When it comes to legendary sports video games, it’s really no different than actual sports themselves. For example, without Dr. J famously flying in from the foul line for an all-timer of a dunk, we might not have the Michael Jordan we’ve come to know and love as the G.O.A.T. And it just snowballs from there. We also wouldn’t be privy to Kobe’s greatness, who has openly discussed on more than one occasion how his tireless devotion and mental approach to the game was birthed through inspiration from MJ, let alone his nearly identical play on the floor. One look at this video proves as much.
Well, the same goes for video games, too. Inspiration from greatness of the past almost always serves as the catapult for present day genius. In this particular case, we’re talking hockey video games. Had it not been for the monumental success of Nintendo’s iconic releases in Blades of Steel and NES Ice Hockey, the creation of NHLPA ’93* and the subsequent arrival of the immovable object and irresistible force that was Video Game Jeremy Roenick may have ceased to exist.
Or at the very least, made its arrival much further down the road, which — and let’s be honest here — would’ve been tragic, because No. 27 would’ve missed his window of digital dominance in 16-bit form.
Even worse, Swingers would sadly be absent of one of its most memorable scenes.
With all of that said, right now is where we reel it back in order to discuss the two aforementioned game-changers in a concerted effort to decide which one was the best.
And no, answers like NHL ’16 do not qualify in the same way Steph Curry is not the G.O.A.T. just because the latest Vine of him effortlessly nailing a three from the moon made you cross your legs and blush.
So on that note, please commence embracing the concept of “EMBRACE DEBATE!”
NES Ice Hockey
Nintendo’s Ice Hockey was as simplistic as its cover. Seriously, look at that thing. It would be difficult to think of an approach for a video game cover that gets any more straight to the point than a man wearing a hockey jersey that says “HOCKEY” on it, while hovering over the words “ICE HOCKEY.” But that was part of the beauty.
The game was built around a simple concept consisting of 4-player lineups, while at the same time being given the unique option of applying your own strategy in the makeup of your team.
Were you going to just check the living hell out of people with fat bruisers and win all the fights? Were you going to burn your opponent with speedy, skinny weaklings? Or were you going to take strictly normal-sized guys and be “pretty good” at everything, but not great at anything?
Fat guy. Skinny guy. Normal guy.
These choices probably would’ve become the subject of a national debate thanks to the increasingly oversensitive PC police, forcing the creators of the game to appear on The Today Show to explain their inconsiderate rationale when it came to choosing body types.
But Ice Hockey wasn’t released last week. And thank god for that. This game came out in the 80s when no one gave a flying shit about making a fuss over trivial shit.
Now, for a look at those players.
The 4-Man Lineup
The above graphic is a perfect example of what to do. As you can see, neither the USA or the Russians have more than one skinny guy ready to take the ice. Why? Because no one wants to lose 8-1 while spending the majority of the game with skinny guys helplessly slipping and sliding all over the rink, flat on their asses after getting boob-checked by a merciless Mario.
Mario! (Aka “The Fat Guy”)
Let’s face it, you always needed at least one Mario in the lineup. His blistering slap shot was typically clocked anywhere between 156-376 mph. Sure, the puck went flying into the crowd half the time but it still made the SportsCenter Top 10.
While he’s often listed and referred to as “The Fat Guy” — you savages — it’s Mario. I mean, come on. Who are we kidding here? Take one look at the graphic above and tell me that’s not freakin’ MARIO at top left, just waiting to launch one from his own blue line.
The Skinny Guys
The Shawn Bradley of hockey players. I mean, take a look at the clueless jackass in blue. Blistering speed tends to become somewhat of a non-factor when one chooses to simply skate next to the opposing player who has the puck. Man, they sucked.
The Normal Guys
Of course all the Normal Guys got the nod to represent each country on the team selection screen. Even in the 80s it was, and still is, all about cover boy looks when it comes to your frontman. Although I must say, it is quite the graceful pose. There’s no way a Fat Guy or a Skinny Guy could’ve held that pose without pulling a hammy or falling flat on their ass.
Those Tireless Zamboni Drivers
Has there ever been a group of men more efficient at their jobs? The vibrance and raw enthusiasm on display here is nothing short of inspiring. And frankly, contagious. If only there were a glitch in the game where the Zamboni drivers were able to seize control of the ice during live action.
The “Everyone Is Fighting” Brawls
Much like real hockey, an overzealous celebration after scoring a goal can quickly lead an all-out brawl, as evidenced by what happened in the footage above. The fact that EVERYONE joins in on the fracas makes getting into fights a top priority, just narrowly below, you know, actually scoring.
The absolute best part of all is that the ref yanks the loser of the fight (and no one else) out of the game to take a seat in the penalty box. Pure brilliance. Sportsmanship, be damned.
The ‘B’ Button Slap Shot
The ‘B’ button slap shot was most effective any time you could get the puck to one of your Marios — ideally in a spot where he had some space, so as to hold down the ‘B’ button as long as possible until you were about to get hit, and then just LET IT FLY.
Yeah, this game wasn’t exactly designed with hockey purists in mind, and we should all be thankful for that.
How can you not love everything from the opening screen? Each player launches a puck as the tantalizing music continues until you select a team. One of the more underrated aspects might be where the ref completely evaporates into thin air after dropping the puck. Now that’s just wonderful symbolism.
Blades of Steel
Just like Ice Hockey’s screen format, Blades of Steel played left-to-right just like how we view games on TV. (Yeah, yeah, great. Tell me alllllll about the introduction of the one-timer in NHL ’94, but the north-south format in that game didn’t stay TRUE to hockey.)
What was lacking in player uniqueness in Blades of Steel was greatly made up for in the close-up, one-one-one fights that would erupt. And that’s exactly where the ceremonial “pounding the shit out of the buttons” began because losing a fight — especially a string of fights — was almost as embarrassing as losing a fight in your backyard.
Hell, this game even featured advertisements on the scoreboard between periods. Konami was clearly a company playing for keeps, albeit in a very creative way. Speaking of…
Those Scoreboard Advertisements
While some companies were simply trying to put out a decent video game that kids would enjoy, the inventive folks at Konami were thinking ahead and looking to SLAY the field. And they did, for a time. Throwing up ads on the scoreboard between periods for classics like Contra and Jackal was a genius move, lightyears ahead of its time.
“ALL YOUR FRIENDS WILL WANT IT”
Whatever it takes, Konami. And we all took it.
Simply Turning On The Game
Insert cartridge. Press Power. And boom, you were instantly greeted by a gentleman who set the necessary tone with a muffled “BLADES OF STEEL!” Loved this guy. It’s such a minor aspect, yet so distinctly memorable.
That man honestly deserved to announce the Stanley Cup Finals the year this classic came out.
The Pregame Skate Around
The traditional pregame skate around proved to show far more decorum than we ever witnessed in Slap Shot, as it was in a class of its own and somehow flawlessly synchronized between the two opposing teams.
In hindsight, it’s pretty upsetting that you couldn’t initiate a brawl during the skate around.
But, perhaps there was a subtle nod to all the debauchery that took place in Slap Shot. Because each time a player circled the ice during warmups, it appeared they went from carrying a stick to carrying a bottle. But perhaps that was just an “impure” thought brought to life by teenagers with bad ideas close to mind, anywhere they could find them.
Still, I’d like to believe these guys enjoyed a couple cold ones before game time. Would definitely explain all the fights.
Yup, that’s seven punches to the face and a knockout. The man had a plan and he stuck to it. No blocking. No change in approach. Just a sea of punches directly to the head in the name of glorious neighborhood bragging rights.
The Spastic Goal Celebrations
This is how it went down: The goal scorer took center stage amongst his teammates and proudly pumped his stick into the air until his arm fell off, while two of his most spastic teammates would tirelessly skate in place, as opposed to the other duo who just stood there flatly, doing precisely nothing.
Not to be outdone was the protesting, deranged goalie who was well past losing his shit. Judging by his fiery hand movements, I’m pretty sure he’s shouting “BRING IT!”
“Makes The Pass!”
The “announcer” wasn’t really much of an announcer in the sense that he only announced the name of the game, shouted “MAKES THE PASS!” any time someone passed the puck, and, of course, “FIGHT!” (Note: Incessantly passing the puck back and forth like a crazy person was a fun way to give the announcer a coronary.)
But the more I think about this bare bones announcing philosophy, the more I realize today’s announcers across all sports should be pulling up YouTube clips of this very game to learn a thing or two about allowing the action do the majority of the talking.
The shootouts looked awesome. But the misguided goalies failed to stand tall.
This kind of lively jam could get anyone in the mood for a little hockey. My only concern is that someone felt it necessary to create a 3-minute video that featured ONLY the Blades of Steel music on a continuous loop.
The Big Decision
Declaring the grand champ here, as you can imagine, is a very tough decision. Stressful, even. But alas, there can only be one winner. For some perspective, let’s momentarily hand the mic to their respective Wikipedia pages, because sometimes the lengthiness, or lack thereof, can tell the story when it comes to end-all, be-all things such as “reception and legacy.”
Blades of Steel’s “Official” Place In History
Blades of Steel has been well received by critics. Allgame editor Skyler Miller described the game as “one of the most enjoyable sports games of its era.”
Well, that was pretty underwhelming. This feels like the kind of quote you toss in when you can’t think of anything compelling to say.
Ice Hockey’s “Official” Place In History
Ice Hockey was rated the 142nd best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power’s Top 200 Games list. It was also included in IGN’s top 100 list, ranking at 100.
First of all, those rankings are bullshit. It’s a Top 25 Nintendo game, without question. As is Blades of Steel. But there’s more, and it thankfully gets better.
Mark Bozon praised it for being the most addictive of Nintendo’s early sports titles, commenting that it was in his NES as often as Super Mario Bros. 3 was. Aaron Thomas of GameSpot also commended the Virtual Console re-release for being “one of those rare NES sports games that’s almost as much fun to play today as it was when it was released.”
That’s more like it. Pretty telling assessments. You could absolutely throw in the original game right now and play it for three hours while not even flinching at the limitations of the 8-bit graphics.
Oh, and there’s also this:
The Fat Hockey Player appears as a collectible sticker in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
That fat hockey player happens to have a name, and it’s MARIO.
Nonetheless, its timeless feel, distinct characters, and cartoonish essence — especially the tornado-like brawls — were done is such classic Nintendo fashion, ultimately making Ice Hockey our winner.
Seriously, bros, someone even took the time to make a painting in honor of this special game.
Now, to find out where and how I can quickly procure this majestic art.