You young'uns wouldn't know a good hockey game if it skated up and checked you into the boards! Not that I'm even old enough to call anyone a "young'un", but still, nothing beats the classic Blades of Steel for NES. One of the first (good) hockey games for home video game consoles.
A cold and dark December in 1988, Konami sought to light a warming fire within the homes of NES owners across the country. Blades of Steel, although released over a year before as an arcade cabinet, truly found its stride once released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There's nothing more enjoyable than sitting on your couch and watching the players take the ice.
Just look at those graphics! So real!
It can't be hockey if there isn't a fist fight in the middle of the game!
Blades of Steel has an excellent mechanic for instigating a fight, it almost ensures that there is at least one fight each period. When the active players on both sides hit each other 3 times in a row (no passes, or bumping another passive player) a fight can break out (though not always, sometimes you have enough force to just knock the other player to the ice and the puck is up for grabs at that point). A few punches are exchanged, and then the real fight begins.
The perspective changes and you zoom in close to your brawling hockey stars. The controls for the fight are simple. One button for punch, one button for block. You can also alter your attack, gut punch or head punch, by using the D-pad.
The best part about the fighting, however, is that the Blades of Steel rules differ from regular NHL hockey rules. You get a penalty if you lose the fight! That's right. If someone is targeting you and they beat the crap out of you, you're sent to the penalty box for 2 minutes.
It gives the fights higher stakes and makes them more exciting.
Honestly, this is a big thing for me. I'm not a particularly big sports game fan, I usually stick to Fight Night or NBA Street if I want to play in the sports genre.
The speed of the overall game is relatively quick, but not so quick that it leaves you wanting more. Minutes will go by in seconds (with appropriate stops to the clock for goals and during the fight sequence).
I will say that the opening sequence when everyone skates around in circles before the game begins takes far too long, but it doesn't impact the gameplay any.
You've made it to half-time, your team is tired, and all the fans are sitting eagerly in their seats waiting for more. Why not show an advertisement while they wait and sway them (you) to make a purchase. It's probably one of the earlier instances of in-game advertisements for home-console games.
The Jumbo-Tron will be shown and it will start playing a "commercial". Usually it just advertises for Konami hockey, but other times it will showcase other Konami games. They advertise Contra and Gradius, among a few others.
Konami was ahead of their time!
"BLADES OF STEEL"
I'm not sure who it was that provided this wonderfully dulcet voice to the game, but I hope he was rewarded handsomely.
As soon as you click the power button on your NES, you're greeted with a real human voice. Now obviously that doesn't seem like much nowadays, but for the NES it was a really big thing!
The announcer will proclaim different events, like "FACEOFF" and "FIGHT", and the characters even let out a troubled "Aaaaagghhh" when they get knocked out in a fight.
Of course, the NES had many more limitations so a lot of sound clips were removed when ported from the arcade version, but you still get to hear the announcer exclaim with a deep fiery passion "WITH THE PASS!" for every quick pass between the players.
The roster is a little weak, only 8 selections, but the game at least understands contemporary hockey's Canadian roots, with half of the teams hailing from the Great White North (though I bet 90% of the players on the US teams are Canadian too :P).
The game makes up for the weaker roster by actually giving each team its own hidden stats. Some teams are slightly faster, some take better shots, others can be more aggressive. Though since it's all hidden, you'll just have to play each team to find out which one works for you the most.
I really love the controls. Simple D-pad movement, B to pass, A to shoot. The fighting controls, as explained earlier, add a little more complexity (but only barely). There is only one caveat. Goal-tending.
Your goalie isn't a separate player, so while you're controlling your active player, you're actually controller the goalie as well. Whenever you skate up, so does your goalie. Skating down, and he'll follow suit as well. It makes your defensive plays very difficult, because while you're skating down to check/intercept, you may be making your net wide open at the same time.
I realize the NES doesn't have that many colours to work with, I really do.
In order to avoid some colours that could look the same in the game some teams had their colours swapped with other sport teams from the same city. Minnesota for example has the colours of the NFL's Vikings to avoid looking too much like Vancouver within the game. That's not where I have the problem…
At first glance you'd think that the colours on the teams are different enough, and for the most part that's true. There are a few teams, however, that share some colours. When you're playing, your active player will flash with a white and black outline. Unfortunately, that outline covers up a potentially differing colour that made your players unique.
Seriously… Those players look like they are the exact same.
Most of the time, this isn't really an issue, but it can cause some real confusion when you've got 4 guys huddled around the puck and you're not really sure who's in control.
Sure, it doesn't have your favourite team (it only has 8, and there are currently 30 teams in the NHL), and it may not have your favourite player (Wayne Gretzky of course), but it certainly makes up for it all by being a ton of fun.
I've spent countless hours playing by myself, or with friends and family. It actually wasn't that long ago that we set up the NES to have a Blades of Steel tournament with a large group of people.
The controls make it simple enough to pick up and go, but the subtle (and sometimes hidden) mechanics can help you build some strategic plays.
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SupremeEvan is a fellow video game connoisseur (specializing in the Nintendo variety). He occasionally writes other reviews that you can find here, and more recently he's taken to using Twitter, at @EvanChambers.