Let’s start this review with a quick video-game word association game to get the grey matter going. With each sport think of the first game that comes into your head – ready? Football (soccer) perhaps Fifa Soccer, Golf maybe Tiger Woods (insert year here) and ice hockey well NHL I’d expect. If there was a retro version of this word-association game, then for ice hockey the first game that would come to mind is Blades Of Steel made by Konami that was released in 1990. Good old Nintendo released there own version of the game two years prior to Konami’s take on the game in 1988 so is it as n-ice as Blades of Steel or should it be relegated to the sin bin?
Ice Hockey is, if you hadn’t guessed already, a video game based on the sport of the same name. The idea for those not in the know is to hit the round black puck into the goal scoring more points than the opposition. Nintendo’s version of the game is a stripped down back-to-basics affair, much like how the black box sports games such as Golf and Soccer were just stripped down basic versions of the game. When you pop this sucker in, your treated to the main menu with jaunty music, a line of ice hockey players dancing for your enjoyment with guys above shooting pucks, and the option to select 1 or 2 players. Then you get straight to the menu screen. In the PAL version there are 6 countries’ to choose from. The countries’ involved are:
USA, Sweden, Poland, Canada, USSR and Czechoslovakia, although in the NTSC version Japan is there instead of Sweden. It’s surprising that the United Kingdom isn’t included, being the ice hockey power-house that we are. Set the speed level and how long you want to play for, from 7, 10 and 15 “minutes” and your then ready to talk tactics.
Your then faced with the option of selecting what type of player you want in the different positions of your team. You have 4 outfield players, and get to choose whether the player is a thin wiry player who can skate quick but can be weak, an average all-rounder player, or a heavier/stronger player yet is slower. Without rosters and real players included in these games, if you wanted big beefy mountains in your team then so be it – or if the strategy is to out play the opposition with speed then you can select that too. In fairness, none of this matters because the gameplay is what matters, and you could have the best team and best players, and still lose to the opposition who don’t know their arse from their elbow but can outplay you. After this screen, it’s time to hit the ice.
The gameplay itself plays exactly like the older black box sports games played on the NES – simplistic with minimum controls. The d-pad moves the player, the A-Button passes the puck and the B Button shoots. There is no button to tackle should the puck lay with the opposition, just charge into them mashing any button you can. There is also no option to change the player, it is whoever is closest. The goalie has a small area in which he is the king of that domain and can pass the puck. You can aim the d-pad to where your player is and press the A button to pass, and thankfully to shoot is not like other ice hockey games in which an arrow goes up and down the goal which you have to aim then shooting goes in that direction – you can press the direction and shoot. It seems hit and miss as to whether the puck is hit powerfully or not. If you hold the B -button down to shoot it makes your player “prepared” to shoot, but at a risk of getting tackled, is not always guaranteed to be powerful, nor be on target.
The graphics is a standard 8-bit fare, with the rink well designed, though the crowd are salmon coloured and everyone there resembling a member of the Beatles. They don’t even have the decency to be looking at the match in progress, just at each other! When you score a goal the crowd colour changes from salmon to green, but otherwise the colours are blocky and contrast well with the white of the rink, especially if you play this in the dark it may cause snow-blindness. Saying that why Poland and Canada are in green is anyone’s guess, as countries that typically are red by nature. The sound effects do get repetitive and can jar after a while, speaking of which although the music is quite upbeat and positive, it’s the only song in the game, which loops over and over and over again, now if your playing this for a 15 minute match or play this with your mates, it can get very annoying, so this is an occasion you may want to put on a Men at Work CD, or whatever music the kids listen to these days.
If there is one word that describes Ice Hockey, is average. Its very rare that you get to encounter any form of physical violence which for me is what makes Ice Hockey games good. When this happens you are relegated to the sin bin, but this happens far too rarely. The music and sound effects are not the best you’ll hear, and there are much better retro ice hockey games to play. For Ice Hockey fans, it is worth adding to your retro collection, however prices are quite expensive for PAL copies, it seems this was much more common in the US. If your not a fan of the sport it isn’t a game your going to rush out to purchase, or “snipe” like mad on eBay for a copy so look at acquiring NHL 94 on the Mega Drive instead, or enjoy the splendour of digitized voices on Blades of Steel. I’m off now to congratulate the Polish and the Canadian’s on their superb choice of moss green rather than the more obvious choice of red…
Rating – 2 out of 5