The Sports Head game series is chockfull of various game covering all sorts of competitive sports. All of them are humorous and are designed with enjoyment in mind –not realism. But that is pretty obvious from the visuals alone; the game’s disembodied heads serve as player avatars and the stages are strange closed off 2D venues where you must do your best to try and make use of the unpredictable physics in order to send your ball or puck to the proper goal. So yes, this is basically glorified foosball with a digital element –but it is still plenty of fun for everyone.
If you have played other Sports Head titles, then you would know that more than half the games are crudely designed time wasters (as addictive as they may all be). The 2D cutout characters animated in flash leave little in terms of innovation or polish –but Ice Hockey Championship manages to serve up that last bit with flourish. It seems like with this game, the developers have been able to fully embrace their graphical medium and have set out to deliver the most visually appealing version of Sports Head they can give. This is really not all that “appealing” in terms of being cute, but the improvements to the user interface and the overall responsiveness and smoothness of animations simply cannot be ignored. We give the developers kudos for finally making the visuals have that composed and intended feel, as opposed to the rough content present in the previous games.
Getting a Score
The gameplay is pretty simple, you control 1 head, the CPU controls a second head. And you each try to maneuver a puck into the opposite goal. One man hockey teams means you and your opponent play all the roles: from shooter to goalie, you alone are responsible for earning a point (or you can let the CPU screw up and earn a point for you –it happens, but just be careful you do not end up doing the same for the enemy).
The heads are armed with hockey sticks that swing around the avatar head. The spin direction is forward, depending on the orientation of the head (the head will always be facing towards the proper goal). While you can use the hockey stick to launch the puck, the head can also be used to keep bumping the puck towards the goal. The game allows players to move left and right, as well as hop a little bit.
There are plenty of elements that factor into the game –such as the various power-ups that appear and the stage based platforms that affect the aerial trajectory of the puck if it bumps into them. CPU AI will also change behaviors depending on the difficulty level. The weaker ones are easier to keep up with and make mistakes. The later ones in the game tend to be more aggressive and prefer to grab the puck whenever it is possible.
The best way to keep up with the game is to move constantly and keep up with the movement of the puck itself. Even if you try camping the goal on your side of the stage, there are still plenty of ways for the enemy AI to score a point. And if you are too close to the goal, you are left with very little maneuvering space and chances to recover a puck that has managed to get behind you.
The idea is to keep the puck moving forward by pushing towards your opponent. The more forward momentum the puck gets, the less likely it is to start sliding towards the opponent’s goal. And if the opponent does manage to outsmart you, do not panic. It is easy to recuperate from a single mistake, but it is harder to get back into the game if you have psyched yourself out of the zone.
The Best One Yet
We are mightily impressed with the development team behind Sports Heads Ice Hockey Championship and it certainly keeps faithful to its predecessor - Sports Head Ice Hockey. Delivering both a polished graphics and sensible gameplay together in a single, easy-to-play morsel. The catch is that while the learning curve is forgiving and easy, the mastery curve is as steep as ever. And that makes the game well suited not only to casual players but also for core gamers with a competitive edge. Thanks to the streamlined physics and game mechanics, there is now a solid feel of consistency to the way the game plays, and the skill-to-win part of playing is pretty evident within the first few minutes of play. It will take a ton of practice to fully master this Sports Head title, but that is made worthwhile thanks to the game’s responsive controls, graphical flourish, and addictive gameplay.