It took over two years, but Nintendo is finally bringing a hockey game to their system. Nintendo has published many sports games so far, ranging from mildly fun titles like Volleyball, Tennis, and Slalom to the atrocious Baseball and 10-Yard Fight. If you’ve been turned off by some of Nintendo’s early sports releases, realize that many of them were made way back in 1983 and 1984. Ice Hockey is a recent programming effort, meaning the developers have more experience with the NES, and even if you’re not the biggest puck fan out there, I urge you to give Ice Hockey some consideration.
For starters, there are six different countries to choose from: U.S.A, Canada, Sweden, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. As far as team skills are concerned, there is absolutely no difference between them. Only the uniform colors change. Where you’ll want to be picky is in the team customization, which is a brilliant feature that allows you to choose your four skaters. Your choices include: a skinny player who has a weak shot, but skates fast, a chubby player who is slow, but has a powerful shot and checking ability, or a player of average build that is an overall well-rounded player. A game between four skinny players and four husky players can be very interesting, and really it comes down to player preferences (some will prefer the speed, whereas other the power). This feature adds a lot of character to Ice Hockey in comparison to all other sports releases. Disappointingly, you don’t get to choose your Goalie; you’re stuck with the stock model.
The modes are pretty basic. You can choose 7, 10, or 15-minute periods, and 5 levels of speed. Level 1 has all the players and action very sluggish and slow, which is great for small children or beginners to gaming. Level 5 is lighting quick and extremely challenging. I’d recommend starting off at 3 for most players new to the game.
The game play is terrific and executed very well. It closely resembles a game of real hockey and is simple to pick up and play. There is a slight learning curve and you should be prepared to be blown out by the computer or a skilled opponent your first couple of games. The controls are great and it shouldn’t take long to learn to pass, shoot, fake, and check properly. However, alternating between controlling the puck, playing defense, and moving the goalie takes a few games to master. I was shocked to find out that the game includes fighting. If you are in a battle for the puck and neither player relents, an all-ice brawl will break out and a penalty, with a power play, will follow.
I enjoyed playing the game against the computer, but that mode does get dull after repeated play sessions. There are no seasons, tournaments, or player stats; only strictly exhibition games with no great reward other than winning each single game. However, it is a good way to practice and improve your skills. Like Double Dribble, this game’s entertainment factor is increased exponentially when you have a friend to challenge. You could even get a group together and host your own tournament (pen and paper not included). This game is unmatched in the head-to-head competition field and is my new favorite competitive sports game on the NES.
Graphically, the game looks very nice, much better than last year’s batch of sports titles from Nintendo. There isn’t a whole lot of detail in the players or the arena, but that is not really needed. The game can be fast paced, and it’s more important that it moves and flows well, which it does. As expected there is a lot of white ice on screen at one time, but the team colors contrast well to it. There are some nice touches like a Zamboni show in between the 2nd and 3rd periods. One pleasant song plays throughout the game, which is interrupted whenever a goal is scored and in between periods. Solid sound effects like crowd noise and whistles are well executed. Overall, this is a solid effort from Nintendo and a clear sign that the second generation of NES games has arrived.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.