iOS Review: Icebreaker Hockey and NaturalMotion Games

February 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Posted in iOS Reviews | 2 Comments
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NaturalMotion Games has run the gamut in utilizing different mediums to get their sports games out to consumers. In a world where Madden casts a wide shadow, I loved that NaturalMotion took the leap and showed off their impressive game animation engine and alternative vision to the static Madden series with Backbreaker, a non-NFL licensed game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Despite mediocre reviews and only 260,000 units sold for the first-time effort, NaturalMotion supported the original game with updates and patches and then expanded on the popularity of Backbreaker’s Tackle Alley mini-game with a Backbreaker: Vengeance release on the Xbox Live Arcade. This fleshed out mini-game where one eludes tacklers with jukes and spin moves, while picking up points along the way to a touchdown, would be the schematic for future iOS releases. NaturalMotion has released Backbreaker Football, Backbreaker 2: Vengeance and NFL Rivals on iOS and Android devices to date with the latest NFL Rivals title featuring an NFL license with real teams and logos (the players’ license still sits with EA). In stepping away from the gridiron, Icebreaker Hockey uses the same blueprint and transforms the fast-paced game play to the ice as you evade defenders with dekes and spin moves, while showboating your way through 50 different levels of game play.

Developed by Digital Legends Entertainment, Icebreaker Hockey boasts fantastic graphics for an iOS game and you can tell that a lot of effort was put into the motion capturing and lighting. In borrowing from the NaturalMotion website, the game uses “NaturalMotion’s endorphin simulation technology with advanced OpenGL ES 2.0 techniques.” Well, that certainly sounds impressive. NaturalMotion doesn’t waste this work either as the game has a replay feature after each wave which shows you the spectacular collision or goal from a different angle. The menus and scoreboard are sharp and I love how fast you can click through every replay or level preview to start the next sequence. While Icebreaker Hockey doesn’t have a NHL license, the game doesn’t suffer at all from the fictional teams as their logos and uniforms are well thought out.

A game can look shiny and nice, but the real crux of the experience is based on the controls – and even more so when your touch screen device is the controller. I really like what Icebreaker Hockey brings to the table here as the layout is intuitive, and the buttons are large and blend in nicely behind the game display. The game does not have a directional pad that you need to blindly seek out while frantically trying to keep up with the action either. You tilt your device to change direction and speed up with one of the bumpers near your right thumb. The other buttons here are to deke left or right, spin left or right, celebrate (or taunt) and shoot (same as the turbo/speed-up button). You also can tap the screen for the hard stop, allowing the defender to whiz by you (and you also get the most points for this).

For a $0.99 iOS release, there are a lot of features stuffed into Icebreaker Hockey. The game has 50 different level designs (or waves as they are referred to in the game), 42 achievements, three difficulty levels, eight unlockable teams, and two different game types: Challenge and Endurance. The goal in Icebreaker Hockey is to collect the most points while working your way down the ice towards the goalie. Along the way, you’ll skate over points-weighted squares (like the gold pictured above), and pick up bonuses as you avoid obstacles (like the orange barriers and rink walls) and oncoming defenders. When you get to the goalie area, you have the ability to showboat until you rifle a shot, or deke one past the goaltender. You always score, unless you wait too long and are caught from behind or the goaltender brutally lays you out for getting to close. Add in a time bonus for how fast you complete the wave and also for how many lives you don’t use (you get four per level) and there’s your score for the round.

The Challenge mode is made up of five waves in each challenge and the sum total of all five waves dictates how many stars you receive as you advance. This relies on the popular game trope that you would replay earlier levels in the quest for a three-star performance (and subsequent achievements). Each wave will increase the number of defenders or their positioning on the ice, as well as add in barriers that you have to navigate around. You start with the rookie level of difficulty and after conquering 25 waves (5 challenges and half the game) the pro level opens up. The waves are the same for each difficulty level, with the big difference being the AI in the defenders. While early on you can be pretty liberal with when you decide to spin around a guy, your timing and margin of error is considerably slimmer as the difficulty is ratcheted up. The Endurance mode has you playing wave after wave until you either run out of tries (remember four per wave) or complete all 50. You once again have to start on the rookie difficulty setting and it takes 300,000(!) points in one game to open up the regular difficulty level. This should really be called Tolerance mode as after 40 waves and 255,000 points on my first time through, I grew a little bored and then was stunned to find out I hadn’t opened up the next level. A typical wave gives you around 7,000 points and my quest took me almost thirty minutes of non-stop play. While the game wants to cater to both a “pick up and play” crowd (the Challenge mode) as well as one who will play for an extended amount of time, I would have shortened up the number of attempts per wave to a max of three and had additional difficulty levels open up sooner. Spending 25+ minutes to set a new high score in endurance mode is not something most gamers will want to repeat.

If you enjoy sports games or any game that highlights violent collisions, Icebreaker Hockey is worth checking out. A modest price tag of $0.99 makes it an easy buy with its solid controls and great animations. While NaturalMotion has tweaked the features on each of its similar football iOS titles (like the ability to play as the defense in later releases), I do feel like, after four games based on the same mechanics, that this gaming convention has ran its course. Expanding to the hockey rink worked and with their willingness to embrace numerous platforms to release their sports titles, I’m excited to see what NaturalMotion will come up with next. With all their iOS titles selling well (including My Horse, which does not have violent collisions), we should continue to see innovative and great looking efforts from NaturalMotion Games for the foreseeable future.



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  1. Excellent read. This is an area of gaming where I REALLY don’t know a whole heck of a lot. And, being a hockey fan, this naturally intrigued me. Nice write up!

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