Mad ice hockey with weapons, robots, mutants and death.
This is an ice hockey game that plays much like Electronic Arts’ now well-recognized NHL game series except that this game has a comical, brutal and over-the-top touch to it. This is a game where skeletons, trolls and robots play an insane sport that only resembles ice hockey – they have added weapons, fighting, bribes, monsters and brutal death to the formula and the results are… hilarious.
Even though much of the presentation revolves heavily around a morbid theme, the game actually is a great laugh – that is if you happen to like this kind of burlesque humor. The player names like Grim McSlam, Maim Zitzky and Bones Jackson can’t really be taken serious but instead makes you smile. The very same goes for the team names; Black Hearts, PuckSucker Pukes and Darkstar Dragons to name a few.
You can imagine what hockey would be like if the players were able to attack and indeed kill each other on the ice. Only occasionally is the game blown off in the event of someone’s death. Instead another player just joins in to fill the space. It is possible that a team runs out of players is are forced to forfeit!
The three different races in the game are as mentioned above skeletons, trolls and robots. Skeletons are fast but not very durable to physical violence. Trolls are slow but can take a beating and robots are the fastest and most fragile of the three. Some teams mix all three (or just two) races while other teams are only composed of either one of them. Each team is also ranked with the unique skull-system. The more skulls the team has, the more powerful on average they are. If you choose to play as a powerful team, you’ll of course have better chances to win, but if you want a challenge you’d play as a weaker team.
In Mutant League Hockey you can play a quick match or an entire series of playoffs with 16 teams called Mutant League Monster Cup. Before starting the game you can set some options to make the game better suit your preferred play style. You can play co-op with a friend, which is very entertaining and you can set length of the match to up to eight minutes. The game does support EA’s 4 Way Play adapter so up to four players is supported.
You’ll also be able to set the death index. This basically determines how easily players die in the game. If the death index is high, you’ll see that games tend to end because of lack of players remaining in the team rather than that the time runs out!
Another great option is to enable reserves. This allows you to manually switch out players during play and oversee their individual health status. Managing your team this way can have a huge impact on the survival their survival.
All in all there are 23 different teams you can play as – each have their own set of “Nasty Plays” which are special tactics that team can use to their advantage. To use them, you select the desired tactic during the break (or timeout) and then while you are holding the puck, you press and hold the A button until you hear a beep, indicating that the Nasty Play now is in effect. This isn’t entirely obvious but it works just fine if you’re aware how to activate it.
Weapons, power-ups (health bonuses) and other hazards are thrown into the play area during the match randomly. Picking up a weapon is an unfair advantage seeing as you can even drop the heavily armored goalies with them relatively easily.
Some teams even have unusually powerful players in their team called Enforcers. Enforcers are always armed with their preferred weapon. Each team also has their own home arena. Most arenas are similar, but some stand out – that is those that have the more devilish traps, like holes in the ice, mines or spikes along the rink!
All this craziness mixed with brutal weapons like chain saws, axes and sledgehammers and special rules like two point-goals, demon net goalies (these basically replaces the goal keeper with a living demon head, which generally makes it much harder to score) makes for an insanely fun game of hockey. It’s all hilarious and you can’t really ever be sure on what’s coming next – and that fact alone keeps the game interesting for many hours.
The game is very dynamic – you can play nice and by the rules, or you can go totally wild and literally crush your opponents with brute force. When someone dies, its corpse will remain on the ice until the period is over and thus becomes an obstacle you’ll have to take into consideration – it will make you trip and fall if you try to skate over it and shots can be blocked by it.
Another great feature in the game is the fact that the different hockey team managers will comment the game as you play through speech bubbles. The comments are witty and often very mean (very much in tone with the rest of the game) but more importantly they are dynamic in that they are often aimed towards the specific team you play against. You’ll also see players brag when they score a goal through similar speech bubbles. This adds some great flavor and feel to the game.
Sometimes fights break out and those are played like a mini game – a one-on-one fist fight between two players. This mini game puts the camera in a close up view of the two fighters from the side and you can either block or punch. You lose some energy even though you block a punch, so the fights are generally over pretty soon and there’s no deep strategy behind it – the twist here is that if you fight you get penalized and if you fight and loose, you get penalized even more!
The controls will take some time getting used to. It generally follows the same control scheme as the NHL games on the Mega Drive – one button for punching/rough play, one for passing shots and one for slam shots. However sometimes you’ll need to jump over an obstacle – and that is done by not touching the control pad or buttons at all. This is very confusing and seems to fail about 50% of the times – so be prepared for that. The players will also slide along the ice and it can feel hopelessly slippery at times, but I guess that’s part of the fun. You really need to get into the flow of the game before you can feel comfortable with the controls.
The graphics are pretty generic. It serves its purpose, but doesn’t really impress anyone – some of the animations are over-the-top and very cool looking but other than that there’s nothing special here. They have used a very stark color palette in this game – the ice can be purple, green or blue which adds to the horror theme of the game.
The game also has some issues when it comes to the scrolling of the camera – it really is jerky and will look horrible the first time you see it. But if you give it an hour or so you’ll eventually grow accustomed to it and can ignore it just enough to be able to enjoy the game.
The sound isn’t very varied and will get tedious after a while. The audience sounds very predictable, and the music could have been great if there actually was some more of it. There’s a cool arena jingle and the minimalistic theme song, but not much more. There are some funny and great sounding grunts and screams in there as well.
All in all this is a very entertaining hockey game with some insane and unexpected twists. The concept of having monsters playing hockey and killing each other is great – it’s fun to play and the game is full of surprises. The biggest problem with this game is that it’s either too easy or too hard most of the time – it’s very hard to find a good balance between the death index and what team to play against. Some of the highly ranked computer controlled teams are ruthless and will pound that hockey puck into your goal more times than what’s good for you. Sure you can have your revenge by starting to kill off the players of the other team…It’s great fun for a few hours but after that it tends to leave you wishing the game actually had more content. Definitely worth playing and there’s nothing else quite like it.