NES

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: 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.

Capitals make Rene Bourque fight, but not quite pay

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There was some “residual” payment for Rene Bourque tonight, but it’s unlikely to satisfy many angry Washington Capitals fans. Matt Hendricks dropped the gloves with Bourque seconds after the Montreal Canadiens forwards stepped onto the ice tonight, but Bourque got the better of him:

As Sean Leahy points out in this screen cap, Bourque almost channeled Jake “The Snake” Roberts during the fight:

source:

(On the bright side, Bourque hasn’t betrayed “The Ultimate Warrior.”)

Since we’re on the subject of video games tonight, it’s probably safe to say that the revenge Russian Machine Never Breaks provided is better than the one that happened in reality:

Then again, there’s still time for the Capitals to give him the old “punch-out” if they’re not satisfied with that first attempt, as there are still two periods to go.

Update: The Caps didn’t win that battle, but they won the game 3-0 thanks to some great work by Michal Neuvirth.

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