When it comes to hockey games on the PlayStation 4, it’s relatively slim pickings. 2K has been out of the game for quite a while now, and EA’s monopoly has resulted in each annual NHL release offering up mediocre titles that haven’t changed in a decade. Apart from that, there are a couple smaller arcade games: Bush League Hockey – formerly called Old Time Hockey – and now Super Blood Hockey. And while EA’s stranglehold on the sport makes this statement a bit less meaningful, Super Blood Hockey is the best hockey title to release this century.
Odds are, if you grew up playing hockey video games during the glory years – think Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey and the like – you’ll be familiar with the look and feel of Super Blood Hockey. With a streamlined control scheme, and a pixelated retro aesthetic, the title dishes out old-fashioned hockey in a neat package. The gameplay is fast-paced, well-executed and even works in a few surprises, such as a rock-paper-scissor class system built around player types: sniper, playmaker, and grinder.
Gameplay-wise, you won’t do anything outside of passing, shooting, hitting, and killing. Yes, we said killing. One of the unique features of the title is its franchise mode. In addition to functioning as a story mode with surprising mechanical depth, it also introduces the most unique feature of the title: player deaths. In a hockey game. This happens within the framework of an almost dystopian timeline where hockey players are prison inmates, possibly playing against their will, who die if checked enough times. Think something like Death Race 2000 meets hockey. It’s a surprisingly compelling gameplay mechanic, and leads to tactical decisions such as sheltering your better players if you go up against a team that hits a bit too hard for your liking.
While the massacres can get quite messy, you can tone the blood down a bit if you’re squeamish. The violence is additionally beneficial for the game in that it provides a lot of surprisingly funny moments, such as one of the quantifiable stats being "brain damage". The game’s sharp wit is best on display when talking about the lives of your "inmates". As the coach, you dictate how they live their lives and micromanage them day-to-day. In doing so you can change their diet – including options to starve them for the added "bonus" of trimming down a player's weight, making them faster – or force-feed them drugs.
The steroid/drug aspect of the game is especially funny, as there are signs plastered all over the locker room telling you steroids are banned followed immediately by the disclaimer of "We will not and do not actually screen for steroids at any point". These lifestyle changes can actually be pretty overwhelming if your roster gets too big, unfortunately. There’s not really any system in place to streamline it that we could find, so the only way to do it quickly is to essentially ignore it, which while this still applies changes to your players, might not be what you were hoping for.
In addition to the franchise mode, there are just a few additional, non-narrative modes. The to-be-expected tournament mode, single games, and then arguably the titles craziest facet, challenge mode. In here you have to do a number of one-off challenges to unlock unique gameplay sliders, and the challenges are bonkers. There’s one particular one, a 12 vs 12 mode, that is complete and utter lunacy, as it triples the player count. So much so in fact that the framerate has trouble keeping up in this mode, pretty much the only instance in the entire title where there was any kind of technical hang-up. But the mode is ultimately so goofy, that the framerate hitch is barely problematic.
Beyond the handful of modes, the game doesn’t offer much more, but it is priced accordingly, with a slim price tag. Plus each of the modes that are there are incredibly fun. The only thing we found ourselves wishing was that there was an online mode. The game supports local multiplayer, but the lack of an online component makes it tough to play with distant friends. If a follow-up is made, which we very much hope happens, then it might be something to consider then. But in the meantime, the game we have currently is rather spectacular.
If you’re a fan of hockey, this is not a game you want to miss. Given how long EA’s hockey titles have remained an underwhelming exercise in repetition, the fact that Super Blood Hockey approaches the frozen sport with such creative spark is incredibly refreshing. An oddball genre mashup that blends fighters with hockey even better than NHL Hitz, this is a delight. With a razor sharp sense of humor, and great, concise gameplay, this title manages to sneak an awful lot of quality into a small package, while still allowing room for its goofier moments to breathe.