Feature: Hockey Havoc

Hockey Havoc

by Adam King
April 28, 2008

Is there a more fascinating sport than hockey? You have the grace of ice skating and the brutality of boxing all mixed together. It may not be as popular as the other sports but still has its share of fans in the U.S. and Canada. The NES plays host to its share of hockey games, but which ones are worthy of Lord Stanley's cup and which carts should be used for hockey pucks?

Blades of Steel (1988 Konami)
Blades of Steel
The one true champion of the NES ice rink. One or two players can take the ice by choosing from eight teams (not NHL teams, just the cities), each having their own strengths and weaknesses. You view the action from a slightly overhead perspective and you have to follow the standard rules of hockey, which includes passing, icing, face-offs, and so on. This game also features fighting, which occurs when two players bump into each other enough times, and the one who gets punched out gets sent to the penalty box. While this game can get rough, too much roughness may result in a penalty shot. If the game ends in a tie, a shoot-out will occur to decide the match. The graphics are very good with detailed players that have fluid animation, plus the arnea looks great as well, even though it's a little on the dark side. There's no background music during the game (except for the menus) but there's plenty of great sound effects and voice clips to make up for it. The controls work well, enabling you to keep up with the fast action and mayhem. This game also features a nice single-elimination tournament mode with three skill levels as you try to win three games to claim the championship cup. any way you look at it Blades of Steel wins the NES Stanley Cup hands down as one of the best hockey games ever.

Ice Hockey (1988 Nintendo)
Ice Hockey
Nintendo's entry into the NES hockey rink presents a kinder, gentler take on the sport (that still has a lot of violence). One or two players can choose from six international teams that have no differences except for the colors. You do get to customize your team with one of three types of players: thin man, medium man, and big man, each one with different advantages. Once all the options are set both teams hit the ice for three peroids of hard-hitting hockey action. This game is light on penalties (only icing is called) which means plenty of checking, sticking, and knocking each other down. When you have the puck, an opposing player can come along and brawl with you for control. If the fight isn't settled soon, the whole team gets involved and the person who started the puck battle gets sent to the penalty box, leaving one team at a disadvantage. Even though it's a simple game it's still pretty fun. The graphics are a little cartoonish but still good with fluid movement from each of the players, and the music that plays throughout the game is pretty nice as well, and doesn't get old. The familiar-sounding sound effects do their job as well. The controls are no problem to use; passing and shooting are easy to do. The gameplay itself is funny, exciting and fast-paced, although the computer opponent will put up a tough fight. Even though it's light on options compared to other titles, Ice Hockey is still a great hockey title, second only to Blades of Steel.

Hit The Ice [unreleased] (1993 Taito)
Hit The Ice
This game was scheuled to be released in mid-1993, and even got reviewed in Nintendo Power, but never saw the light of day. In any event this was a port of the Williams arcade game that was the hockey equivalent of Arch Rivals, which means lots of no-holds barred action. Up to four players can take the ice in a 2-on-2 battle (including the goalie). You pick from one of six teams (with generic color names like the Greens and Reds) and choose your two players from a list of four superstars. In this game there are no penalties, which means a multitude of moves such as slashing, tripping and elbowing are allowed. Fights also break out constantly so you have to be ready to put up your dukes. At first this seems to be a substandard arcade port; the graphics aren't anything special, though the players do have some good animation, the sounds aren't very good, and controls work okay but have a couple of issues. However this game sports an usual feature: instead of a tournament, you have an RPG-like quest mode. You take control of a team and lead them across an overworld map to different arenas to challenge different teams on a mission to claim the championship. Other teams randomly appear and you have to play a quick one-minute game with them to earn experience points and money to better your team.

Pro Sport Hockey (1993 Jaleco)
Pro Sport Hockey
You'd figure the company behind the excellent Bases Loaded games could put together a halfway decent hockey cart, but you'd be surprised. This is the only 8-bit hockey title to be licensed by the NHL Players' Association, which means you get real NHL players, but not the real NHL teams. Each player is modeled after his real-life counterpart, down to their playing strengths. You can choose from Exhibition, Super Cup, and Training modes, and you can choose from other options, such as no penalties and length of each period. Once you choose your team, you can change the rosters if you wish. All the hard-hitting action is here, but be careful. The referees will call penalties, and you may find yourself in the penalty box if you get too rough. The graphics are above-average with slightly drab colors, and while players are large and have decent animation, a lot of flicker pops up if too many of them occupy the same area. Plus you only see one portion of the rink, and the game scrolls in every direction to keep up which can be disorienting. For most of time on the ice the game is quiet, except for a few sound effects which are nothing special, except for an annoying horn that plays when a goal is scored followed by terrible crowd noise. The controls are adequate, and you shouldn't have too much trouble. The main problem is the gameplay is boring and often frustrating. Without any exciting music or sound effects, it's hard to get into this game, especially after games like Blades of Steel and Ice Hockey are much more exciting and fun. At least this game features an extensive tournament mode (the Super Cup mode), which uses a World Cup-style set up. The teams are divided up into six groups of four teams each, and you first play against each of the other teams in your group in order to qualify for the 16-team main tournament. A password tracks your progress, and if you make it to the tournament, you'll get a shot at winning the USA Championship. This game may be good for those of you looking for a challenge, and it has it's moments, but for the most part Pro Sport Hockey barely reaches rookie status.

Wayne Gretzky Hockey (1990 T*HQ)
Wayne Gretzky Hockey
T*HQ took the licensed route with by grabbing The Great One's name for their entry, but this game proves a great hockey player doesn't always make a great hockey game. One or two players can choose from 10 teams, and two players can choose whether to play on the same team or on opposite teams. There are three types of modes, all of which just have a single game: practice, normal, or playoff which, despite the name, is just a normal game that has an unlimited overtime won't end in a tie. Other options include setting the period length and skill level. The action on the ice is pretty standard hockey fare, with passing, shooting, and body checking, but the execution is terrible. Your teammates seem to aimlessly wander around in circles most of the time without a clue what to do. Also a lot of penalties are called, especially offsides, which will constantly disrput the game. It's also hard to pass and shoot, since you have to push the directional pad in the direction of your shot. The graphics are below average with tiny players and choppy movement plus there's a LOT of blue. Even the referee's faces are blue. The sounds are worse, with VERY annoying music and blah sound effects, but least the voice clips saying 'He shoots!' and 'Scores!' are decent. Bottom line is this is the worst hockey game EVER.