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Play hockey LeBron James in Apple Arcade’s latest game

What do LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe and JJ Watt have in common? Yes, they’re great athletes at the top of their game, but they’re also apart of Ultimate Rivals: The Rink, the latest title to join Apple Arcade’s rapidly expanding library. Created by developer Bit Fry Games Studio, the game is a love letter to the zany sports games of the '80s and '90s.

All right, but let’s back this story up a bit. Ultimate Rivals is a six-year labor of love of Bit Fry CEO, Ben Friedlin. A fan of the NES’ Tecmo Bowl series, Friedlin took a look at the current sports game scene and saw that those whimsical games of his past have been replaced with near photo-realistic titles that are fun, but in a hyper-realistic way. 

That’s where Ultimate Rivals: The Rink comes in. Borrowing influences from Tecmo Bowl, NFL Blitz, Smash TV and a host of others, The Rink throws caution to the wind and brings 50 professional athletes from the NHL, NFL Players Association, WNBA and MLB together on the ice, for some good ol' fashioned hockey. The art style is dripping with that '80s aesthetic that’s simultaneously retro, yet futuristic. The music is energetic that kept me engaged as I unleashed slap shot after slap shot with my team of King James, Rapinoe and Watt. 

Ultimate Rivals: The Rink

(Image credit: Apple)

But before you hit the ice, you have to choose your team of three. Each of the 50 athletes have their own unique attributes and their own special moves. Since JJ Watt is a defensive end, he’s powerful, but not as fast as Rapinoe. Once you choose your athletes, you need to choose their positions (forward, wing or goalie). For right now, whoever’s chosen to play goalie is stuck there, but I’m hopeful that as the game gains traction, Bit Fry will let the goalie return blocked shots. It’d also be nice to get some penalty box action. But for now, The Rink is pretty dang entertaining.

I played on Easy mode with my super team against the computer. However, you can also face off against another player online. The actual gameplay is fast paced and smooth, well like you were skating on freshly zambonied ice. With Rapinoe as goalie, I set off with James and Watt to storm the CPU's goal. You can’t check a player per se, but I was able to pull off some sweet steals. And when I really got the hang of it, LeBron slickly passed the puck to Watt, who sent a wicked slap shot into the goal. 

Ultimate Rivals: The Rink

(Image credit: Apple)

Anytime your shot is denied or you successfully block a shot or steal the puck, some neon-green detritus called Bits appears. Collect enough Bits and you a player can unleash their power move. In LeBron’s case, the opposing goal was surrounded in a ring of fire. Score a goal with this enabled, and you get two points instead of one. JJ Watt unleashes a deadly football cannon that you’ve got to line up to fire at an opposing player. Aim correctly, and you can knock them out for 4 seconds — use that against a goalie and you get an uncontested shot.

All in all, I had a blast playing The Rink, but I’m really looking forward to Ultimate Rivals: The Court, the basketball-themed take on this series. I have dreams of having Wayne Gretzky, Marc Andre Fleury and Alex Morgan take it to the hole in grand fashion.