The onscreen d-pad is a strange aspect of modern mobile gaming that has emerged due to the unexpected proliferation and popularity of games on unexpected platforms. Smartphones, ipods and tablets have become breeding grounds for original indie releases as well as mainstream ports of major franchises and not all of the genres of these games lend themselves to touch screen controls. We are in an experimental period where developers compete to find something that works. From tilt control to swipes, stabs and gestures, touchscreeen controls are here to stay. The question is, will we adapt to onscreen d-pads like we adapted to FPS’s controlled with console pads?
Its a question that’s not yet answered, but many developers seem happy to plough onwards with high profile, complex games that would not look out of place on last generations consoles. Disitinctive’s latest effort, Hockey Nations 2011, is one such game that proudly offers many of the features you would see in a modern console release while asking you to play with the acquired taste that is an onscreen d-pad. Control issues aside, this is an assured release that is serious about its aspirations to provide a fully featured version of the on-ice (blood)sport.
My history with ice hockey goes back to NHLPA Hockey on Megadrive, a game which, along with NBA Jam and Speedball 2, robbed me of thousands of hours of my life. With iPhone remixes of both of those games available, its hard to tear myself away from the tiny screen to play “real” games right now.
Hockey Nations harkens back to such classics, but its progressive too. The gameplay is straightforward with two buttons to shoot and pass as well as a sprint button, but the on-ice handling of the players is realistic with sluggish turning but speedy skating. This suits the controls with the latency of the touchscreen offset somewhat by the time it takes players to turn or change direction.
The minute-to-minute gameplay is much less arcade-y than you would expect. Most matches are tight affairs with frenetic bursts of action and quick breakaways interspersed with frequent face-offs and offsides. This breaks the action up somewhat but will no doubt appeal to fans of the sport. Adding to the authenticity is the difficulty of scoring and the competencies of the goalkeepers. Each goal scored is a genuine achievement and brings a good deal of satisfaction.
The game looks very nice and animation is smooth and responsive. Presentation meanwhile is extremely competent with impressive animated arenas and entrance effects before matches. Sound effects are satisfyingly kinetic and there’s a genuine feeling of weight and heft to the players.
There are options for leagues, one off games, play-offs and practice modes as well as a whole series of other extras that round out the package well. I couldn’t get the wifi multiplayer to work but bluetooth would no doubt be great fun and there’s even the obligatory hockey fights that are a mini game worth selling on their own. Distinctive obviously have an eye on the competition and work hard on the feeling of quality throughout to the extent that you are primed to hear the famous words: “Its in the game”. EA has taken the mobile market seriously of late, and games like this show it has some real competition in this domain.
When I reflected on all of the games I’ve played with an onscreen d-pad, Hockey Nations is the one that caused me fewest problems. Whether its well balanced design from the developers or I’m simply adapting I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, Hockey Nations is a competent, feature rich sports game. That it can compete with Speedball 2 and NBA Jam for my mobile gaming time is the highest compliment I can give.
8 toothless Canadian’s out of 10