty interesting. You’ll have a bunch of Canadian hockey inspired tracks to set the mood, and I could imagine myself watching a hockey game on a Saturday (look up Hockey Night in Canada). Players will also randomly spurt insults and one-liners, which really shows off the Slap Shot inspiration. Additionally, the one man commentary team is actually pretty well done and entertaining.

While I applaud V7 Entertainment’s intention of resurrecting an old school-like hockey, it’s kind of hard to recommend Bush Hockey League. It all depends on how you feel by playing a hockey game where the gameplay feels random with a sometime overly aggressive A.I. (opposing team only; your teammates are worthless), random rock-paper-scissor fights due to non-reponsive controls. It can act as a nice distraction from EA’s yearly NHL title with its Slap Shot-like presentation, but it’ll only be temporary.

The Good

  • Awesome retro style
  • Fun progress system
  • Enjoyable alternative to EA’s NHL series

The Bad

  • Frustrating, even on Easy
  • Your team’s goalie is dumb
  • Winning games/fights feels more random than anything else

Family Focus

Bush Hockey League is rated M for Mature and PEGI18 due to the presence of alcohol use, blood, strong language and violence.

This review is based on a code provided by the PR Agency for the purposes of this review.