I am a huge hockey fan. I have been since I first played Wayne Gretzky Hockey on a friend’s old CGA IBM PC clone. That was for the simulation feel of the game, but for arcade fun with a lot of violence, we would load up Face-Off, which felt like a PC version of Konami’s classic Blades of Steel complete with full control fighting, and yes, the ability to attack the refs!
Eventually I moved on to playing the first EA NHL Hockey game on my Sega Genesis and fell in love with it. From there I started watching more and more games over time until I became a huge fan.
What got me interested the most was the fights. I don’t know how, but seeing the game broken up so two people can go at it fist to face just made it more fun. Even today, with the watered down, corrupt, “let’s protect our star player while he gets away with everything” NHL I still look forward to any fights that might happen.
And it was by way of these fights that I came across a 1977 movie called Slap Shot. It centered around a fictional hockey league and its worst team, the Charlestown Chiefs who are about ready to fold. However with the acquisition of three unusual looking brothers and learning of their brawl first, play later philosophy, the team starts winning and even go as far as taking the league championship in the most unusual way possible. It is a raunchy, hilarious look at the hockey scene of the late 1970s that I recommend to anyone even today.
What surprised me though is the history of Slap Shot, and where it was filmed. I lived an hour away from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and in fact the team is based on the stories the writer, Nancy Dowd, heard about her brother, Ned, when he played for the Johnstown Jets. In fact, the strange brothers that appear in the film, the Hansons, were Ned’s teammates in Johnstown. However, during filming, one of the brothers, Jack Carlson, was called up by the Edmonton Oilers of the (now defunct) WHA and was replaced by their cousin, Dave Hanson. There were a lot of references to Johnstown that I remember well, such as the Morley’s Dog Statue, and of course where the Chiefs played, the Cambria County War Memorial (which was also used by the real life Jets before they folded.)
I could go on and on about how much I enjoy this movie, and recommend it to anyone who loves the way hockey used to be in the 70s. But please, please, PLEASE, do not watch any of the sequels as they are a complete mockery of the franchise. Anyway, the term “Old Time Hockey” is used a lot in Slap Shot, when player/coach Reggie Dunlop wants everyone to play clean in the championship, despite their opponents bringing out a rogue’s gallery of the worst, most violent players in the league, the worst being Ogie Oglethorpe, played by Ned Dowd. That term is also used as the title in a new PC and PlayStation 4 arcade style hockey game, but just like the movie sequels, I cannot recommend it to anyone.
Granted Old Time Hockey the game is nowhere near as bad as the second and third movies. In fact, the feel to it is pretty close to the first game. In its story mode, your team is the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, a team that gives a whole new meaning to losing. I’m going to be honest here. This team is the absolute worst in its fictional BHL league, and even the mission objectives for each game say so. One of the objectives is “do not allow more than 6 goals in one game.” I’m dead serious.
Thankfully these objectives can be accomplished even if you lose, unless a win is required, and you are going to lose…A LOT! In fact, in my first game I lost by a score of 10-0! Eventually I was able to cut down the loss margin but I kept losing, until I finally squeaked by and got my first win but it look a long time. This game WILL frustrate you a lot, as it did me.
One of the reasons is the control is very stiff. Granted there are a lot of control options available, and the one I use requires the right analog stick to shoot the puck. I used the exact same controls in NHL 17 and where they feel tight and responsive, these take a lot of getting used too. A good example is when you try to do a hard check, which is done by pushing the right analog stick towards your opponent.
When I use this in NHL 17, I can perform these checks flawlessly whether by standing still or when moving. But in Old Time Hockey, it seems to only work when I’m standing still. The stiffness also moves on to shooting which doesn’t seem to support the trick moves I do in NHL 17, and even in the fighting, which despite being simple to do (Circle button to punch, X button to dodge) is also a pain to do as it seems like punches are very non-responsive. And in this game, fighting is almost mandatory if you want to win because scoring a “perfect fight” injures your opponent. But on the bright side, I am glad to see that a game can have several fights go at one time, and it allows you to control all of them.
There are also some insane glitches that I have seen that, despite this being a fictional parody of 70s hockey, would never even pass then. This video shows the puck resting on top of the goal net. Normally the ref would instantly whistle it as out of play, but he didn’t even notice for OVER A MINUTE of in-game time. That is inexcusable!
Graphically the game is very ugly, but in this case it works as a positive. It is meant to look like a mid-70s television broadcast, right down to how the screen size is blurred out to look like an old television set. Characters are very basic looking, despite cel shading, and the refs wear the same 70s era red jerseys we see in Slap Shot. Players even aren’t required to wear helmets; a nice touch considering the NHL didn’t mandate helmets to be worn until 1979, though players who had contracts before still didn’t wear them up until Craig MacTavish’s retirement in 1997. The game also runs very smooth on PlayStation 4, a near constant 60 frames per second.
Sound-wise it’s a different story. While some of the music is good (the opening theme is actually very catchy,) the in game audio is borderline annoying. If I hear that organ play the Addams Family theme one more time, I’d take a skate to my throat. The announcer is very basic and repetitive, and I am so tired of hearing the cuckoo clock sound every time someone is knocked down. I’d recommend playing with the sound down.
Old Time Hockey is $12 on Steam and the PlayStation Store, though at that price I can’t truly recommend it unless you’re a huge fan of Slap Shot or violent 70s era ice hockey. I’d say hold off until a Steam or PSN sale before you make your purchase. In the meantime, if you want an arcade style hockey game to play, try to find an old copy of Blades of Steel on NES or play Face-Off on DOSBox. At least in the latter game you can abuse the ref, just like you can here.
Cons: The story mode team is completely hopeless. Very stiff controls, especially if you are used to NHL 17. Annoying sound effects and music (Enough with the Addams Family theme already!) Frustrating gameplay