Icebreaker Hockey Skates Up the Top iPhone Charts

Sports may be a popular gaming genre, but when it comes to casual audiences like in the mobile space, the target demographic for these types of apps can be relatively narrow. Nevertheless, a new iPhone game from NaturalMotion and Digital Legends named Icebreaker Hockey is expanding that audience by removing many sports-specific elements in favor of creating a more mainstream action title. It seems to be working. The $0.99 title scored a #8 spot earlier this week on the top paid iPhone apps. Currently, it is #13.

Icebreaker Hockey deviates from the games that merely simulate a sport. The concept of Icebreaker is simple: players control a single avatar and must skate the length of a hockey rink and score a goal. Each level comes with an ever increasing number of defenders and the added challenge of winning as high a score as possible. Although the game doesn’t really have much of a tutorial, the app is accessible for most users and easy to pick up.

As users automatically move down the rink — steering via tilting — opposing team members will attempt to check the player and known them down. Now, before going further into game play, it is worth noting that the animation in general is a key feature. Like NaturalMotion’s other series of Backbreaker Football, Icebreaker utilizes its “Endorphin” animation tool. In a nutshell, the tool does not utilize pre-made animations, but allows avatars to adapt to the context around them and essentially animate themselves. As an example, Endorphin takes over when the player is near a defender, and depending on what the player is doing, the defender will attempt to check them in the most effective way. Moreover, the way characters fall and move feels natural.

Technology aside, players can avoid being hit with left and right spins, a deke (skating to the side to avoid a check), or sprinting. Each of these requires timing and a proper angle when steering, and will earn players extra points for a successful evasion.

Like most casual games, users can score points in order to rack up stars. Players can also skate over various “score zones” worth whatever number of points are painted upon them. As players progress, these “score zones” become more scattered.

Players can also score a large number of points from “showboating.” Whenever users are close to the goal, they can start performing unsportsmanlike taunts to dramatically boost their score. Of course, showing off slows the player to a crawl and defenders can quickly catch up. Points are also earned for actually scoring a goal, and bonuses are earned based on how many lives the user has remaining (players have four chances to score, and lose a life each time they fail).

Icebreaker Hockey’s primary mode is a Challenge Mode, which consists of 10 stages of every increasing difficulty (there are also three difficulty options in general), with each stage hosting five levels, dubbed “waves,” of defenders. Additionally, the game also boasts an Endurance Mode, where players simply face wave after wave of defenders until they fail four times.

Although these modes and level provide a good deal of game play, the app itself can be repetitive. It’s always the same process of skate, dodge, shoot and repeat.

Overall, Icebreaker Hockey is a fairly fun app that sports and non-sports fans can enjoy. Though it may still be more enjoyable to the former, its rise up the top paid app charts have shown just how accessible the game is to other types of players. Although the game is easy to learn and uses Natural Motion’s Endorphin animation technology well, the only real complaint to be had is that the play can be very repetitive. This may not be a deal breaker for some, but for others, they might find themselves bored after only a few short play sessions.