The first area of concern for this game becomes apparent almost immediately. The gameplay is just not as honed as it ought to be. While passing and tackling are passable, other elements are much less well done. Shooting can seem like an entirely unpredictable activity where you never know exactly what has led to a score. The game also suffers from a lack of a sprint ability. Instead, you have a very small dash that has almost no effect. The end result is that catching any player in front of you is impossible. Combined with the slow pace that Bush League Hockey plays at, this makes the overall experience seem far less slick and exciting that the likes of NHL Threes.
There is also an issue with the controls. Other than the two-button option, almost every other scheme seems to be overly complicated. The sheer number of different options can seem overwhelming. The developers have also not managed to strike a balance between giving you enough control of the players and keeping the game immersive by having the controls feel intuitive.
If there’s one thing that stands hockey out from other sports it that fighting is often not just part of the experience but encouraged by all of those involved. Bush Hockey League embraces this fact by allowing you to get into as many fights as you want in each match. This is something that hockey titles often fail to include, much to the disappointment of fans. Unfortunately, the combat system is far too simplistic to provide any real entertainment or challenge. With only two options, to dodge or attack, fights quickly devolve into just mashing the punch button until you win.
This becomes a common theme throughout the game. The addition of a story mode seems to be a rather inspired move on first impression. Big hitters such as FIFA and Madden have now begun to include singleplayer campaigns to the mix of usual game modes. Unfortunately, the story offered in this game falls far short of the heights in other titles. T shouldn’t be much of a surprise that it can’t reach the heights of the big hitters but it is still disappointing how it feels like it has just been tacked on as an afterthought.
The plot itself focuses on a team that has fallen on hard times. Out of luck with key players injured and the rest of the squad seemingly spending more time getting drunk that honing their skills, it falls on you to get them back to the top. It has some interesting mechanics in terms of achieving certain objectives that each game has but other than that it is just a standard hockey experience with some added newspaper clippings to add a bit of extra context.
Ultimately, it is not the story mode that most players will want from Bush league Hockey but rather the exhibition mode. This is where the title comes more into its own as a multiplayer game. Having two people on a team controlling the players gets rid of some of the problems with the AI and makes the experience that bit more enjoyable but it is still lacks in many respects. However, thanks to the slower pacing and hectic fights, it is far more accessible than most other hockey games if you just want to jump into a few games with some friends. The fights and outlandish tackles only serve to add a bit of extra fun to proceedings as well.
One aspect that the development team have nailed is the overall aesthetic. The look is superb and really fits in with the retro 70s look that the story and gameplay have strove for. With a slight brown tinge to everything and the colors bleeding into one and other, it certainly feels as if you are watching an old television broadcast. The music hits a similar tone. It almost feels as if you are sitting in a bar listening to a jukebox blast out an eclectic mix of music. It all combines to create a presentation that makes Bush Hockey League seem in keeping with the era it is trying to represent.
There is some fun that can be squeezed from Bush Hockey League. Unfortunately, it just is not exciting enough to entice casual players or as advanced as it would need to be to provide a solid playing experience for hockey fans. With the lacking story mode providing little challenge or invention, the best times to be had with the title are with a few friends playing local multiplayer.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game that was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Bush Hockey League is available to purchase on Xbox One.