Ice Rage is proof positive that arcade-style sports games are a whole lot more fun when you can hit your opponent. I’m not talking about standard football tackles or rugby slides, either. I mean blatantly illegal contact. Stuff like the shove in NBA Jam, a move so infuriating it had to have ended friendships (or at least started a few fistfights). If it’s more of a fun perk than an actual gameplay feature, so be it. When it turns griefing into a viable winning strategy like Ice Rage does the potential fun goes up by orders of magnitude. You haven’t lived until you’ve frustrated someone to tears over something as silly as a video game.
A Throwback With Style
You’re not going to get an accurate hockey experience with Ice Rage. Like the Jams and Blitzes and Streets of yesteryear, it distills the subject matter down to its most basic elements (scoring and defense), chucks the rulebook out the window, and sets you loose. It’s a refreshing change in a genre that has, in recent years, made a dramatic shift towards realism. You’ll never see a bear take on a zombie in a real pro match… and even if you did, they wouldn’t be allowed to hit each other nearly as often as they do in this game.
Unlike the old school sport-arcade classics it emulates, however, Ice Rage offers no professional licensing whatsoever. If you’re a big-time NHL fan looking for an arcadified version of your favorite sport, you’re going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you just want to take to the ice and beat your opponent within an inch of his life, get ready for quite a bit of fun.
Huge though it is, the game’s roster left me feeling a little bit disappointed. Outside of wackier options like Santa or the above-mentioned zombie the characters don’t have a lot of personality. This really surprised me, given the considerable amount of charm they show in the title image and the portraits you use to select an avatar prior to starting a match. It could be argued that giving your characters too much sass is a larger (and potentially much more annoying) risk, but there’s unquestionable room for improvement here.
Even more troubling is the lack of individual attributes. Other than some questionable documentation I found online that claims characters have individual weight on the ice, each skater pretty much handles, shoots, and shoves the same as the next guy on the list. In a game with characters of all different sorts of archetypes, from nerd to strongman to bear — especially one that features a stat system in one of its modes — it’s a perplexing omission to say the least.
A Natural On The Ice
The action is fluid and fast in Ice Rage, mostly because of a control system so simple two people can play it on the same device at the same time (more below). Things become a little more complicated at the Hard difficulty setting, which makes you control both your skater and your goalie, but Easy and Normal are both a breeze to play after a couple of matches. Movement is (of course) handled via a virtual control stick on the left side of the screen, while shooting and shoving are handled with a button on the right. Once you get a handle on the physics the controls become second nature… meaning, unlike a lot of other mobile sports games, they don’t get in the way of the actual gameplay.
Ice Rage’s Quick Match and Tournament modes operate under basic hockey rules, with Two “teams” consisting of a shooter and goalie trying to score the most goals within 1:45 (Quick Match) or a faster-paced :45 (Tournament). Tourney matches also offer an addictive upgrade system, though I found placing every point I earned between matches in a single attribute broke my character at all but the highest difficulty. By the fourth or fifth bout my character was an unstoppable killing machine. It was fun at first, but once the novelty wore off it all but killed the game for me because of the gap between Normal and Hard difficulties.
The real fun, in my opinion, comes by way of Rage-Off mode. Instead of scoring points your goal in a Rage-Off is to eliminate your opponent’s life bar by way of scoring and/or punching him to death. That’s right: Instead of scoring a point, you cause your opponents physical harm when you make a goal. It’s a completely illogical marriage of hockey, boxing, and cheap old-school fun — and’ it’s really, really awesome. I got a lot of pleasure from winning the three-round sets without the puck crossing over the other guy’s goal line, but as I’ve said before, I’m kind of a weird dude. Even if you don’t play sports games for the express purpose of injuring the other team it’s certainly worth a look. If you get bored of the standard gameplay it can give you a whole lot of replay value.
A Team Sport
The same-screen multiplayer is a cool concept, but the game limits itself by not offering a Wi-Fi option for those with multiple devices on hand. Gameplay is easy with two sets of hands on the screen thanks to smart button placement and the natural shape of a hockey rink. Things translate well to a phone or tablet screen, which surprised me a bit — I’d assumed things would be nearly impossible on my Galaxy S III. Instead, it’s now the preferred method play around the house because of the higher resolution and processing power as compared to my Iconia tablet.
Give It A Shot
Ice Rage’s cartoony art direction and simple gameplay should appeal to a broad section of mobile gamers. If you enjoy competitive gaming (and especially if you have friends who do, too) it’s worth checking out whatever your opinion of real-life hockey. Rage-Off mode in particular changes the rules so much it could hardly be considered a sports game. The few problems it does have, which mostly stem from the characters all feeling the same, becomes a non-factor when you’re in the middle of a heated match with a friend, and that makes it worth way more than the measly buck they’re charging for it on the Play Store. Just try to play multiplayer on a friend’s device if you can… I can’t say it’s worth the cost of a dropped/broken phone or tablet no matter how good it is.