In a day and age where gaming continues to push the realism boundaries, Canvas Hockey is that breathe of fresh air that reminds you, games are supposed to be fun. Developed and published by Synvoyity (Brandon Holt) Canvas Hockey is a throwback to the days of the Atari 2600’s Ice Hockey. Given its focus on fun has Canvas Hockey gone five-hole or were the pipes unkind?
Holt has bucked the recent trend when it comes to visuals. While everyone is adopting pixel art and retro-inspired blocky graphics, Holt has opted for a hand-drawn look. The game itself is presented on a beautifully rendered canvas immediately bringing back memories of sitting through boring lectures and sketching the day away. This is fitting as the developer (Holt) is a PhD candidate in Bioengineering at Georgia Tech. The minimalistic look suits the game well and helps set it apart from other titles in the arcade hockey genre like Super Blood Hockey and Old Time Hockey. Players create their character with a quick choice of Male or Female and then are tasked with naming the squad (welcome back Hartford Whalers) to finally be released into the custom colour editor to give your team its look. Being limited to just one colour was initially jarring but ultimately negated by the gameplay itself.
Hockey titles over the years have had their ups and downs when it comes to gameplay and controls.
Those familiar with 90s iterations of EAs NHL series can attest to that as the more recent entries have gone the simulation route with arcade/classic controls tagged on as an afterthought. Canvas Hockey was built with one thing in mind, fun. Players can compete in 1v1 or 2v2 games across quickplay, career mode (more on that in a bit) and tournaments where up to 12 people can compete for rink superiority. The simplistic controls are responsive with both keyboard and mouse or a gamepad (Switch Pro controller used).
The standout feature here is the checking. The hits, while not over the top, land with a sickening thud as you watch the opponent (or yourself) collapse to the canvased ice. The best part, however, is the risk-reward that is tied to it. Your player has a stamina bar that depletes while sprinting or checking. Missing a hit penalises you especially early on by depleting nearly half of your gauge. Nail-biting contests become even more intense as the clock winds down and you must decide if it is worth it or not to play aggressive.
The stamina bar is just the tip of the iceberg.
When players delve into the career mode and begin competing they earn skill points used to upgrade the player. Attributes including: skating, shooting, stamina, etc. can all be upgraded in a tenth of a point increments to fully create a player that fits your play style. Additionally, your goalie and skating partner can also be traded as you look to improve your squad as you move up through the ranks. Starting in the lowly Bronze league, players work their way through the endless seasons with the ultimate goal of reaching the CHL Elite. The A.I. adjusts well as opponents begin to play more aggressive and at times look quite tactical in their movements. As a single-player title the game is solid.
The career mode alone offers near endless replay value but we all know sports titles demand multiplayer. Canvas Hockey as it sits now offers couch coop for up to the previously mentioned 12 player tournaments. The old feelings of dorm room sessions playing Nintendo 64 classics like Mario Kart, GoldenEye and the AKI wrestling titles rushed back once the game booted up. Unfortunately at this time, the title does not offer online multiplayer. This has been addressed and there are plans of patching this in (join the discord server to stay updated).
Audio-wise, Canvas Hockey again sticks with the less is more approach resulting in yet another bar down (that’s a positive!). The wood on puck sound is the most satisfying sound in sports and Canvas Hockey nailed it. The soundtrack is adequate and never takes away from the on-ice excitement. Gliding end to end is highlighted with the sound of the skates cutting the ice. Goals (and there will be plenty) are punctuated with the loving groan of the arenas horn.
In order to win the Stanley Cup (CHL Cup in this case), you need a team that compliments each other and works as a whole. Canvas Hockey can hoist the cup proudly. This is a must-own on Steam. There are future plans for a possible port to the Nintendo Switch which would be a win for anyone looking for a pickup and play style hockey title. This is an exciting little game that deserves a lot of praise.