In 1993, Midway took the gaming world by storm with the release of NBA Jam, a two-on-two basketball game that redefined the sports genre. Shunning realism, the game had over-the-top action, cartoony graphics, and characters performing superhuman feats such as catching the ball on fire and showboat dunking it from half court. In the 20 years that followed, video game companies have applied the basic premise and mechanics of NBA Jam to nearly every professional sport in countless iterations. Mountain Sheep attempts to bring this formula to hockey with its latest game, Ice Rage (available in the Play Store for 99 cents), but unfortunately the game falls far short.
Ice Rage has a red and blue team (Player 1 is always red) with two athletes on each side (a skater and a goalie). There are 26 total characters, with 17 initially available. Two are unlocked by liking the game on Facebook, three more can be unlocked by purchasing the 99 cent Skar Pack, and the remaining four can be unlocked by purchasing the $1.99 Cat Pack. This would be a worthwhile feature if the characters had any special skills, but that isn’t the case.
While you can earn points to upgrade your character’s speed, strength, and accuracy, I didn’t notice any difference between the characters themselves. Upgrading their stats didn’t seem to make a difference either. The characters are merely vanity costumes, which aren’t very useful in a game with such small characters and no zoom function. Aside from animal characters like “Enviro-Bear,” it’s difficult to tell anyone apart. Enviro-Bear is a great example of the game’s flaw. One would expect a giant brown bear to be strong, but I had no issues knocking him down again and again with a little girl. The bright spot is the occasional inappropriately hilarious character descriptions such as Ron, the redheaded player, being described as the “Gingerbread Man.”
Players choose from three single player modes (Quick Match, Tournament, and Death Match) and a single-device multiplayer mode. Each mode has three difficulty levels – easy (slow gameplay with auto goalies), medium (fast gameplay with auto goalies), and hard (fast gameplay with manual goalies). In addition to the difficulty level, you can choose one or two button controls. With one button controls the character automatically follows the puck, so all you’re responsible for is checking on defense and shooting on offense. Either tap the button for a light attack/shot or hold it down for more power. The sub-par AI made this mode extremely frustrating to play. There’s no way to aim a shot, and more often than not, I found myself holding the puck on the side of the net with no possibility of scoring and no way to move to a better position.
Two button controls allow you to have control over the character’s movements. It took a long time to get used to, but I’ll let that slide because the game is being played on ice. There’s a small area of the screen where you move your finger to control the direction you want to move. You still can’t independently aim your shot, but with some finesse you can face your character in the desired direction and get a shot off before actually moving in that direction. This strategy is workable on a tablet, but even with my bony fingers, it’s next to impossible on a phone screen. Playing on hard difficulty (manual goalie) only further aggravates the control scheme as both members of your team will move in sync like a foosball table, negating any chance of formulating a viable defensive strategy.
After dragging through a couple of games, I decided to start a one button Quick Match and just let the game play itself. I won the match 1-0 when my computer opponent bounced a shot off my goalie and scored on himself. It brought back fond memories of playing air hockey with my college girlfriend. In the post-game stats, I was credited with eight steals, six saves, and one goal without lifting a finger. I almost called my ex to brag but then I remembered how much we hate each other and instead finally lifted a finger to the game…
Ice Rage has shoddy controls and lackluster features. Mountain Sheep tries to gloss this over by comparing it to an Atari game from 1984. That might have been acceptable if this were 1992, and I never heard of 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge or NHL Hitz. But I have. It’s 2013 …and Ice Rage is an insult to my Android’s capabilities.