Bush Hockey League is a game that came out on my birthday five years ago, March 28, 2017. It was originally released on PC and PlayStation 4, and came to Xbox One later on that year. Now, after five years it’s finally time for Bush Hockey League to come to the Nintendo Switch — where it belongs.
So, why did it take five years to port this hockey game to the Nintendo Switch? Technical difficulties. However, with all of the advancements in gaming over the past five years, this Nintendo Switch version of Bush Hockey League is said to be the “most buttery smooth,” definitive version.
My recent early access to the full Nintendo Switch version has been my first experience with any version of this game. That is why I decided to create a “Video Game Video Review” about Bush Hockey League, and include some of my favorite hockey and other sports titles I grew up playing.
Below you will find my “Video Game Video Review” (VGVR) for Bush Hockey League (the Nintendo Switch version):
I grew up playing sports games on my Super Nintendo. Classic NBA Live, Madden, baseball and hockey games. Even though I didn’t really understand the rules of hockey (and still don’t to this day), I really enjoyed playing hockey games. Maybe it was the combination of sports and fighting.
My obsession began with 1993’s SUPER SLAP SHOT, a traditional 5-on-5 hockey game with a made up roster of players and teams. From there I moved onto the more “realistic” professional hockey simulation of the time, NHL 96 from EA Sports — It’s in the Game.
It wasn’t until the Nintendo 64 that I found my favorite hockey experience, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey. This was a 3 on 3 arcade-style hockey game. It was the NBA Jam, Street, or NFL Blitz of hockey games.
I wanted to start off with my early hockey video game history because playing Bush Hockey League has taken me back to my early hockey gaming days. This one brought me back to the classic, fun, over-the-top, arcade-style hockey of Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, but sporting a full lineup like NHL 96 instead of 3 on 3 gameplay.
I wouldn’t call Bush Hockey League a retro game, but it does embody the spirit of those classic games. It feels updated for the controllers of today. Back then, we only had four buttons, two triggers and a D-pad, but today there’s so many more ways to control the action. Taking shots with the thumb stick is a big evolution. We’re now able to fully control shots and slap shots with one finger. You can also use stylish dekes, to play “keep away” from the other team.
You can also freely move around the puck with dekes playing “keep away” from the other team.
On defense, you may choose to steal the puck the polite way, with a hook or poke check. You can also check opposing players onto the ice, letting the puck slide away. I much prefer the latter.
Landing a good check on an opponent is very satisfying in Bush Hockey League. Sort of like landing the perfect slide tackle in FIFA — without getting a yellow card.
Another classic Super Nintendo sporting game that I owned also came to mind while playing Bush Hockey League. That game was Ken Griffey Jr’s Winning Run. Mainly it was the player names. The Ken Griffey Jr games featured major league teams and stadiums, but didn’t have the MLB Player Association license to use real player names. Instead we got names like Racoon Davis and Rocket O’Hara, or Moose McFly. Bush Hockey League features many small town greats like Gary Bone, Dick Chase and Dale O’Brien (from Dildo, NL).
While Bush Hockey League may be silly and inappropriate, its charm comes from the small details. Details like the old school tube TV outline and filters. The colorful commentary and goofy sound effects.
Something I’ve always noticed in sports games is the crowd, and how it’s always been tough for the developer to hide that they were basically repeating the same animations for much of the audience. The funny thing in this game is how this is the minor, MINOR leagues so the crowds are small. Still, they are all executing the same animation — the entire crowd.
It feels as if the developer is calling out that classic trope, or maybe they just don’t care. Either way, it’s kind of hilarious to watch the whole crowd celebrate a goal the exact same way.
Bush Hockey League features a story mode where you play as the Hinto Brews, a team that has been riding the struggle bus all season. In story mode, you don’t even have to win most games. The goal is to complete objectives. Objectives like “Check a number of opponents,” “Score a hat trick with one player,” or “Get into some fights.”
Overall, this is a very well-made hockey game. I started off terrible at it, but once I learned the ropes and checked out the “How to Play” tutorial, I started to get better and better.
I haven’t played any true hockey sims since the 90s or early 2000s, so I don’t know how they handle the controls today. I will say that Bush Hockey League just feels right. By not worrying too much about how the players look or the details they were able to make a pretty great hockey game. I’m also a fan of the simple art style.
If you like the old school retro hockey games of the 90s, then Bush Hockey League may very well be a game for you. If you are more into realistic hockey sims, then go look for NHL ‘22 or whatever year they are currently on.
Bush Hockey League can now be purchased on the Nintendo Switch eShop. The game is also available on PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.
*A review code for Bush Hockey League was provided to myVGBC.com by the publisher.