Last December, Apple released “Arcade” which is a subscription-based app offering over 50 games for a monthly price. Mobile games are becoming more and more popular as phones and tablets become more involved in our lives. One of the games that caught my eye was Ultimate Rivals: The Rink. This is a 3-on-3 hockey game that has a roster full of professional athletes from numerous professional leagues. The development team (Bit Fry) is backed by former MLB All-Star turned esports investor Ryan Howard.
The gameplay resembles a fast-paced arcade experience where you can play offline or in quick online matches. The game provides a pick-up-and-play experience where there isn’t much to learn before diving right into the middle of things. The all-star roster of athletes (the players come from more than just the NHL) is impressive and continues to grow. Each player has a special move that ties into his or her uniqueness, which also really adds another layer to the game.
However, the game can be a little too fast at times, and during those moments I’ve found myself struggling to find the puck.
Ultimate Rivals: The Rink also reminds me of numerous games previously developed. The game is a combination of Ice Hockey, NBA Jam and Rocket League. It even brought back great memories of one of my favorite cartoons ProStars.
It reminds me of Ice Hockey due to the fact that you have to be strategic with your lineup. Players have a set of attributes that correlate to their character. I think of NBA Jam due to the quick, fast-paced nature and small rosters. I thought of Rocket League because of the look of the rinks. There are a lot of arenas that have a Rocket League feel and sound. The roster brings me back to the early ’90s cartoon ProStars because of the mix of stars from different leagues. ProStars featured Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson as they responded to emergencies in the community.
What I Like
The quick and easy to get into gameplay has provided me with a mobile experience that I’ve been looking for as of late. I am always searching for the next best mobile game, and I think I’ve found it. The game plays just like arcade hockey should as it’s fast paced with some furious checks and high-powered slap shots. It also plays in landscape mode to take advantage of the width of the screen on mobile devices.
Users can juke, pass, check, steal, turbo, and shoot a slap shot or wrister all using your right hand. The left hand is used to control player movement throughout the ice rink. When on offense, you are given three options (shoot, pass, turbo). When you don’t have the puck, the options switch to check, steal and turbo.
The game flows very well, and its back-and-forth action kept me engaged throughout games. You really can’t take your eyes off the screen because you will miss the action. The gameplay is intense and will give your thumbs a workout. This works for me because the games are relatively short and normally last around 5-7 minutes. Basically, it’s just enough time to sneak in a quick game, or get in multiple games if you are on your mobile device for a longer period of time. I am normally not a fan of fast-paced mobile games because I lose interest with the touch controls, but that has not been an issue here.
The roster features some of the best athletes in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL, WNBA and soccer. Currently, Rivals has 58 athletes and a lot of big names. Some of the biggest names are James Harden, Kevin Durant, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Mahomes, Elena Delle Donne, Diana Taurasi, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Morgan and many others. The final three unlockable characters are Wayne Gretzky (ProStars!), LeBron James and Sidney Crosby. Overall, the player characters look amazing and really show off the uniqueness of each player.
Each character has a “special move” that correlates to his or her sport. Players pick up “UR green gems” on the rink to build up power for the special move. For instance, basketball players have a move where they create a three-point line, and any goals scored from behind that line count as three points. MLB players throw fastballs at opposing players, and hockey players pick up the Stanley Cup and freeze opposing players with it (yeah, that one is a little weird).
Each character has attributes based on their real skills. For instance Patrick Mahomes is all-offense and is a defensive liability. It really adds a level of strategy similar to Ice Hockey with this mechanic.
What I Don’t Like
Sometimes I feel that the game is too fast paced for me to keep up. The puck can be easy to lose, especially when you are trying to maneuver through opposing players. I also wish there were a way to swap players on the defensive end because I sometimes find myself on the wrong end of the rink and have no idea what’s going on at the other side. The team jerseys can be a little confusing as well because the colors aren’t that much different.
In terms of the controls, the shoot button is a little hard to reach, and I think it’s too close to the pass button. However, I did find a way to make the buttons bigger and have had a better feel for the controls since making that adjustment.
The wait time to play an online match can be long. but I don’t know if that’s because of the time of the day or the lack of other people playing. I want to be able to jump into an online game ASAP and don’t want to wait for someone to connect. I have also received an unable to connect message when the game has not been able to find an opponent for me.
Ultimate Rivals: The Rink has been a great way to play a fast-paced sport game on my mobile device. I enjoy the ability to play with lineups consisting of different professional leagues. The lineup possibilities and level of strategy involved in creating your lineup add a unique touch to the experience. After all, where else can you have Zion Williamson, Carli Lloyd and J.J. Watt all on the same team?
Ultimate Rivals: The Rink is part of the Apple Arcade, which requires a monthly subscription. Overall, this game thrives on the mobile platform because it’s a quick and easy game with simple controls. I could also see this game being a really successful console game similar to Rocket League if it ever makes it to something like the Nintendo Switch.