Nintendo

PHT reviews hockey video games: ‘Super Blood Hockey,’ a gory good time

Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of. Previously, that meant looking back at games that are now largely inaccessible. This week’s edition, on the other hand, can be found in many spots: “Super Blood Hockey.”

As we look back at old and very old arcade-style hockey games, it’s almost inevitable to wallow in the sadder elements of nostalgia. Why can’t current games capture those good old days?

Well, games like “Super Blood Hockey” aim to do just that. After spending some time with the Switch version of the game, I think solo developer Loren Lemcke’s aim ended up being mostly on.

“Super Blood Hockey” is an evolution (and devolution) of NES “Ice Hockey”

Earlier in this series, we looked at the NES classic “Ice Hockey,” which originally released around 1988. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s SNES emulator (available with Switch Online), you can toggle between “Ice Hockey” and “Super Blood Hockey” on the same device.

Of course, it really might come down to letting your kids play “Ice Hockey,” but not “Super Blood Hockey.”

On one hand, SBH carries a lot of the same spirit of that Nintendo classic. There are “fat, skinny, normal” players, with the skinnier being more elusive, and the “fat” being tougher to knock off the puck than vintage Eric Lindros. Much like “Ice Hockey,” “Super Blood Hockey” only involves four skaters and a goalie, rather than the NHL standard.

Fights definitely play a role in the game, as much like in classic titles, the team that wins a fight — actually a wild line brawl — goes up one player. In fact, as I learned earlier today in researching the game a bit more, you can also go up four skaters to one.

A meaty and gory franchise mode

The not-so-family friendly stuff boils down to the gore, and the dark gallows humor of the franchise mode.

Rather than a dry GM mode setup such as games like “NHL 20,” you begin the “Super Blood Hockey” version by … giving up a kidney to afford your team?

Super Blood Hockey screen kidney
via Super Blood Hockey

When you lose a fight, you don’t just essentially go on the penalty kill. You also risk being “down a man” in a dark way. Like, say, losing your best player “Ryan Bretzel.”

Super Blood Hockey poor Bretzel
via Super Blood Hockey

The game’s lack of an NHL or NHLPA license means that you get some fun names (Adam “Pates,” huh?) and the game can go down some literal dark alleys with drug use.

 

When it comes to the humor, your results will vary. As someone who worries that players might be put at risk to return to play, there’s some catharsis in the satire of “Super Blood Hockey,” though. The tone generally works for me, possibly thanks to the throwback pixel art.

Super Blood Hockey discard
Players are inmates in this dark franchise mode. (via Super Blood Hockey)

In a May 2019 interview with Nintendojo, “Super Blood Hockey” developer Loren Lemcke explained the tone of the game:

The omnipresent evil of profit-motive haunts the US Healthcare system and poisons our compassion by injecting into us the necessary machinery to dehumanize others. One doesn’t have to dig very deep to discover a terrifying crypt of nightmarish and surreal ordeals inflicted upon the sick and dying in the name of profit. Super Blood Hockey is a mere cartoonish effigy of the very real kafkaesque horrors levied upon the poor.

(How many other sports video game franchise modes inspire use of the term “kafkaesque?” OK, beyond the microtransactions in the NBA2K series.)

Ultimately, “Super Blood Hockey” follows its retro roots as being a fairly stripped-down game. You won’t play 20+ seasons in this franchise mode, seeing Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes retire along the way.

Yet there’s a lot to like. I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes when I tell my little pixely players to rest vs. hit the gym, but it’s fun to tweak their stats.

An impressive effort could be just a bit better with more resources

If you follow indie video games, you realize that small teams, sometimes basically one person, can sometimes will a game into existence. Sometimes that comes down to making the types of games that don’t get made any longer.

People craved another “Harvest Moon” game, so largely solo developer Eric Barone accomplished his own take on the series with “Stardew Valley.” That game became a smash hit, and Lemcke’s enjoyed his own success while making “Super Blood Hockey” an evolution and devolution of NES “Ice Hockey.”

Now, sure, there are beefs.

Above all else, it would be wonderful to be able to play games online. What better way to keep in touch with friends than to take advantage of their teams being down 4-on-2 thanks to lost fights?

And, while I’d argue that the game plays well, there can be some maddening moments. Sometimes it’s just flat-out frustrating trying to score against Pong-inspired goalies.

SBH stats
Bretzel’s sacrifice? Yeah, kind of in vain. (via Super Blood Hockey)

But with a fantastic retro soundtrack and look, and some fun gameplay, “Super Blood Hockey” could be a nice fit for those wanting an old-school hockey game. It’s often pretty cheap and on many platforms, from the Nintendo Switch to PC, to XBox One and Playstation 4.

As far as what’s next for Lemcke, well, I might need to check out his other project. If you’re of a certain age, you also have fond memories of the “Rampage” arcade games. It looks like Lemcke shared such memories, because check out “Terror of Hemasaurus.”

That looks like it might be worthy of its own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to be honest.

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: 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.

PHT remembers video games: NHL Slapshot, a Wii oddity starring Wayne Gretzky

NHL Slapshot Nintendo Wii Wayne Gretzky
via EA Sports/Amazon

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game, preferably one less obvious than the “Swingers”-immortalized “NHL 94.” Due to technological limitations many reviews will lean closer to recollections. Either way, hopefully these are fun — and maybe inspire people to scour a flea market or two when it becomes safe to do so.

When EA Sports announced NHL Slapshot for the then-red-hot Nintendo Wii, some groaned as if they blocked an actual slapper. It ended up working out better than expected, just not enough to be a smash hit.

Plenty of game companies tried to emulate the “even kids and grandparents can play it” genius of Wii Sports, but most failed. Mix that copycat mentality with all of the “shovelware” being released and expectations were low for NHL Slapshot. A game where you morph a video game controller into a virtual hockey stick? Yeah, good luck with that.

(Oh yeah, this was also around the time when EA was repeatedly being voted “the worst company in America,” which is almost too absurd to type. Avid gamers are not always the most reasonable people.)

Yet, instead of being a shameless, half-baked cash grab, NHL Slapshot ended up being … quite good. It simply didn’t put enough elements together to draw attention from enough of those kids and grandparents.

NHL Slapshot was better than expected, but maybe didn’t hit the sweet spot

This “controller trailer” captures many of the basics for NHL Slapshot. Basically, players would insert the Wii’s strange “nunchuk” controller setup into a plastic mini-stick included in the game’s box. Then they’d use it to play an arcade-style game.

EA Sports deserves a lot of credit — it was a pretty ingenious setup.

But, frankly, my overriding memory of owning NHL Slapshot was that dealing with the controller was kind of a pain. While it wasn’t that difficult to put together, it was just frustrating enough. Being that it was a MacGyver-style setup to turn that controller into a hockey stick, you’d have to take the controller out if you wanted to play another game. Unless you decided to have a controller devoted solely to NHL Slapshot. It could be a little uncomfortable at times, too.

That stick controller stands as a microcosm for the game overall. It was clever, but didn’t quite find that sweet spot. NHL Slapshot didn’t quite appease hardcore sports fans, and was a bit clunky for casual audiences.

Not quite there

Sometimes “better than it has any right to be” translates merely to a nice novelty that fades.

Matt Bertz captured the mixed-bag feel of NHL Slapshot in a Game Informer review back in 2010:

Performing the real-world gestures for crosschecks, slap shots, wrist shots, and poke checks triggers the corresponding moves in the game. The game tracks your checking and slap shot motions admirably, but the rest of the moves don’t have much accuracy. Backhands are particularly unresponsive, as are wrist shots in those moments where you pick up a loose puck around the net and must get off a shot in nanoseconds before getting checked or losing possession. The deking moves are very rigid in comparison to the analog stick movements in NHL 11, and given the slight controller lag, the poke check and stick sweep options aren’t effective strategies on defense.

Don’t take this as totally dragging EA, though. The game did quite a lot right, and that was reflected in some pretty solid reviews, as you can see at Metacritic. An aggregate score of 76 really isn’t half-bad for an experimental, family-friendly game like NHL Slapshot.

NHL Slapshot brought out Gretzky’s inner gamer

Even if the game was a total failure — which, again, it was not — this charmingly awkward footage of Gretzky playing the game would justify its existence.

This footage, unearthed from the game’s Amazon listing, includes:

  • Gretzky making the “I’m playing a game” face, especially in the beginning.
  • “The Great One” attempts to get his kid interested in playing a game, and largely being ignored.
  • Gretzky sounding like a kid when he says that he wants to play as Alex Ovechkin.

Tremendous, right?

Pondering slight potential for a spiritual successor

As I mentioned before, NHL Slapshot seemed a touch before its time. It was a noble effort, but the lack of a sequel cements the notion that it didn’t quite come together.

It does make me wonder, though. What if EA or another company put real effort into a hockey video game that takes advantage of virtual reality?

Now, that hypothetical game would absolutely count as a niche within a niche. Even so, virtual reality games sometimes go that far, and a company like EA could conceivably bundle a hockey game with golf, football, and other sports. Sure, that sounds like a long shot, but NHL Slapshot was unlikely (and pretty solid) too, so who knows?

MORE: Remembering NHL Championship 2000, starring Mike Modano.

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.