In a million years I never would have thought that a roguelite would be the savior of video game hockey, but here we are. Launched into early access on May 3, 2023, Tape to Tape is the first offering from developer Excellent Rectangle, and it’s a debut for the ages. I first hit the ice in Tape to Tape during a Steam Next Fest in February 2023, at which time there was only a single act to play through. Now, Tape to Tape features a full three acts and many more bells and whistles. After about six hours playing over the last few days, I’m excited to see what’s in store for the future.
- Tape to Tape might be the most important hockey video game since NHL 94
- Tape to Tape interview with lead game designer Hugo Julien
A Tape to Tape campaign begins at the Blademaster, an NPC who will upgrade your skills, attributes, and allow you to unlock new superstars if you have his favorite currency, rubber. Rubber is earned by winning games and completing events, but before you can do that, you’ll have a few decisions to make.
You’ll play as McShaggy, a gruff looking dude with a mohawk who is determined to restore hockey to its former glory. You’ll have to choose an ability for McShaggy, a superstar to join you in battle, and an artefact to apply. You’ll be joined by three benchwarmers, which are typically below average players who don’t currently have anything special to speak of regarding their skills.
When you set out, you’ll head to Tentacle Valley, which is where the first act takes place. This region is filled with training opportunities, challenges, elite games, events, and bosses. Each one will offer you some type of reward, such as stat boosts for your entire team if you rest or train at a campfire, or talents that can be applied to a single player if you win a game. The goal here is to build your team’s skills and stats up so that you’re prepared to face the boss battle, which offers bigger rewards and allows you to move on to the second and third act if you’re successful. Of course, if you fail, you’re back to the Blademaster where you’ll have to start over, and the only thing that you keep is the rubber you earned, which can be used to permanently unlock a skill, superstar, or upgrade McShaggy for your next run.
Hitting the ice
There’s really no such thing as a typical game of hockey in Tape to Tape, which is part of its charm. If you’re doing a quick challenge, it may be something like first goal wins, or if you’re doing a boss battle against referees, Nasher, who is the actual ref for this battle, may call goals you score back and throw the puck at your net to stack the odds against you. In one of the elite games, McShaggy played against his sister, who led what I believe were a team of princesses who ate too many beans and would fart almost non-stop, pushing my players all around the ice and out of position with a wicked burst of gas.
It really doesn’t stop there, though, as every game and player have something unique about them. Talents applied to players can include the ability to throw your stick at your opponent to knock them out, force rebounds on every shot, or execute a speed burst called a Dash that’s probably the most powerful perk in the entire game.
This all comes together to form a gameplay loop that is hilarious, surprisingly tight, and rarely leaves you feeling frustrated, although don’t underestimate my ability to be sour about losing a game to a bunch of farting princesses where I have little control of my skaters.
Being that it’s in early access, it’s fair to say that Tape to Tape isn’t done, although it does feel robust even in its current state. Many of my issues are in the details.
There needs to be color blind options for the player indicators, as I constantly lost my controlled player with the current system. Just give me a labeled color palette and let me pick from that. Unfortunately, my particular color blind needs don't fall perfectly into one of the presets most games offer, so I always prefer to adjust color manually if possible.
In terms of gameplay, bodychecking is a little clunky. It’s as if your player stops when attempting a hit instead of hitting through your opponent, and it often leads to whiffs when you have someone perfectly lined up. There were also instances where my player just stopped moving while I was attempting to skate backwards, although my goalie came up big and crisis was averted.
Speaking of goalies, they need to enter the rotation of players that can be leveled up and have skills applied. Right now, they are just kind of there, but my goalie, who was often the star of my team making big saves, doesn’t have a personality in the same way my superstars or even benchwarmers (shout out to Charlotte Chapstick who is an absolute sniper) do.
Finally, having completed a campaign, I’m curious to see whether Excellent Rectangle plans to add more acts, or more incentive to play through again. Currently, the only reason to replay the campaign would be to experience it on a higher difficulty or continue your unlock progression. I’d love to see some variety in the boss battles, either in sequence or modifiers, to make playing through again feel fresh.
Many of my wishes for improvements to Tape To Tape are nitpicky, because the game is fantastic in its current form. I think my interest in seeing it get even better is directly related to how badly the hockey video game community needs something fresh in this space. Tape to Tape is fresh, and if you enjoy roguelites or have a soft spot for NHL 94, you’d be a fool not to pick it up.
These impressions are based on a Steam key provided by Excellent Triangle. Tape to Tape is available in early access via Steam right now.
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Tape to Tape is the underdog contender hockey video games need
I rarely buy games sight unseen but saw an ad on steam and bought it. I need hockey on PC. That's said. Roguelike and hockey do not go together. There's too much randomness in the actual gameplay. FTL, sly the spire, all the greats.....have lots of randomness. But not in gameplay. The gameplay is consistent and fair. And you don't say "that missile is bullshit it has an 8% chance to land. No either it lands or it doesn't.
I've had games in this where all the stats are in my favour. Shots, time on attack, hits. And i still lose 3-2. I still have enjoyed my time with it. But the gameplay needs less randomness which means it can't really be sports and for sure not hockey.