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Tape to Tape Preview: A hockey roguelike perfect for crowdfunding

I may be biased here, but Tape to Tape has one of the best elevator pitches I’ve seen in a long while: imagine an NHL 94-style hockey game mixed with a roguelike akin to Hades. I mean, what’s not to love?

Currently in the last days of a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter — and with a Steam demo to back up its core hockey gameplay — the folks over at Quebec-based Excellent Rectangle are shooting for the stars… or at very least, the water bottle sitting on top of their opponents’ net.

Players will begin Tape to Tape in charge of the worst team in the league. You’re tasked to whip your crew into shape, taking them through hockey games and building up stats in an effort to win the entire season proper. Win games and you’ll earn all-important Golden Pucks that can be spent on stat-boosting items, permanent increases or similar powerful items; you’ll also be able to choose one player or team ability to apply to your roster.

Lose and you’re not only out of the season, but forfeit any non-permanent bonuses you’ve acquired that run. You’re also forced to lick your wounds and try to recuperate and prepare for the next season with the services of the mysterious Blademaster.

Speaking with Excellent Rectangle’s lead game designer, Hugo Julien, we delved into the roguelike aspects of the title first.

“The pacing for the roguelite campaign is still a work in progress,” Julien began, “but we’re definitely aiming for that one-hour run when everything goes well.

“Games like Hades, Slay the Spire or Binding of Isaac have found the perfect pacing for the different power-ups and choices they are offering the players during their runs. They have perfected the balance between having a real sense of progression with impactful power ups while avoiding being grindy or overstaying their welcome. We’re definitely looking for that sweet spot with Tape to Tape.”

Excellent Rectangle is not only paying homage to roguelikes that have come before, but engaging and listening with fans to make the best title possible. In addition to the Steam demo, a Steam playtest is available to a select few, and those on Kickstarter have the option to pay into an evolving beta build.

“We’re currently tinkering with different types of matchups during each run to mix it up and allow the players to build their team quickly,” Julien said. “We’re working on a system… where players will progress through three levels that are progressively harder. Each level ends with what we could call a ‘boss encounter’ which will be a full three-period game against a tough opponent. Before you reach that boss however, you will have to choose your way through different paths on the map where you can choose to play against different regular opponents, go shopping or try your luck on a random event, for example.”

Additionally, it’s not just straight-up hockey as you progress; you’ll sometimes need to meet specific challenges within a game to call it a success overall.

“Sometimes you’ll have to be the first one to score, or [you might need to] be the first team to score three goals,” Julien said. “The first several games and challenges will be fast-paced and will allow the players to quickly build their team identity for that run!”

While the likes of Hades could rely on a narrative that helped to explain the constant need to re-engage with its gameplay loop, Julien said he and the four-person team at Excellent Rectangle are focusing on a rewarding loop first, and building up a larger narrative second.

“The game is set to release on Steam Early Access in December,” he said. “Story-wise, my goal is to truly widen the scope of the game and build on the existing lore that we’ve created… but post-December.”

“We want to focus on creating the perfect roguelite gameplay loop for the release,” he continued, “and hopefully we can add even more meat around the narrative bones in the next months and years.”

The developers also plan to engage players in other ways, including a very unique and distinctive art-style that mixes Slap Shot with the likes of The Oatmeal and Penny Arcade alongside hockey archetypes that mean your team will never play the same way twice.

“We chose a unique 2D cartoonish visual type in large part to highlight our unique cast of key players,” Julien said. “These elite players can be unlocked through various means and really change the way you play the game. These players are completely unique both physically and how they make you play the game with their distinctive skill sets.

“Most of the players will first join your team temporarily for one run but if you meet certain requirements, they may want to join you permanently, giving you more reasons to tinker with your team and try a new run after losing or winning.”

The Blademaster, seen above, can also help between runs in a variety of ways including extra ways to earn currencies, increasing your chances of hiring elite players and more.

“Further in the game, [the Blademaster can] make you skip the easier matchups at the beginning of your runs or increase their difficulty, similar to the Heat system in Hades,” Julien said.

While players on your team can be buffed inside a specific run, you shouldn’t get too attached to them. That said, beta players have certainly taken a shine to a speedy defenceperson called Kelly Jelly, of whom backers requested a real-life plushy version as a Kickstarter benefit.

“Players’ stats won’t actually increase permanently,” Julien confirmed. “We really wanted to avoid the players having an unbeatable team by grinding hard enough. You will progressively get better [players] by choosing between more teammates thanks to the Blademaster. You’ll also control some of the gameplay elements but the players will always revert back to their basic stats when you finish a run.”

Onto hockey proper, and the comparisons to NHL 94 start and end with a gameplay feel and visual style; world-famous glitch goals are out.

“With Tape to Tape we’re working on combining both the smooth and responsive controls of modern hockey games with the fast-paced action of 90s hockey video games for what we like to call a ‘simcade experience’,” Julien explained. “We want the game to be easy to pick up and also deep to master.”

Julien credited “a dynamic physics system” that aids in this endeavour, and it shows in its gameplay demo. Most of my goals were earned through screens or from some epic deflections of the puck, not a simple cross-cut in front of the goal or even a number of attempts at cross-crease one-timers.

“The puck bounces on sticks, hits players in the face, gets batted in the air, players and goalies will react quickly to what is happening on the ice for an organic and emergent gameplay.”

“We spent a lot of time, sweat and energy during development on the goalkeepers since they are a vital part of the appeal for the game,” Julien continued. “The goalies move smoothly and react organically to any deflected puck or rebound. We are making sure that all the goals scored never feel unfair for our players.

“The goalies will always try their best to make that last desperate save even when they are out of position. We even trained our goalies to expect that infamous cross crease pass players have been scoring with for years! A heavy emphasis was placed during development on fairness to make sure that our players have to adapt and react to what they are seeing on the ice instead of always scoring the same ways as seen in other sports games.”

If you’re not trusting of an AI goalie, never fear: a recent Kickstarter stretch goal has ensured manual goalie control will also be on offer.

While the currently-available demo doesn’t offer any roguelike elements, you can see how the core of hockey gameplay will unfold, even down to varied characters with distinct gameplay styles. The aforementioned Kelly Jelly has wheels for days, able to speed around most opponents, but the trade off is that she’s rather small and will have trouble knocking opponents off the puck. Her teammate Calvin Dord is a sniper extraordinaire, far slower than Jelly but with far more bulk behind him; he’s got a killer shot and shoulder.

You can get a small taste of what to expect from Tape to Tape in the gameplay video above, or better yet, you can simply jump onto Steam to play for yourself. If you like what you see, you can help to crowdfund Tape to Tape; its campaign ends on 10 June here in Australia.

Tape to Tape has already met its initial crowdfunding goal and is working towards additional stretch goals; manual goalies and fights will be added as a result. The title is aiming for an Early Access release on Steam in December of this year.

Disclosure: The author of this piece enjoyed Tape to Tape so much while researching for this preview that he decided to Kickstart the game himself.



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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.