Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hockey Video Game Review: Ice Stars

Hockey between guys with vicious under bites and fangs.
Seems legit.
EA Sports continues to release the premiere hockey game each year for consoles (and formerly for PCs).  Every now and then, I want to play something different.  Some of those games will end up here either as a ringing endorsement or a rant or somewhere in between.

On iTunes, I came across a game from 2009 called "Ice Stars" which sadly did not unite my favorite scenes of Empire Strikes Back and hockey.  In reality, I've had this on my phone for years, and just now decided to write about (off season and all).

This game features pretty simple, yet still attractive, graphics to go along with some basic 3 on 3 hockey.  Likewise, the game play is simple yet has some depth.  This game features "classic" controls and motion controls.  Motion controls will have to tilt your mobile device like you're trying to navigate a marble through a maze.  I only played with "classic" controls which basically, like many games, turns part of the touch screen into a joystick and two buttons, like an old school Nintendo. 

Speaking of old school, the goalies are wearing old school Bernie Parent masks.  Unfortunately, that's where the comparisons to good goaltending end.  These guys are drunk beer leaguers. Or this year's Calgary Flames.

While all the sprites are very monochromatic in various colors, the ice has a nice worn texture.  This might explain why everyone skates like its an outdoor game.  Also the puck is roughly the size of a pony keg which explains why no one is attempting a saucer pass.  Or a deke.

This is actually a GIF of the action
The game features five teams (Boston, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Toronto).  What, no Chicago?  Each team is represented by three indistinguishable players who, seemingly, have no differences in abilities.  A nice feature is that you can rename them and give them numbers you can't see.  Ever.  Except after scoring.  I chose to play as Toronto and renamed my players Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, and Phil Kessel.  Like I was going to name one Tyler Bozak...

Face offs have their own screen (shown left) where you select one of four buttons to change the angle of your stick blade.  I don't know if this makes a difference but it shows an attention to detail that is often skipped over.  To win the draw you have to swipe the puck back to one of your other players.
While I'm sure there's a good sportsman way of scoring, involving, you know, typical hockey plays, I found two ways: A shot from the face off dot going across the net and then poking the goalie like the Pillsbury Dough Boy until he giggles up the puck.  Once you learn these, the game becomes a Women's Canada versus Japan affair curb stomping (as illustrated below).

I think the last 2 TDs were just rubbing it in a bit
This game also predictably features a fight mode mini-game where you have to, in rhythm, hit the right places on your screen to drop your opponent.  Winning a fight results in you having a short man advantage as the loser stands dazed (and probably feeling a little shame).
 If you are someone who likes numbers and advanced stats, this game may leave you feeling empty inside as the only stat kept is goals.  No assists.  No PIMs. No Plus/Minus.  Of course, you can (like a boss) calculate your own plus/minus by subtracting goals against from goals for.
This game also has everyone with OCD's favorite thing: Achievements, which they call Trophies, which will (hopefully) get you to come back and try different things like being a complete puck hog.  These aren't, as far as I can, tied to GameCenter or any other gaming group, so unless you screen shot it to show your friends, no one will know.  You want to see what that screen looks like?  Of course, I have a screen shot to share.
Oh and there's another page of these things too.

The mini game mode of face offs and shoot outs were lackluster.  On the face offs, I couldn't tell if I was winning or losing but by the 25th "level" I was bored of swiping the screen and gave up (and didn't even get the Trophy apparently proving that quitters never win).  The shootout, might've been even less engaging, as you try and shoot past a goalie waddling back and forth and flailing his arms around.  Then you get a turn being limited lateral movement boy.  As you can surmise, this was awesome and something I plan to keep attempting until I master it like waxing a car, painting a fence, and defeating my nemesis in a karate tournament.

In Summary: This game is a fun diversion for short periods of time but it's not something to pick up and play daily.  There's a free version that only features exhibition games which can give you enough of a taste to see if you want to spring for the full version at $0.99.  The glitch scoring and lack of difference in player/player skills reduces it's re-playability value.  The mini games could be used as a form of punishment.

Rating: 2.5/5

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