PHT remembers video games: ‘Hit the Ice’ in so, so many different ways

Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of, ones you fondly recall, and ones we’d all like to forget. In this edition, we look at “Hit the Ice.” It’s likely best remembered as an arcade game. As you’ll find out, though, you could play “Hit the Ice” on many different machines.

With many of the games in this series, it feels like we’re reminiscing about games that cannot exist, but really they’re games that probably cannot exist as mainstream titles any longer. Bite-sized action, maybe some over-the-top humor, and possibly gory fights? EA isn’t going to release that sort of thing any longer. That said, an indie developer might come along and channel the spirit of “Ice Hockey” while adding a bunch of adult elements, for example.

We probably won’t see another game quite like “Hit the Ice,” in at least one specific way. Here’s why.

Looking at the arcade version of “Hit the Ice”

In pouring over footage of “Hit the Ice,” I felt a tinge of sadness. But it wasn’t the sort of bittersweet nostalgia one might feel while lamenting the general lack of arcade-style sports games.

Instead, it’s maybe … SOMO, the sadness of missing out?

I’m just young enough that I wasn’t quite hitting the arcades often enough to recall playing “Hit the Ice.” With that in mind, I’ll defer to others regarding how fun “Hit the Ice” was around its 1990 release.

The cartoonishness and personality seemed great, especially since it was released well before “NBA Jam” became a sensation. It looks like Taito mixed pieces of pixelated arcade games like “Wrestlefest” and The Simpsons arcade game with some of the characters (and maybe a portion of the problematic elements?) of “Punch Out!!”

The “Hit the Ice” Wikipedia page explains the inspiration for some of the game’s characters:

  • Iven Yakashev, spoof of a Soviet player from 1972
  • Phil Bunger, spoof of Phil Esposito
  • “Dicky” Fontaine, spoof of Dicky Moore
  • Al Gigliano
  • Johnny Novak
  • “Happy” Golecki (“happy-go-lucky”)
  • Pierre Bourdoir
  • Ben Dover
  • “Gunner” Hall, spoof of Glenn Hall
  • “Battleship” Boyd
  • Reggie Marsh
  • “Bo” Cleveland

So, some of that probably falls in the “So bad, it’s good” range, right?

That said, it also looked rather sluggish. The goalies also seem pretty atrocious, even relative to the time it was released.

Overall, I’ve seen enough to at least want to try it in the extremely unlikely event “Hit the Ice” would a) be in an arcade near me and b) I’d enter what would almost certainly be a magnet for germs.

The many, remarkably different versions of the game

Granted, there are other ways to play “Hit the Ice.” That actually brings me to my larger point. It isn’t the arcade style that makes “Hit the Ice” something we’ll likely never see again. Instead, it’s that “Hit the Ice” was released on so many different platforms, and rather than being carbon copies of each other, each port sounded, looked, or moved differently. Sometimes “all of the above,” so to speak.

You can go port by port in the video above this post’s headline and both see and hear what I mean. (Thanks to a very helpful and interesting video from Gaming History Source.)

First, the arcade version of “Hit the Ice”

Hit the Ice Arcade version
via Taito/Williams/Gaming History Source

So, the arcade version is the “full featured one.” Such features include … Dale Hunter-esque fights after goals? Sure!

It’s worth noting that even the arcade version of “Hit the Ice” features some charmingly bad skating sound effects, and other flaws. I’d imagine many would agree that such “features” are part of the fun. Consider me convinced.

16-bit capabilities didn’t keep Genesis, SNES, Turbografx versions from being different

While ad campaigns would remind you that Genesis does what Nintendon’t, gamers are used to ports being virtually identical on similar platforms. That clearly wasn’t the case during the 16-bit era, though. (See: Aladdin.)

Granted, the differences between the SNES and Genesis versions weren’t as dramatic as the Turbografx one. It was interesting, though, to see that some versions of “Hit the Ice” featured not just players you could choose, but also team names.

Sega Genesis version Hit the Ice
via Taito/Williams/Gaming History Source

Also, I’m pretty sure this super sweet overhead arena sequence was designed to show off Nintendo’s “Mode 7” capabilities on the SNES:

Quite a bit got lost in translation jumping from arcade to the Genesis and SNES. The lightly-loved turbografx 16 version, though? It looked quite spartan:

via Taito/Williams/Gaming History Source

Honestly, though? In losing some of the sound effects, it also seemed a little less grating. That would be a plus for any parents or people who didn’t care for games who were in its vicinity. None of that would really heal the pain of investing in a turbografx, yet it’s worth mentioning.

When you wanted to “Hit the Ice” on primitive hardware

To reiterate: there were quite a few versions of this game. Some of them weren’t even 16-bit.

At the lowest end of the power spectrum, you had the Nintendo GameBoy version. Honestly? Not bad.

via Taito/Williams/Gaming History Source

OK, it obviously didn’t look like a 1:1 conversion, but considering the brick-like handheld’s limitations, it seemed like an honest effort.

The Nintendo NES version, though? Kind of a nightmare. To be fair, this port of “Hit the Ice” did not get released, so maybe it wouldn’t make your eyes bleed? Maybe the characters wouldn’t have looked like hockey white chocolate Hershey Kisses, or something?

via Taito/Williams/Gaming History Source

Yet, even with that non-release, there was ambition. Apparently the NES version featured an RPG-style quest mode where you could improve your players over time. That’s pretty bold for the arcade port of a hockey game on an NES platform that was going extinct.

So, yeah, it’s difficult to imagine a game like “Hit the Ice” hitting different platforms in so many different versions. Even the embattled, follicly-challenged referee looked different game-to-game.

Top: Arcade version, slightly more party in the back; bottom left: GameBoy; Bottom right: Turbografx, not much of a party in the back

So, look, I’m not sure how many versions of “Hit the Ice” were worth playing, even when they were released. But the sheer variance in details — big and small — makes the ports seem like true labors of love.

Maybe sometimes the sort of things only a parent can love, but still.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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