It’s you, the puck, and the length of the ice. Defenders are waiting for you, ready to take you out any way they can. You deke past one defender, then spin around another. Coming to a quick stop, you watch as the last defenceman slides past you. You can’t resist the urge to showboat a little, riding your hockey stick like a hobby horse. The goalie is waiting, but he’s no match for you. You wind up for a slapshot, but at the last moment you deke around the goalie and put it in with a little wrist shot. This is Icebreaker.
Developed by Digital Legends Entertainment and published by NaturalMotion Games, whose other games include Backbreaker (an American Football game) and Jenga, Icebreaker Hockey combines accelerometer controls with onscreen buttons, and accurate player motion capture graphics for an exciting hockey experience.
When you start the game, you create your player, choosing from a few different ‘original’ team uniforms (read: made up teams so we don’t have to pay anyone licensing fees) and then you’re off. There are two modes to play: Challenge mode and Endurance mode. Each of those modes has three difficulty levels. The premise in either mode is the same — skate down the ice, avoid the defenders, and score. You direct your player by tilting the iPhone left or right, and you can do a quick sideways move (the deke) by tapping the buttons on the left and right of the screen. Spin moves are accomplished in the same manner. To skate faster, you press on the forward zig zag arrow on the right side of the screen, and to come to a quick stop, you tap with one finger anywhere on the screen that isn’t a button.
As you make your way down the ice, you will see large colored boxes on the ice with points assigned to them. Pass over any part of these areas and you’ll pick up the points shown, 100, 200 or 500. Deke-ing and generally avoiding being hit also net you points. Where you’ll pick up the most points however, is after you’ve cleared all the defenders. The showboat button on the left will start blinking, and pressing it will make your player get up to all sorts of on-ice antics. Holding it down racks up the points, and when you enter the final zone near the goal, your player will turn and face the net, ready to shoot.
Scoring is not a difficult task. Simply release the showboat button and your player will shoot the puck into the net. Alternatively you can hit the forward skate button to shoot once you’re in the final zone. In fact, there’s no way you can miss scoring, unless you hold the showboat button too long and come into contact with the goalie and he knocks you over. Otherwise, it’s a goal every time.
Each wave gets increasingly harder, with more defenders, more scoring boxes to hit, out of bounds areas on the ice, and even moving scoring boxes near the end of the challenges. The defenders also get faster, making your trip down the ice a bit more challenging than just a simple skate. You have four tries each wave. Get checked or blocked, skate out of bounds or (as I did) skate into the boards, and you start the wave again.
Icebreaker Hockey is exciting and hard to put down. I found myself smiling as I spun past yet another hapless defenceman on my way to the net. The animation is smooth, the controls are fluid, and the graphics are good.
In the way that Tony Hawk was addictive with its chains of skateboard tricks and near endless possibilities for massive points, Icebreaker Hockey has that same kind of appeal. Hitting all the point boxes, avoiding all the defenders and then showboating all the way to the net is extremely satisfying, and I wanted to keep playing after each wave.
Icebreaker Hockey also has GameCenter integration and achievements. Lots of achievements. So if you like a game with ‘cheevos, Icebreaker has ’em.
Icebreaker is only designed for the iPhone, so there’s no HD version for the iPad nor is it a universal app. I found myself playing the game on the iPad 2 in upscaled mode, and I could definitely see this game being awesome as a native resolution game on the iPad. It seems that sports games and high resolution like to go together, so perhaps this will come in the future. For now, it’s too bad that it isn’t HD for the iPad.
I also found the introductory waves were too easy, and the difficulty didn’t ramp up as quickly as it could have. In short, for the first little while I was a bit bored with the game. The game could have increased the challenge a little sooner to be a little more balanced.
I also found myself skipping the instant replays that happen after you score a goal. More often than not, it was a replay of my player, stick high in the air as I tried to rack up points, then shooting the puck at the last moment before I collided with the goalie. Not the most exciting replay. It would have been neat to see replays of the dekes and near misses. Thankfully there is a skip button, so not a big deal.
Icebreaker Hockey is fun. It overcomes its initial low difficulty with challenging stages later on. The gameplay and controls were solid, and everything felt like it should. The game is hard to put down, and addictive in the way that good sports games can be. You want to try the levels again, to see if you can score higher, or get that next achievement. NaturalMotion has brought what made Backbreaker a success and brought it to the ice. Hopefully it will continue to improve with updates over time. Worth checking out.