Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at the skinny, normal, and fat impact of Ice Hockey for the Nintendo (NES).
If you want to choose a pivotal year for hockey video games, you might not top 1988.
OK, to be clear, it’s probably safer to say “1988-ish.” During much of the earlier years of video games — on consoles, in arcades — “release dates” were nebulous. Landing a NES (robot or not) and some its best titles in a given year might boil down to geography and luck.
But, one way or another, both Nintendo’s own Ice Hockey and Konami’s Blades of Steel made big impacts on the NES at or around 1988.
With that in mind, it was tempting to bundle the two together for some kind of combo post. Considering how much Blades of Steel particularly adored in fights, pitting the two titles together feels natural.
Honestly, though? After mulling it over for a while, I believe that each game/series deserves its own post. Let’s start with the one I’d argue aged more gracefully: Ice Hockey.
(Note: PHT’s Sean Leahy participated in a Blades-Ice Hockey debate at ESPN where BoS came out way on top, so I could be wrong there. Both were great, is what I’m really trying to say.)
Who needs rock, paper, scissors when you have skinny, normal, fat?
Time after time, Nintendo finds ways to strike a balance between “simple to learn, tough to master.” They rarely boast the most graphically advanced games or systems, yet Nintendo churns out beautiful, elegant, and often downright wholesome entertainment.
Watch some of the gameplay footage in the video above and, chances are, you’ll smile. While the sound effects are at times primitive, they’re also often charming. And I’m not sure you can get much better than deploying the “Mario/Luigi just completed that level” happy song after goals.
(Granted, it’s far less enjoyable when the computer or your snotty friend is celebrating a goal against you.)
In Ice Hockey, player type selection represents wonderful rock, paper, scissors decisions. Beyond your goalie, you get four players to choose from, and that’s part of the strategy. Do you want all of the “fat” or bigger players (who check and shoot harder, but are slower), “skinny” players (who are weaker but faster), or “normal” ones (who are generally average)?
You could argue Ice Hockey even got past “body shaming” by giving all sizes something to be proud of. Maybe.
Feel free to discuss the best combinations of “skinny, normal, fat” in the comments. As someone who fired up Ice Hockey on my Switch for research purposes, I feel disqualified after getting absolutely whooped by the computer. In my faint defense, it’s kind of tough to tell what does what on the Switch controller.
(Yeah, OK, that’s weak.)
Ice Hockey creator went on to bigger, Kart-based things
Before putting together this post, I didn’t really know the name Hideki Konno. Hey, not every Nintendo genius can be as well-known as Shigeru Miyamoto.
But Ice Hockey clearly kept Konno on track for big things, much an ice surface that had just been kissed by a Zamboni. Konno was a key figure as director for the original (SNES) Mario Kart, the beloved Yoshi’s Story, and Mario Kart 64. Things get a little murkier from there (don’t quiz me on what, precisely, a video game producer does), but the bottom line is that the person who programmed Ice Hockey clearly knew a thing or two about making timeless video games.
After all, Nintendo’s sports games carry over that legacy quite wonderfully. Why not slap Mario’s mustached face on hockey like they have for often-fantastic golf, tennis, and soccer titles?
(What’s that? Because those sports are more popular? Shhhh.)
It appears that Konno last spoke about an Ice Hockey sequel — and just vaguely — around 2012. So, sadly, we’ll need to merely imagine a video game with a slow-but-powerful Mario/Wario, a lanky and speedy Luigi/Waluigi, and I’d assume Donkey Kong and Bowser as the goalies.
The more I think about all of that, the more I experience Feelings of Sad.
PHT remembers other hockey video games:
- NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
- NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
- EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).
- An ode to the NHL 2K series, which challenged and sometimes surpassed EA’s popular entries.
- Who needs Tecmo Super Bowl when you can have Tecmo Super Hockey? (You might want to stick with Tecmo Super Bowl.)