REVIEW: ‘Super Blood Hockey’ is worth a check

  • reviewed on Nintendo Switch / rated M / $14.99 / released April 2019
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

“Super Blood Hockey” takes the faded memory of 1990’s sports video games and pumps it up with modernized effects, sophomoric humor, and a goofy franchise mode. It’s pixel-people hockey, but with a slight “Adult Swim”-style tweak where little red blood cubes spray whenever the players bounce into each other (you can toggle this “blood” off… or even add more of it.) Despite some cringe-inducing moments, “Super Blood Hockey” handily replicates the breezy simplicity of the retro sports games it homages.

“Super Blood Hockey” supports up to four players across a nice variety of game modes. There are no real world NHL brands or rosters, just generic world teams (Canada! Finland! Germany! Etc.) and a handful of player archetypes. You can craft a four-person team out of big guys, skinny guys and medium-sized guys, giving you different advantages in strength and speed. Controls are simple, relying on just the controller’s stick for movement and shot aiming, and a spread of buttons to pass, shoot, check, and change players.

Many of the old ’90s strategies still work against the computer team, like getting them to follow you behind the net so you can put together an easy pass back around to the front. But you may find that it is difficult to trick the goalie – the goaltending A.I. is tough, blocking shots even as players gang up for multiple rebounds – so when you get the puck past him, it feels great. There’s no Instant Replay feature, but there ought to be.

“Super Blood Hockey” keeps things fast by entirely ignoring penalties. There’s no offsides, no high sticking, nothing. The rink doesn’t even have a penalty box! This is arcade hockey, not simulation hockey. There is fighting, however, which is another way the game lives up to the blood in the title.

If you continue to repeatedly and aggressively check the same opposing player, you may trigger a team-wide brawl. All players get involved, and the last person standing wins the fight. A player from the losing team is knocked out of commission – literally convulsing on the ice and bleeding out for the duration of the “penalty” – which puts the winning squad on a power play. This is a very in-theme way to combine several traditional hockey elements without having to slow things down with penalty calls.

“Super Blood Hockey” expertly rides a thin line where you can skillfully set up scoring opportunities and put together plays like a serious hockey game, even while dodging cartoonishly injured players and slugging the referee.

In addition to the expected exhibition mode (one game) and tournament mode (a three game bracket), “Super Blood Hockey” has a handful of oddball challenges. Winning a challenge unlocks a new game option, like allowing you to adjust the puck’s friction. One of the challenges lets you play a 12-on-12 match, which is hilarious. It looks like a preschool soccer game, with massive herds of players chasing the puck.

All of this would probably be enough for a fifteen dollar game, but “Super Blood Hockey” has an enjoyably bizarre franchise mode that lets you take a custom team through entire hockey seasons. You can recruit specific players, adjust their training regimen and diets, and then take them in and out of the roster as needed. Between games you are the team’s coach, assigning tasks to a motley crew of players that are freely wandering around a live-in gym compound.

The framework for this mode is cynical and satirical, as your team is composed of prison inmates who are being pressured to play for a looming corporate machine. You can buy illegal drugs to improve your players’ stats, and starve them to death if you’re low on money. And – remember how the game loves big ridiculous injuries – if a player dies you just chuck them in the dumpster. Is “Super Blood Hockey” trying to comment on the for-profit prison system, poor sports healthcare, and unsympathetic capitalism? Probably! Or it’s just being edgy. After all, the core gag here is that it’s funny to watch old video game characters bleed in fountains of blocks.

For another example, consider that the franchise mode players all have randomized names, and some of the available choices are questionable. The developers should have taken steps to avoid stereotypical and/or tacky names, even if they thought they were poking fun equally at all of the cultures represented. And why is there only one skin tone for players, despite a roster that looks like it randomizes mustaches, mullets and hair color? (Don’t bother guessing: they’re all caucasian.) And if true-to-current-NHL-teams realism isn’t really a concern here, why no women on the team?

“Super Blood Hockey” loses sight of the puck on that score, but it nails the feel of what hockey video games were like back when they were just starting to get good. This game came out on PC in 2017, but this new Nintendo Switch edition is the debut of franchise mode. “Super Blood Hockey” is expected to arrive on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next week.

“Super Blood Hockey” is available for Nintendo Switch and PC. This review is based on product supplied by the developer. Images courtesy Digerati.

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