The last time a licensed NHL game was released on PC, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid was 11 and Patrick Marleau was only in his 11th NHL season. It was a long time ago.
Where Madden NFL games finally returned to PC after going console-only in the 2000s, the EA NHL series continues to let us down. It’s not a gap that an independent studio can really fill. The basic controls of these games can be replicated, but the appeal of the EA series is largely based on elements you won’t find in most garage game development setups, such as player likenesses, official logos and arenas, and on-ice motion capture sessions.
You can’t get any of that with the $19,000 Tape to Tape indie hockey game that just got secured on Starter, at least not in 2022, but that’s fine. Without any official NHL games, it’s been fun watching the PC crank out quirky, unlicensed hockey games that include manual controls. Hockey? and Slapshot, retro Super Blood Hockey, and management sims Eastside Hockey Manager and Franchise Hockey Manager. (Managing a hockey team isn’t for me, I’ve learned.)
Newcomer Tape to Tape is a hockey game in the style of NHL 94, with a somewhat strange cartoon: the arena is a 3D model, while the players are sprites resembling paper dolls. The developer is currently focusing on a single-player roguelike campaign inspired by Hades and Slay the Spire, and I love the background story: “Each hockey team lives on barren islands surrounding the main continent. tirelessly to win games and the continent’s precious resources that are only awarded to the most dominant teams.”
Tape to tape Steam Demo does not include any part of this campaign, where players and equipment can be upgraded along the way, but allows you to play unique exhibition games. This is local multiplayer only, but you can use Steam Remote Play for 4-player online multiplayer. (The built-in online multiplayer is something the developers “interest” in, but they want to focus on the campaign for now.)
the Home Page emphasizes “fairness” in hockey simulation: neither should you be able to annoy the AI goalkeeper by scoring over and over again on the same cross pass, nor should goalkeepers be superhuman. It’s true that Tape to Tape goaltenders won’t just allow a goal on every one-timer shot, although I’m not sure what was so special about several of the shots that scored. What I liked the most were the sloppy goals caused by the rebounds: a few times the puck went in after getting lost among the pads and the legs gathering around the net.
You want a good hockey game to create real “hockey moments” like this without feeling like they were scripted, so that’s promising. Other things like hockey also happened. When my shitty passes resulted in turnovers, I could barely hear the “can’t be sloppy in the neutral zone” speech that a color television commentator was preparing. I like that it’s possible to do saucer and drop passes, and that basic stick manipulation is represented. I think I can still prefer Rocket League’s more abstract, rocket-propelled take on football/hockey skills, but the idea of a single-player Slay the Spire hockey campaign is appealing.
The three-person Tape to Tape team hopes to release the game in December, and if it makes more money, they want to add a manual goalie mode.
PC Gamer has a minor connection to gaming: Tape to Tape designer Hugo Julien tells me the team started “seriously thinking” about making a spiritual successor to NHL 94 a few years ago. a friend shared a 2016 PC Gamer article in which our Global Editor Evan Lahti wrote that “the PC needs a game of hockey”.
Evan and I are both hockey fans, and when we’re not adjusting our fantasy lists, we’ve been searching for new PC hockey games for years now. Along with Evan’s call for a great PC hockey game, we managed to release two variants of the title “the PC has finally a hockey game”, one in 2015 and one in 2016. Guess we better get more specific when Tape to Tape comes out. PC finally got a hockey roguelike?