The sports genre has had a rocky relationship with PC gaming, with Madden only returning to PC in 2018 and PC versions of major series like FIFA usually not including every feature from that year’s console edition.
But among these underserved sports fans, PC gamers who like hockey have been the most deprived, having suffered through a 14-year drought of EA’s NHL series, which hasn’t graced Windows since NHL ’09. I’ve been personally campaigning about this since 2016.
In this Hockey Dark Age on PC, any game depicting Canada’s favorite pastime is noteworthy. So, take note: Tape to Tape is on Steam as a demo you can play right now, with the full game coming sometime later this year.
Tape to Tape’s arcade hockey is in the same familiar, NHL ’94-imitating style seen in other retro hockey games over the past couple years (Hoser Hockey, Super Blood Hockey). It’s essentially a three-button game, with passing, checking, and shooting behaving as they have over the last 10 or 20 years of hockey games. There are touches of complexity, like the ability to aim a slapshot with the analog stick, or holding the pass button to send a saucer pass, but otherwise Tape to Tape boils down the nuances of hockey considerably.
There’s no icing, no offsides, no line changes, no penalties, and no poke check button (though you can strip the puck off of players without body checking them). There’s also no fighting featured in the demo, a notable omission in a game that harkens back to a time when most of us enjoyed seeing Wayne Gretzky bleed a 20-pixel puddle onto the ice.
What Tape to Tape focuses on instead are special player abilities, splashy game modifiers, and a roguelike structure that I think we’ve never seen before in a sports game. Instead of a conventional season, the campaign is laid out as your team traveling through a web of branching map movements, kind of like Slay the Spire or FTL.
Some of these points on the map are games you have to play to progress, but some are simple yes/no choices about which team stat to upgrade. At the end of the demo there’s a “boss” game against a team called The Officials, who are all wear stripes, unhelpfully, making it difficult to tell them apart from the actual ref.
Player abilities and artefacts transform hockey into a sillier version of itself. “Tomahawk” lets me hurl my stick in a direction to knock over an opposing player. Another superstar’s yo-yo ability lets me send the puck out, then retract it back to my stick. One artefact I picked up in the demo’s short campaign made the AI ref occasionally bodycheck opposing players.
These playful twists solidify Tape to Tape as an arcade sports game, something along the lines of Super Mega Baseball, which we love. I’m not sure its roguelike structure totally works, partly because the demo isn’t long enough to make those decisions pay off—it’s not clear to me whether the experience of unlocking abilities and upgrading your team over time will be rewarding or not. But for now, Tape to Tape is the most visually interesting hockey game we’ve had on PC in years, and details like its puck physics are just authentic enough to keep me, the hockey-starved PC gamer, slapping away.