In time of the tournament for the Copa Stanley, and with every summer hotter than the previous one, you can get the idea of playing a match of ice hockey, and there are fewer better options than one of the best videogames of this sport during the 80s.
Blades of Steel was an adaptation of the Arcade videogame of the same name (developed in 1987) for the console market which conquered the public with its mix of quick action and fights to release pressure on the virtual athletes. In Japan the game was known as Konamic Ice Hockey
Plataform: Nintendo NES
Controller: Default controller of the platform
This Konami’s game shows a horizontal perspective of the arena, distinct from the vertical one from a previous game of ice hockey in this blog. Following the rules of other videogames at the time, it allows to choose between different teams, although I was not able to detect a significant difference aside from the colours of the uniform (although the Los Angeles one has the colors of the basketball team in the same city). In this port there are 8 differents teams with teams of really traditional hockey cities, with the probable exception of Los Angeles, however I think it is to include the 3 most populated cities in the U.S.A.
It’s interesting that more traditional hockey U.S.A. cities like Boston or Detroit are absent, and one whose team relocated shortly after the videogame’s release. The game does not have the official license from National Hockey League teams, some uniforms really look like their real counterparts.
In the original japanese version the teams used nicknames, although these names only appear in the back of the box. The eight teams are:
|New York||New York Rangers||New York Devils|
|Los Angeles||Los Angeles Kings||Los Angeles Hawks|
|Montreal||Montreal Canadiens||Montreal Fighters|
|Chicago||Chicago Blackhawks||Chicago Angels|
|Toronto||Toronto Maple Leafs||Toronto Eagles|
|Vancouver||Vancouver Canucks||Vancouver Bombers|
|Edmonton||Edmonton Oilers||Edmonton Bears|
|Minnesota||Minnesota North Stars||Minnesota Wilds|
It caught my eye two situations: The use with the New York team of a nickname already used by another NHL team, and that the Minnesota one uses a nickname really close to one who would appear until the next century.
But the really innovating feature of the game, at least in those golden years when my buddies and I played it, are the fights. If a virtual athlete clashes more than 3 consecutive teams with the rival who gets the puck, it starts a interactive fight. Here the player can punch either the head or the stomach of its rival, and whoever loses goes to the penalty box for two minutes, leaving its team in disadvantage. If the player wins, well it has the advantage; but in the other hand, be careful, because the AI controlled team gets an accuracy worthy of Wayne Gretzky. These fights can be considered a mini-game by itself, and are really funny. Sometimes more time happens in the fights than in the game.
Ah, also you have to consider where to start fighting, because if it’s right in front of the rival net, instead of a fight it’s a shootout, where the AI can be merciless either shooting, or foreseeing where the puck will be shot. If you feel like an expert, we recommend as a funny challenge to win a game scoring only via shootouts.
In case the match ends with a tie, the definition is in shootouts. So, you can try to test your chances at a shootout contest instead of a match. Also you have between period intermissions, either appears a quite funny mini-game featuring a tiny space shuttle (not very related to ice hockey I admit) or an hilarious and cute bear throwing a puck.
The videogame originally appeared for this platform (In Japan was known as Konamic Ice Hockey) in 1987, looking at the graphics, they are quite similar to Double Dribble. And just like this one, it used three buttons, one for shooting at the goal, other to pass the puck to a teammate, and the third one to throwing punches at your rival. A significant difference is that, unlike the NES version, the punching button can be used to hit rivals at any time, while crashing repeatidly with a rival send it to the ice.
Being the original, you can not choose from different teams and to avoid the matches take too long, in a mechanism really different from a real-life match, but already discussed before, if by the end of a period the videogamer is not winning the match, it’s game over. The match is allowed to continue if the videogamer cheerfully provides a new credit at the right time.
Famicom Disk System
Aside from a different title screen, the game is essentially the same.
By 1990, the game is ported to different personal computers, specially for the ones more popular in Europe. Keeping basically all of their features. The Commodore 64 had this port very late in its lifecycle, when its popularity was already fading giving place to 16 bit computers and 16 bit consoles.
Even being one of the last titles for this computer, modifications had to be made to look well while playing, and not only aesthetically, also in the controlling schema, due to the computer using a joystick with one button, and porting all of the actions was not as hard as you can think beforehand.
Giving a pass to a teammate was pressing slightly the button indicating with the stick to which teammate. If not indicated with the stick, it goes a shoot at the rival goal. Recognizing the ingenuity behind this, I must comment that I feel the game a bit slower than its NES counterpart, without being affected the difficult.
The other popular personal computer from Commodore, which received the newer developments, also had a port of this ice hockey videogame. Being a computer, in theory, more powerful than the NES, you could think it should come with an improvement over graphics, playability or even the Artificial Intelligence of the game.
And yes, there were better graphics, a bit more detailed than those from the NES port. The Amiga computer, just like its cousin the Commodore 64, used a one-button joystick, so the controlling schema was the same. I did not feel a significant difference from game pace, or difficulty. It’s noteworthy that the developing team dedicated time to improve the graphics.
The port for the computer which eventually will end owning the personal computing landscape: the compatibles with DOS Operating System. To me, at least, it was a bit surprising that this port exists.
Just like the Commodore computers, all the actions were mapped to use one button. It’s funny, but I fell this version a bit slower than the Commodore 64 one, from pace of the game, to responsiviness of the controller. I think it’s due to the emulator used, but I’m not too sure about it.
As custom in videogames at the time for this platform, if there was an adequate videocard, only four colors were used to display the graphics, so it had a bit strange look, press here if you’re curious to see what I’m talking about.
Nintendo Game Boy
By 1991 came the last port of this videogame, being the GameBoy handheld the final receipient. In this particular case, I found amazing that the game is practically the same as the one from NES, sans the limitations of the handheld like the number of colors. This is not new, since we have already written about it, in other entry.
Playability is practically the same, specially if comparing to the NES port, but not the difficulty, which I found harder, because in my test drives with the game to obtain the screenshots used in the entry, I received more goals in this port, and not in others.
There was an official sequel of this game, called NHL Blades of Steel ’99 for the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color consoles, but even having the official NHL license, it wasn’t very succesful. The main critic was that the arcade-style action was spared for a closest experience to simulate a hockey game, and many videogamers did not like that approach in a game considered sequel of this great game.
Another great game with fond memories for me, for the competitions with my buddies, or emotive times at the local “arcade” where it was available. Of course, we spent most of the time trying to fight than to score, which according to some fans, it’s quite requently.
Incredibly funny game to play against another human player.
Console Icons taken from Retroarch.
Teams nicknames appeared in the twitter account Arca Öcal.