Tape to Tape Early Access Impressions – An Icy Hot Take on Roguelites

We’ve been harping on the ubiquity of roguelites on Steam for a while now here at EIP; not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, just that there’s a lot of them. Well, we’ve got another one for ya today, but with a twist that definitely wasn’t on our 2023 bingo card: roguelite hockey game. Tape to Tape feels a lot like a simplified NHL ’94 — but really, NFL Blitz or NBA Jam are probably better comparisons, as Tape to Tape doesn’t concern itself with niceties like rules or substitutions.

In fact, only two of your players even have unique appearances; the other three positions are filled by “benchwarmers”, which are so named despite the fact that they play the entire game. One of the players on your 5-man squad is always the protagonist, Angus McShaggy, who’s on a quest to restore hockey to it’s former glory — the other unique player is a superstar that you choose from the three on offer at the start of the game. These can either be balanced characters that are stronger than the benchwarmers in every category (and McShaggy, until you’ve got some permanent upgrades for him), or specialists with a focus on speed, shooting, or knocking down opposing skaters.

Once you’ve got your team, you’ll make your way across three acts in the traditional roguelite fashion. It’s not a very branching map, as for most of the game the path splits and converges such that you choose between two options, then play a match, and so on until you reach the boss. The options are typical fare, and relatively limited: you can do training and improve your team overall or in a specific category; there are events that give you random buffs (often with a downside); there are “challenge” matches where the first goal wins; there are “elite” matches that last two periods; and finally there are boss fights at the end of each act. All three match types can earn you an active skill or a passive talent you can assign to a specific player, or else net you a team-wide artefact.

a crew of winners team tape to tape early accesss impressions
A group of winners if ever I’ve seen one

The rewards are varied and silly, in particular the skills: these include such fun options as a spin move that prevents you from being checked (knocked down), a fart cloud that pushes nearby players away, and the ability to throw your stick and knock down whoever it hits. Artefacts make your whole team stronger, or else change the game in sometimes baffling ways. One artefact makes the first goal scored each period worth two points — even if the other team scores first. Others are more useful, like the one that shrinks all your players and makes them faster as a result.

Some of the rewards seem much stronger, or at least easier to get use out of, than others. But those kinds of balance complaints are easy to hand wave away with “It’s a roguelite” — the randomness of reward value is all part of the fun! Less fun is the general lack of variety in locations on the map, as well as the lack of meaningful pathing choices a la Slay the Spire. Getting to make aggressive or safe choices in your route through an act is one of the interesting strategic considerations that having a map adds to a roguelite, but Tape to Tape doesn’t take advantage of the map to do anything other than offer the occasional binary choice (and you can never choose to either face or avoid something that will end your run outright).

artefact reward choice tape to tape early accesss impressions
Time to play keep away

As is standard for roguelites, you’ll earn currency by winning matches, which you can then spend between runs to upgrade McShaggy, unlock new skills you’ve discovered, or unlock new superstars. While the choices for upgrades are somewhat limited, they all feel impactful, which is arguably the most important element of meta-progression — I could definitely tell McShaggy was faster after upping his speed in the shop.

But none of that is as crucial as what the hockey gameplay feels like, so let’s dig into it. In the interest of transparency, the last hockey game I played was actually NHL ’94; although I’m an avid roguelite player, I’m not generally a sports game player. But Tape to Tape’s hockey action isn’t particularly complex, in large part thanks to the aforementioned lack of rules on the ice.

That’s not to say it’s easy, though. Players have momentum, and an ill-timed check attempt will rob you of your speed and leave your target free to skate away. From the Act I boss and beyond, the enemy teams are fast and aggressive, and use their unique abilities early and often. Success on defense requires careful positioning, well-timed checks, and learning to skate backwards (easily accomplished with a tap of the trigger). Offense is equally challenging: passes require careful aim, and scoring on the Act II and III goaltenders requires clever skating and/or a good crossing pass.

superstars tape to tape early accesss impressions
It’s very easy to pick out the key superstar players in the match (because they’re too cool to wear helmets)

It ends up being a fast paced, addicting series of matches, with the added pressure that one loss ends your run making wins all the more satisfying — and losses all the more frustrating. It can be maddening watching your defense mindlessly mill around in front of your goalie, leaving opposing players wide open; they’ll often fail to properly intercept loose pucks as well. Despite the sometimes-brainless AI of your teammates, I had a lot of fun on the ice in Tape to Tape, as the gameplay strikes a nice balance of simple to engage with but challenging to play properly.

That said, it did get a little too easy once I got the hang of it, but I suspect cranking the difficulty to Expert would mitigate that issue for at least a while. I played on Standard, and managed to see the end credits after about 4 hours. As of yet, there doesn’t appear to be progressive difficulty modifiers like some roguelites have, but hopefully that’ll be added in a future update.

The solid on-ice action is supported by enemy teams that are challenging in a way that is often thematic: the mountaineers use grapples to pull themselves around the court, while the medieval-themed team are big, burly knights protecting a delicate, slap-shotting prince. Playing against the team of referees, you’ll find you never win a face off, and the ref for the game will often knock your players down during key plays. The unique gimmicks of the enemy teams can feel unfair at first, but once you get over the initial “wtf” reaction, it ends up being an interesting challenge trying to figure out how to adjust your strategy accordingly. As an added bonus, the music, and the sounds that play when a team scores, also vary based on what stadium you’re in.

referee cheating tape to tape early accesss impressions
That’s not the face of a ref ready to call a fair game

While I had a lot of fun beating the game, I can’t say I’m particularly tempted to pick it up again, as it feels like I’ve seen most of what Tape to Tape has to offer. I’ll definitely be checking it out again once it releases in 1.0, however — the devs plan on adding some fun features like a fighting mode and manual goaltenders, and I didn’t get a chance to try the local co-op; having a friend helping (instead of the oft-useless AI) would certainly enhance the experience. More interesting reward options, and improved QoL are also planned, and could go a long way towards making replaying the game more enticing.

Despite being a early access game, Tape to Tape feels relatively complete, if a little skimpy in terms of content. It isn’t the best roguelite I’ve ever played, but it’s a competent enough simcade hockey game, and the roguelite elements serve to add replayability. For fans of sports games and roguelites, this just might be the hockey roguelite you’ve been waiting for, and even in its current state its well worth the 20 bucks. For folks who are mostly here for the roguelite, you may want to leave Tape to Tape on ice a little longer.

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DanielD
DanielD

Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.

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