hockey video games

PHT remembers hockey video games: ‘NHL Hitz 2003’ still delivers

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Every week, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). For the first time in this series, PHT invites a guest contributor. Enjoy a fun take from Tony Abbott (@OhHiTony) on the very fun Midway title NHL Hitz 2003. Some refer to it as “NHL Hitz 20-03,” but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll drop the hyphen.

I’ve always been a sucker for the cult classic.

My favorite movie? The Room. I’ll tell anyone who will listen that the best rock record is a science-fiction punk album called Death By Television. Catch me on the right day and I’ll argue that Dollhouse was better than both Buffy and Firefly. And of course, hockey is my favorite sport. For whatever reason, if it isn’t for everyone, there’s a good chance it might be for me.

So it may not surprise anyone that my favorite hockey video game is NHL Hitz 2003.

The Hitz series, published by Midway as a companion to games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, hasn’t endured quite like other hockey games. It wasn’t an early pioneer like Blades of Steel or the NES’ Ice Hockey. It wasn’t the classic perfection of NHL 94. And it certainly isn’t the monolith that the NHL games of today are.

While I’m not immune to the charms of those games — I’ll gladly play any of them today — none of them will ever make me as giddy as NHL Hitz 2003 does. Thought making Gretzky’s head bleed was pure joy? You haven’t lived until you’ve knocked Jeremy Roenick through the glass, then centered the puck for a one-time goal.

Intensive research shows: NHL Hitz 2003 holds up, and the hits(z) keep coming

I dug up my Playstation 2 last night, strictly for research purposes, for the first time in over a year. It took two games for me to get used to the controls again. Super easy. A button to pass, to shoot (hold for a slapper), to deke and to protect the puck from poke checks on offense. A button for body and stick checking on defense. Left trigger for a limited turbo.

The polygonal graphics may not be crisp anymore, but that gameplay still is. Every match is 3-on-3, and it perfectly replicates the excitement of today’s NHL overtime. Oversized players zip around on undersized ice. The passing is tape-to-tape. There are odd-man rushes. You will see breakaways. All game long.

And there are the Hitz! The Hitz keep coming! You’ll have to play a heavy style of hockey that will make Tom Wilson blush if you want to win. Open-ice hits that send players flipping. Body checks that put the unlucky recipients through the glass, creating a temporary 3-on-2 rush. Casually grabbing opponents and ripping them down. Even the poke checking is nothing more than tripping half the time.

You ride this tense line all game: You have the speed to be five seconds from scoring at any time. If you can’t dodge the other team, you’ll get knocked down before you can fire even a weak wrist shot.

Experiencing that again was like visiting an old college friend again. And it reminded me of another one.

A friendly rivalry forms around “NHL Hitz 2003”

There’s a lot to do as a single player in NHL Hitz 2003. There’s a franchise mode where you start as a terrible team and work your way into the NHL. You can play as any team in season mode, and even jumble the rosters up in a fantasy draft. There are a massive number of classic jerseys to unlock, and trivia questions to answer after every match. When you get bored of playing the main game, there are plenty of minigames to conquer.

But there’s nothing like a good rivalry. These were the pre-online days, so any multiplayer was local. And a couch or dorm room is a terrific cauldron for a bitter, decade-long grudge with your best friend.

It happened to me. I learned of the game from my freshman roommate’s GameCube collection. It wouldn’t take long for me to find a copy for myself at a game store. And once I had it, it wasn’t long before I fired it up for the first time with my neighbor Danny.

Danny picked up the game instantly, and we were both hooked. We’d play late into the night, cycling through our favorite teams, and trash-talking loud enough to garner the occasional threat from the RAs. The 15-minute games made for the perfect study break during the school year. And stringing seven of them together made for an even more perfect study break.

Hitz’ appeal lasted through the years. Danny left to study abroad in Germany for a year. Upon his return, we were back to Hitz in a week. After we graduated and Danny had moved two hours south? I’d bring my PS2 in tow whenever we visited. And when he moved back to the area, the game was there and the rivalry was as fierce as ever.

This was in large part due to how evenly matched we were. In games like NHL 94 or NBA Jam, I stood little chance. Whether it was the ease of play of the scores of hours I sunk into it, I could keep up with him in NHL Hitz 2003.

The legendary rivalry of Ron Francis vs … Mike Comrie?

We both succeeded with vastly different styles. I was skilled with poke checks and dined out on one-timers. Danny had incredible reflexes around the net, cashing in rebounds with regularity. He also had a frustrating ability to score on breakaways without making any fancy moves whatsoever.

But the defining dynamic of our rivalry boiled down to two players, the mere mention of whom will cause one of us to cackle and the other to spit. Ron Francis and Mike Comrie.

I played a memorable game as the Carolina Hurricanes, who had Francis on the team. Francis was very slow, but had a cannon for a shot and was the best passer in the game not named “Mario”. One game I was able to feed one-timer after one-timer to Francis, who couldn’t be stopped. He scored five goals, and my gloating increased every time he lit the lamp en route to victory.

Ron Francis in "NHL Hitz 2003/20-03"
Try to avert your eyes from Jeff O’Neill’s sweet highlights for a second and check out Ronnie’s ratings (via Midway/Youtube)

Shortly after, Danny got his revenge in picking Edmonton. He got a quick hat trick with Comrie, then a fourth goal. Getting blown out, I decided to give up on the victory and devote myself to only one task: Stop Comrie by any means necessary. Danny scored a fifth and sixth goal with Comrie, completing my humiliation.

We cycle through a number of teams (about half the league is extremely fun to play as) so as not to get stale. But when one of our backs are against the wall, we’ll go back to Carolina or Edmonton to break a slump. Our message to each other: “You’re going to lose, and you’re going to lose to the player you hate the most.”

The NHL Hitz didn’t exactly keep coming

Other games have come along to fulfill Hitz’ legacy, but none have filled its shoes. EA released an arcade version of its game that was more stripped-down than Hitz’ brand of hockey. NHL 18 offered a 3-on-3 mode that, while fun, lacked the sharp passing and heightened reality that Midway offered.

18 years later, we’re still looking for a true successor to Hitz (This is the part where I beg Metalhead to create Super Mega Hockey). But that’s OK. As long as my PS2 is working, I’ll gladly revisit Hitz. And the next time I visit Danny, I’ll make it a priority to reacquaint him with Ron Francis.

Note from James O’Brien: For whatever reason, the “shooting out windows” minigame stood out for me:

Also, it’s worth noting that NHL Hitz Pro served as a sequel to NHL Hitz 2003. That doesn’t make Abbott wrong, about the lack of a true successor, though. That’s because Hitz Pro tried to blur the lines between hockey sims and the arcade-style action. While the reviews were reasonably decent for NHL Hitz Pro, it also represented the end of that series. What are hockey video games without Hitz? They’re less fun.

Now, as bonus, Tony Abbott shared his power rankings for the top 10 teams in NHL Hitz 2003. (Do note that Abbott wasn’t counting the create-a-team you made with cowboys or giraffes or whatever.)

NHL Hitz 2003 Power Rankings:

  1. Colorado Avalanche: Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic bring the skill, Rob Blake pounds opponents into submission, and Patrick Roy is in net. Honestly, it’s unfair.
  2. Detroit Red Wings: With Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, and Nick Lidstrom at their peaks, Sergei Fedorov can’t even crack the lineup.
  3. Philadelphia Flyers: Jeremy Roenick and company punished you with a bruising style, and this game happened to be released when Roman Cechmanek was a thing.
  4. St. Louis Blues: Cover Athlete Chris Pronger and Keith Tkachuk were more than enough to cover for occasionally shaky goaltending.
  5. San Jose Sharks: Vincent Damphousse’s top-notch passing means you can set up Teemu Selanne and Owen Nolan all game.
  6. New Jersey Devils: Surprisingly light on the defensive end. Patrik Elias brings some skills, but the game underrates Scott Niedermayer. If Martin Brodeur falters, you’re in trouble.
  7. New York Rangers: Will Mike Richter let you down? Frequently. Are Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, and Brian Leech fun enough to cancel that out? Absolutely.
  8. Boston Bruins: Another bad goaltending team, but with Joe Thornton and Brian Rolston blasting shots, you have plenty of opportunity to out-score the other guys.
  9. Dallas Stars: Bill Guerin and Mike Modano form an elite power/speed duo. Too bad the Stars’ goal song doesn’t make it in, as it’d fit perfectly with the metal-focused soundtrack.
  10. Carolina Hurricanes: The playmaking Francis, a speedy sniper in Sami Kapanen, and the do-it-all Jeff O’Neill make for a balanced team.

Tony Abbott is a freelance writer, primarily covering the Minnesota Wild. His work has been featured at Zone Coverage, The Athletic Minnesota, and SB Nation’s Hockey Wilderness. Follow him @OhHiTony on Twitter.

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.

PHT remembers hockey video games: “Blades of Steel” made the cut for NES

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 “Blades of Steel,” best known for its Nintendo (NES) release.

Among hockey-loving gamers of a certain age, “Blades of Steel” or “Ice Hockey” can ignite a fierce debate.

As someone with vague “Blades of Steel” memories and who either wasn’t good enough at “Ice Hockey” to remember it, or someone who never did, I can’t say that the discussion moves me. Certainly not as much as playing bits of Konami’s “Gradius” blew my youthful mind during the occasional “Blades of Steel” intermission.

Really, I think most should realize they were very lucky to get to choose between “Blades of Steel” and “Ice Hockey” on the Nintendo NES. Both games came out sometime around 1988,* marking that period as one of the watershed moments for hockey video games.

Let us remember “Blades of Steel,” from what players might remember to facts that many never even knew.

* – Release dates could be fuzzy in those days. Depending upon where you lived, you might have needed to wait months or more to even get your hands on a Nintendo NES console, let alone specific games.

An attempt at recreating the real thing

The “Ice Hockey” vs. “Blades of Steel” makes for a fun debate because they’re not just classic games; they’re also strikingly different. “Ice Hockey” presents a more cartoonish, Nintendo-fied version of hockey, with “skinny, normal, and fat” players. There are also only four skaters and a goalie, breaking from traditional hockey.”

If you were looking for a closer simulation of the real deal, then “Blades of Steel” was your poison.

Heck, Konami continued its tradition of um, “homages” by using a Wayne Gretzky – Thomas Jonsson photo as “inspiration” for the game’s cover art.

“Blades of Steel” featured five skaters plus a goalie, and aimed at authenticity by using city names. Like most sports titles of that era, you weren’t getting official logos or player likenesses.

Quirks were part of what made “Blades of Steel” special

But, really, the areas where the game wasn’t 1:1 often ended up being very charming. Perhaps inspiring “Mutant League Hockey,” the loser of a “Blades of Steel” fight was penalized.

(If that rule existed in the NHL, Alain Vigneault’s Rangers-era fascination with Tanner Glass wouldn’t have been so regularly ridiculed.)

Rather than trying to deke your way to a goal in a shootout, a penalty shot in “Blades of Steel” more closely resembled a penalty kick in soccer. One could see the guessing game element of picking a corner being pretty fun, and also almost certainly easier to program on an 8-bit console.

Blades of Steel penalty shot
via Konami/Moby Games

The sound effects were ahead of their time. Along with featuring some fantastic music, “Blades of Steel” included some basic play-by-play announcing. The technological limitations of sound effects on the NES meant that the “get the pass” call created considerable debate.

“Blades of Steel” spiced things up with different intermission entertainment. For my young self, playing a few bits of what appeared to be “Gradius” was pretty mind-blowing. Honestly, this gimmick never really got old for me, as I’ve been entertained by random min-games right down to playing some platforming oddity while “Splatoon” loaded.

As someone who hasn’t had the chance to play “Blades of Steel” in long time, I wonder about how certain sound effects — and blinking players — might age. But it’s also clear why people love the game so much.

Other versions of “Blades of Steel,” and other bits of trivia

Thanks to a fantastic “Blades of Steel” post by Sal Barry at Puck Junk, I learned some surprising things about “Blades of Steel.”

  • The Japanese version seemed to be missing quite a few things that made “Blades” great. It was called “Konami Ice Hockey.” Maybe most startlingly, Barry notes that the teams had names, not just cities, in this version. That included the New York Devils and … the Minnesota Wilds?
  • Over the years, video game historians such as Jeremy Parish have captured how ambitious developers were with Game Boy games. That realization softens the shock of how impressive the Game Boy “Blades of Steel” version seems … at least a bit. Still, whoever worked on this was a wizard at minimum:
  • There was an arcade version of “Blades of Steel,” which is where Barry and others believe they confirmed “get the pass.”
  • Konami attempted to reboot the series during the Nintendo 64 era, releasing “NHL Blades of Steel ’99” and a 2000 version. It … didn’t take, and didn’t look too hot, although at least it starred Jaromir Jagr on both covers.

The reboot didn’t work out, but people still fondly remember “Blades of Steel.” The Lightning put together an eye-popping 3D projection inspired by the game called “Bolts of Steel.”

You should really check out Sal Barry’s Puck Junk article on it for even more. Barry’s rec league team is named after the game and at least at one time, he used the music as his alarm clock. Few will top that love of the (video) game.

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.

PHT remembers video games: Bones-ing up on ‘Mutant League Hockey’

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 “Mutant League Hockey.”

There probably won’t be another hockey video game quite like “Mutant League Hockey.” In all honesty, it’s kind of hard to believe it ever got released.

Now, in some ways, “Mutant League Hockey” was very much a video game of the times. No, its cartoonish violence didn’t inspire groups to think of the children with the same energy that “Mortal Kombat” did. But it was still a hockey video game where you could eliminate your opponents (with weapons like chainsaws) until you won by forfeit. The crude humor and over-the-top vibe carried shades of “Beavis & Butthead,” “Ren & Stimpy,” and maybe even “Heavy Metal.” It was the unofficial hockey video game of GWAR.

Forfeit in Mutant League Hockey
via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

It’s kind of staggering that “Mutant League Hockey” was published by Electronic Arts in 1994. After all, this was at the same time the company that was churning out beloved, licensed sports titles. Gory parodies didn’t really fit with “NHL ’94” and “NHL ’95,” let alone the increasingly popular “Madden” games.

There’s an alternate reality where maybe, just maybe, EA Sports would be churning out sim series on one side and silly ones on the other. After all, “Mutant League Hockey” wasn’t the first title in the series, as the hit “Mutant League Football” first brought us “Bones Jackson” in 1993.

It’s not like the series lacked any legs. There was even a “Mutant League” cartoon, which it ran for two seasons in the form of 40 episodes:

There were even action figures, possibly pushing the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” connection too far:

Mutant League Bonesykle toy Football Hockey
via Amazon/Galoob

Ultimately, “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being the last video game in the series, rather than a continuation of a sensation. Even so, it’s worth remembering the game, and its place in the landscape of arcade-style sports titles.

Not everyone has the fondest memories of “Mutant League Hockey”

Even series creator Michael Mendheim understands why EA eventually shelved “Mutant League” titles to focus on more grounded sports games. In a 2007 interview with Gamasutra, Mendheim referred to the series as “the crazy uncle who was told to stay in the basement when the important guests arrived.”

“EA made a smart decision to put all their focus and talent on making the best realistic sports games in the industry, in lieu of splitting resources to make a violent sci-fi themed sports game,” Mendheim said. “From a business standpoint, it was the only practical decision to make.”

In deciding to divest from all things “Mutant League,” it meant that there wouldn’t be a basketball game, and this change in gears forced “Mutant League Hockey” to be rushed. Mendheim explained that what should have been about a 14-month development cycle was instead squashed down to about six months.

” … I know what Mutant League Hockey was supposed to be and could have been, so I was always sad and disappointed with that project,” Mendheim told Brett Weiss.

What “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being

Of course, plenty of us hold fond memories of what “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being, as we had no clue what it could have been.

In retrospect, some of the flaws helped make it so memorable. There was sort of a buffet-style, “kitchen sink” feel to the game, and it probably made things too chaotic at times. Yet maybe that excess also helped it stand out?

If you wanted balance, you went with the NHL titles. “Mutant League Hockey” allowed you to bribe refs, included a net that could turn into a puck-blocking beast, and punished losing teams in fights with longer penalties. A slug-like Zamboni didn’t just clean up pixelated ice, but also the bones/whatever of the fallen beasts following each period. The animated fight sequence felt like an evolution/devolution of the memorable bouts in “Blades of Steel.” It was all a lot, and that was the point.

via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

As with most corny humor and puns, some jokes landed better than others. Your mileage will vary on “Smelios” (stifles a giggle), but “Jamina Dagr” isn’t exactly the greatest take on Jaromir Jagr.

Based on Mendheim’s comments about the game being rushed, one wonders if “Mutant League Hockey” could have been as polished as it was off-the-wall if given more time in the oven. Then again, it’s better that it got rushed out than to not exist at all.

Future mutations

If you glance at Mendheim’s career, you can see that there are traces of “Mutant League” in future work.

It’s unclear how involved he was in the 1996 PC title “HyperBlade,” but … I mean, just look at it. This carries some serious “if only it had more time in the oven” spirit:

EA occasionally returned to arcade-style sports games, just not really with the absurd gore. The “EA Sports BIG” line of games captured much of the spirit with “NBA Street” and “SSX.” Mendheim even served as a producer on “Def Jam: Icon.” 

EA eventually dropped “BIG” games, which still stings for me. It makes it that much more tempting to picture how a modern “Mutant League Hockey” might turn out.

Actually, should I picture it as “Mutant Hockey League?”

Back in 2017, Mendheim managed to put out a spiritual pigskin successor in the form of “Mutant Football League.” While it didn’t set the video game sales world on fire, it received reasonably positive reviews. It merely existing is impressive enough.

(The game’s title not prompting litigation is interesting enough in its own right.)

Picturing an unlikely reboot

Considering hockey’s more limited scope, and Mendheim holding sad memories, I’m not holding my breath for anything along the lines of “Mutant Hockey League,” or any similar arrangement of words.

Even so, it’s tempting to picture an unlikely reboot. First, take the adrenaline and sports-adjacent qualities of “Rocket League.” Then, mix in the obstacles and items of, say, “Mario Kart.” Add violence for taste, and you could have a glorious hockey video game.

Honestly, if you need a boredom fix, drum up some dopey replacement NHL player names. Just consider “Mutant Football League” warping Odell Beckham Jr. and apply it to hockey:

via Digital Dreams LLC/Sporting News

Until then, we’ll merely have to dream, and maybe wipe dust off of that Genesis and the nostalgia-tinged cartridges.

via Electronic Arts/eBay

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.

PHT remembers video games: Hockey on the Nintendo 64

Nintendo 64 hockey video games
Getty Images

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 hockey video games on the Nintendo 64.

When people think back to the Nintendo 64, plenty of images come up. Maybe Mario 64 or “The Ocarina of Time” come to mind. Perhaps it conjures memories of Goldeneye, or really good pro wrestling titles, or “Mario Party” wounds.

I’d wager that there aren’t many people who immediately think of hockey video games for that console. Heck, I’d assume that most hockey fans who also play games probably think of SNES/Genesis titles, go back to “Ice Hockey” and “Blades of Steel,” or merely lean toward EA’s modern NHL series.

Even so, there were quite a few Nintendo 64 hockey video games, including ones so obscure they might not make it in this post. (If so, share away.) Let’s look back at the 64-bit console’s most noteworthy hockey video games, then.

Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (and ’98)

Arcade-style sports games tend to age the best because they’re less ambitious about looking like the real thing, and also about simulating it. So, it’s no surprise that “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” seems like it would be pretty fun to play, even today.

Midway churned this one out, which helps to explain the “NBA Jam”-y ness of it all. Goalies could turn into brick walls. Nets caught on fire. You know, the good stuff.

You could see a lot of the DNA of “NHL Hitz” here, which is a series we’ll delve into down the line.

Here are some fun tidbits about the series (which included a sequel):

  • The title’s Wikipedia page alleges that it was the first-ever four-player Nintendo 64 game. As you may recall, the console shipped with four ports for controllers, making it the sleepover machine for nerds cool kids.
  • The series of three Gretzky-helmed titles began on the SNES.
  • Could there have been “Mortal Kombat”-style fatalies during fights? Allegedly.
  • Critics weren’t exactly enthused about the ’98 version getting repackaged as “Olympic Hockey ’98.” IGN even gave it a “zero.” Honestly, I do admire the lazy brashness of just changing trades to “defections,” though.
  • “Olympic Hockey ’98” represented the debut of video game developer Treyarch.

In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Treyarch currently develops some of the titles for the “Call of Duty” franchise, and also churned out the well-regarded PS2 “Spider-man 2” game, ports for the “Tony Hawk” series, and more. Humble beginnings, indeed.

EA sports eventually brings a hockey title to Nintendo 64 with NHL ’99

As far as I can tell, the Nintendo 64 began a stretch where EA Sports titles were by no means guaranteed to appear on Nintendo consoles. (Or, in some cases, Nintendo fans would get warmed-over rehashes, or only one or two titles in a given series. The Nintendo Switch hasn’t received a modern title in the NHL series, for instance.)

While the Nintendo 64 ranked as a success by some measures, it also didn’t receive the same waves of titles as Sony’s Playstation. While Sony went with CDs, Nintendo stuck with cartridges. Such a decision made it tougher to pirate games for the Nintendo 64, yet it also made it far more expensive to manufacture games.

“Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey” released in 1996, while EA Sports’ first foray into hockey games for the Nintendo 64 didn’t happen until “NHL ’99” dropped in 1998.

“NHL ’99” featured Eric Lindros on the cover, and was generally well-received. That said, IGN’s Craig Harris noted that the game was farmed out to MBL Research, and was mostly based off of “NHL ’98” for the Playstation and PC.

So it seems like it was better than nothing, but Nintendo fans still got the short end of the (hockey) stick.

Other hockey video games on Nintendo 64

When it comes to two other series on the N64, I’d argue their greatest impacts came in entertaining covers.

Frankly, there’s a charm in Keith Tkachuk being on the cover of “NHL Breakaway ’98,” which I assume will be a precursor to Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk teaming up on the latest “Bratz.”

NHL Breakaway '98 Keith Tkachuk hockey video games Nintendo 64
via Youtube/Acclaim Sports

The “Breakaway” series seemed … fine. Really, any hockey game that included icon passing gets bumped up a half-letter grade. But it’s not shocking that the series eventually fizzled out.

While plenty of people at least vaguely recall one of the “Breakaway” titles (the second one featured Steve Yzerman), I’d guess few knew that “Blades of Steel” made a comeback. Jaromir Jagr served as the cover star for both the ’99 and 2000 versions:

 

via CD Universe/Konami

There seems to be some charm to the “Blades of Steel” reboot, but the slow framerate and weird angle likely limit it to being a mere curiosity.

Overall, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nintendo 64 isn’t remembered for hockey video games. Even so, I can’t deny an urge to refresh my memories about “Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey,” — defections optional.

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.

PHT remembers video games: Skinny, normal, fat impact of Ice Hockey (NES)

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.

Considering Konno’s prominence, it honestly makes me wonder why the series never was revived. For better or worse, Blades of Steel eventually got its own lightlyregarded, way-later sequels.

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:

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.