The last time a licensed NHL game released on PC, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid was 11 years old, and Patrick Marleau was only in his 11th NHL season. It was a long time ago.
Where the Madden NFL games eventually came back to PC after going console-only in the 2000s, the EA NHL series continues to forsake us. It's not a gap an indie studio can really fill. The basic controls of these games can be replicated, but the appeal of the EA series relies a lot on things you won't find in most garage game development setups, such as player likenesses, official logos and arenas, and on-ice motion capture sessions (opens in new tab).
You can't get any of that with the $19,000 indie hockey game Tape to Tape just secured on Kickstarter (opens in new tab), at least not in 2022, but that's OK. Without any official NHL games, it's been fun to watch the PC sprout offbeat, unlicensed hockey games, which include manual control-focused Hockey? and Slapshot, retro Super Blood Hockey, and management sims Eastside Hockey Manager and Franchise Hockey Manager. (Managing a hockey team is not for me, I've learned.)
Newcomer Tape to Tape is a hockey game in the style of NHL 94, with somewhat odd cartoony art: The arena is a 3D model, while the players are paper doll-like sprites. The developer's focus for now is on a singleplayer roguelike campaign inspired by Hades and Slay the Spire, and I love the background lore: "Each hockey team lives on barren islands surrounding the main continent. Teams fight relentlessly to win games and the precious mainland resources which are only allocated to the most dominant teams."
Tape to Tape's Steam demo (opens in new tab) doesn't include any part of that campaign, where players and equipment can be upgraded along the way, but lets you play one-off exhibition games. It's local multiplayer only, but you can use Steam Remote Play for 4-player online multiplayer. (Integrated online multiplayer is something the developers are "interested" in, but they want to focus on the campaign for now.)
The Kickstarter page (opens in new tab) emphasizes "fairness" in the hockey simulation: Neither should you be able to cheese the AI goalie by scoring on the same cross crease pass again and again, nor should goalies be superhuman. It is true that Tape to Tape's goalies won't just give up a goal on every one-timer, although I wasn't sure what was so special about several of the shots that did score. What I liked most were the sloppy goals caused by bounces: A couple of times, the puck went in after getting lost among the pads and legs congregating around the net.
You want a good hockey game to create genuine "hockey moments" like that without it feeling like they've been scripted, so that's promising. Other hockey-like things happened, too. When my crappy passes led to turnovers, I could just about hear the "can't get sloppy in the neutral zone" speech a TV color commentator would be preparing. I like that it's possible to make saucer and drop passes, and basic stick handling is represented. I think I may continue to prefer Rocket League's more abstract, more rocket-powered rendition of soccer/hockey skills, but the idea of a singleplayer Slay the Spire-like hockey campaign is enticing.
The three-person Tape to Tape team hopes to release the game in December, and if it raises more money, they want to add a manual goaltending mode.
PC Gamer has a minor connection to the game: Tape to Tape designer Hugo Julien tells me that the team started to "think seriously about" about its idea to make an NHL 94 spiritual successor a few years ago after a friend shared a 2016 PC Gamer article in which our Global Editor-in-Chief Evan Lahti wrote that "the PC needs a hockey game."
Evan and I are both hockey fans, and when not adjusting our fantasy rosters we've been looking out for new PC hockey games to check out for years now. Along with Evan's call for a great PC hockey game, somehow we've managed to publish two variations of the headline "the PC finally has a hockey game," one in 2015 and one in 2016. I guess we'd better get more specific when Tape to Tape releases. The PC finally has a hockey roguelike?