Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Five more obscure but classic hockey video games

Last week, we celebrated the imminent arrival of NHL 17 by taking a look back at five classic but obscure hockey video games. I heard from plenty of readers who had fond memories of those five titles. But I also heard from others who had favorites titles of their own, and were upset that the games they'd grown up playing hadn't earned a mention. So this week, I think we need to do a sequel, and break out five more classics.

But first, a quick note. Based on the feedback from last week's post, more than a few readers appeared to miss the whole "obscure" qualifier – I heard from fans of games like Blades of Steel or Ice Hockey, and even a few who wanted to know why NHL 94 didn't make the list. First of all, because NHLPA 93 was better. But more importantly, if those iconic games count as obscure these days then I don't want to live on this planet any more. We're looking to recognize a few titles that aren't quite as well-remembered today.

With that cleared up, here are five more classic hockey games that you may or may not remember from distant days long past.

The game: Face Off! (1989)

The selling point: Take the management mode from Superstar Ice Hockey and combine it with the fighting engine from Blades of Steel, and you've got Face Off! And yes, the exclamation mark was part of the title.

The minor flaw: The movie adaptation with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta barely had any hockey in it at all.

Overall experience: Face Off! was an ambitious game that set out to do a little bit of everything, combining a franchise mode and in-game strategizing with arcade-style action and plenty of scraps. It didn't end up knocking any of those features out of the park, but you have to give it credit for even trying given how one-dimensional most games of the era were.

The gameplay itself was largely hit-and-miss; the graphics were nice but the AI was spotty, and the unique way the game handled shooting – any good scoring chance would open a new screen with a different view of the shooter and goaltender – was one that you either loved or hated. And then there were the fights, in which two players would drop the gloves, hurl an insult or two, and then proceed to gingerly paw at each other like old men playing "got your nose" with a toddler until one of them suddenly dropped to the ice bloodied and unconscious, soon to be dragged off the ice while the victor skated around celebrating. It's fair to say that approach hasn't aged well.

Lingering question: What was going through the mind of the one old man in the third row who watched every fight with a horrified look on his face?

The game: Hit the Ice (1990)

The selling point: It's arcade hockey, as imagined by people who have heard about the sport but never actually seen it.

The minor flaw: The game's insistence that players spend an extra quarter to purchase a dose of "Power Drink" led directly to professional sport's steroid era.

Overall experience: The best thing you can say about Hit the Ice is that it knew what it was. The game has no interest in realism, a fact that you probably figured out the first time a player executed a leaping backflip before blasting a shot the knocked the goaltender into the net. The whole thing was cartoonish and more than a little ridiculous.

It was also undeniably fun, which of course was the whole point. If you saw players wearing sun glasses and headbands and still dropped coins into the machine expecting realism, then that was on you. I mean, one of the players is named "Ben Dover." That gives you a pretty good sense of the level of maturity we're dealing with here.

(The player selection screen music was fantastic, though. Wh-wh-wh-why I oughtta… )

Lingering question: What's the deal with the ghost in the crowd?

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News


  1. I actually worked at the company that made Hitz, they were a small developer in BC. Those guys lived hockey. EA ended up buying us and I'm pretty sure the core of that team is still working the contemporary NHL titles.

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