Aside from my recent return to the lands of Skyrim, most of my lunch breaks this year have been spent playing indie games on my Switch while sat in my car. Which is why a great deal of my reviews have been about retro-style pixel art indie gems. Most of these have been hack and slash action platformers, but today we venture from the action platformer sub-genre and move to the world of sports!
The moment I saw the trailer for Super Blood Hockey I was immediately reminded of many of the sports-based games I had on the SEGA Megadrive back in the day. From Hockey games, to NBA games and, perhaps, most of all – Speedball 2. The moment my brain made that connection it was a title I just had to get my mitts on!
Super Blood Hockey, from Loren Lemcke, is a homage to the 8-bit and 16-bit ice-hockey games of yesteryear – that is mixed with the plot of Deathrace. Death-Row prison inmates are drafted into teams to play against other teams in hyper-violent games of ice hockey – what’s not to love?
The game features multiple modes, with the main ones probably being Quick Play and Franchise Mode. For a single player experience, Franchise Mode is likely where you’ll sink most of your time. You start off as an aspiring team coach/manager and end up selling a kidney to front the initial team costs, pick your country, pick a name and start, well, managing. You’re given an initial budget to draft your team with, and then go from day to day running your franchise. Setting each players schedule and diet, potentially buying performance enhancing drugs (they’re not illegal, but you risk killing players with them) and then playing the games themselves to earn more money. It is always a toss up between increasing player stats to make them better, while maintaining a good weight and, potentially, caring about their levels of brain damage.
From what I’ve played of Franchise Mode so far, it seems a bit “fire and forget”, at least early on. Each day I simply check their weight and adjust the diet accordingly, and then either leave each player training their best stat unless they need their brain damage reducing (I’ve been keeping it as low as I can). Sometimes being able to just go to the next day near instantly if there are large gaps between games.
As for the “on ice” gameplay itself, it is fun, fast paced, violent and, unfortunately, a tad repetitive at times. Being a modern game, it plays a bit smoother than many sports games of my childhood did in retrospect, but it possibly lacks the depth to really sink countless hours into from a single player perspective. You can choose between focusing on the “pure hockey” aspects of skating and skill, to out manoeuvre your opponent to then out-score them. Or you can focus on beating up your opponent, so you can take advantage of team imbalance due to injuries.
In my franchise I’ve gone for a bit of a violence focused middle ground. With a sniper, play maker and two enforcers (those being the 3 “classes” of inmates available besides the goalie) – I use my 2 enforcers to beat up the other teams’ snipers and play makers, and then use my own to score goals to get the win.
The retro-style is attached to a retro control scheme, where it is effectively a 3-button game, pass, shoot and punch! And this might be where it falls a little bit short to really shine as a single player game. As fun as beating the other team up, leaving players squirting pixelated blood all over the ice and cheering at topping your previous best “violence rating” score at the end of the game might be, ultimately there is just one punch button and you just button mash and hope you win by having the better stats and a faster thumb…
But you’ll, hopefully, notice that all these criticisms are mentioned for the single player aspects. And I’ll repeat – only for a “playing this endlessly” perspective – it is great fun in short bursts. Where this game truly shine are two of the main reasons, in my opinion, to own a Switch – short bursts of gaming while on lunch breaks or commutes, and party games.
After driving to the shop, buying lunch, eating lunch and driving back to work, I end up with about 30 minutes “free” during my lunch hour – that’s perfect for a few days of team management and a few game days in Franchise Mode. That’s perfect for filling that gap. Were I to have a free evening to play Switch on the TV at home, I probably wouldn’t play this all evening long – but I’d fill gaps between various stages of dinner preparation with it!
And, perhaps most importantly, the other main feature is that most, if not all modes, can be played as 4-Player local co-op! Super Blood Hockey shines as a local party game! Opting to split up to 4 players between the two teams as you see fit (or go 4vCPU) and can just have a laugh beating the crap out of each other in the button mashing glory of old!
If you’re after an in-depth sports simulator, Super Blood Hockey probably isn’t the game you’re looking for. However, if you’re after short bursts of “nostalgic sports violence” and/or a great party game – then it is a game worth considering adding to your collection!
Super Blood Hockey is out not on Steam and Nintendo Switch, with release dates on PS4 and XBOX ONE later in 2019.