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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.

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.