Bush League Hockey (Review)

Dec 29, 2022

Bush League Hockey harkens back to a simpler, earlier time of both hockey and video games. The 1970’s vibe of amuteur hockey is captured well in V7’s arcade action. Movement on the ice is quick. Goals and fights are frequent. Bush League Hockey is accessible and fun on the Nintendo Switch. Furthermore, it fills in a hole on Nintendo’s console lacking hockey games.

Released on: April 14, 2022 (Nintendo Switch)
Developed by:
V7 Entertainment

Bush League Hockey started out on PC and Xbox as Old School Hockey. While the game went through a name change for licensing, V7s arcade feel remains. The setting invokes the movie Slap Shot with its unlucky team of roughians. The story mode follows a down on its’ luck team rising up through the ranks. The light hearted story, told through static cut scenes and text, provides a compelling reason to progress. The tongue and cheek story mode features a number of objectives to complete (goals, assists) that do not always require a win. These objectives are helpful because frequently the disheveled team is out matched by the AI.

Initially, the AI frequently outscored my team. Fortunately, as I learned the controls and gameplay matches became closer and wins became more frequent. Bush League contains two control schemes. A button orientated scheme that fits nicely for anyone with muscle memory of 16-bit NHL hockey games. The second control scheme uses the analog sticks and is more nuanced like modern EA hockey games. Given the arcade feel of the game, the simpler button setup works well and feels appropriate.

In addition to the story mode, Bush League Hockey contains local multiplayer exposition games. Up to 4 players can face off against each other. While there is not online play, the focus on local multiplayer retains the feel and fun of classic arcade hockey.

Old School On Ice Action

Bush League Hockey plays out like a 3D Blades of Steel. The action is simple and fights feature heavily. When fights occur, the camera zooms in on the two players. Winning a fight lowers the other players stamina and performance. Consecutive fights can take players out of the game. However, losing players may also join in future fights with other players. The fighting dynamic creates a game within a game during each matchup.

The gameplay on the ice is solid and just as fun as classic 8 and 16-bit titles. Unfortunately though, the gameplay is not as tight as some of those classic NHL games. Puck recognition is spotty at times with players not always grabbing the puck they skated towards. Passing works well, but the game does not include one-timers. This limits the action and strategy on the ice. 

No OT for Dev Team

Initially, there was hope that gameplay would evolve and tighten with future patches. But on May 18th, V7 Entertainment announced that the studio was closing down. The team released the game on all consoles and PC, thanked their community, and issued the following statement:

We want to thank those who stuck with us for the journey, we couldn’t have done it without you! We love our community. Your cheers lift us, and your jeers we hear and gratefully take that advice with us. This experience has been like being at the rink and hearing the crowd roar. Keep it all coming! On that note, you can still expect the odd patch here and there for the Switch version of the game, just to make sure we’re squashing any bugs you all end up finding.  

Bush League Hockey Holds Up

Even with a limited future, Bush League Hockey is full of old school fun. The graphics feel at home in the PS2 era, but that helps maintain the sense of place and lack of skill from the ameutur players. A word of warning, long load times on the Switch exist. When first encountered I thought the game had frozen. I even closed the game and restarted. But this is consistent with others’ experiences. Once loaded though, the game moves quickly without any loads between periods. 

Overall, Bush League Hockey fills a gap in the Switch’s sports lineup and delivers a fun, satisfying hockey experience. V7 delivered on the game they intended to make. A nostalgic, fun, and funny sports title. Fortunately, this nostalgia works not only for the setting. Bush League Hockey brought me back to sitting around a TV and competing with friends. Arguing over a cheap slapshot. And basking in a beatdown.  

Score: 7.5

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