Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Looking back at five obscure but classic hockey video games

Everyone knows the NHL and Blades of Steel series, but here are five hockey titles that you may or may not remember from the old days of arcade, computer and console action.

This is a big week on the hockey calendar. Camps haven't opened and nobody's played a game yet, but for many fans the new season has officially arrived. That's because it's now less than a week before NHL 17 hits store shelves.

The latest NHL video game is always a big deal, because the series has essentially taken over as the only show in town when it comes to hockey games. But it wasn't always this way. There was a time when a hockey fan looking to get in some joystick-based action had plenty of options to choose from. Some of those titles are still well-known to fans today: Blades of Steel in the arcade, Ice Hockey on the old Nintendo, and even NHL spinoff Mutant League Hockey still bring back memories for a generation of fans.

But today, let's go a little more obscure. Here are five hockey titles that you may or may not remember from the old days of arcade, computer and console action.

The game: Hat Trick (1984)

The selling point: It was hockey that you could play in an arcade. In the mid-80s, that was pretty much all we could ask for.

The minor flaw: Well, "hockey" might be stretching it a bit. Hat Trick's version of the game was one-on-one. Two-on-two if you counted the limbless torsos that were apparently supposed to be the goaltenders.

Overall experience: Strangely addictive. The two players chased the puck around a tiny rink (which was tricky because it ricocheted like a ping pong ball), occasionally slamming into each other, the boards, and the torso-goalies. Speaking of which, you had to control the goalie yourself, even though you were also controlling the skater. If that sounds impossible, you're starting to get a feel for the whole experience.

Still, the game was undeniably fun for its time, and we all thought it was super cool that the players left little skate marks wherever they went. Today, it doesn't look all that impressive. But if it was 1985 and your dad had given you a fistful of quarters to spend while you waited for your pizza to arrive at The Organ Grinder, you could do a lot worse.

Lingering question: Why did one of the tanks from Firepower come out after each period to clean the ice?

The game: Superstar Ice Hockey (1987)

The selling point: This computer game was reasonably competent, combining decent graphics and gameplay with an impossibly catchy theme song. But the really cool feature was one that didn't even have a name yet. Like other games in the SportTime series, Superstar Ice Hockey allowed you to set up a team, and then guide it through multiple seasons, improving the roster via trades and developing new players. Decades before games like Eastside Hockey Manager and the NHL series itself made the concept famous, Superstar Ice Hockey's rudimentary dynasty mode was one of the first to give gamers a taste of what the future would hold.

The minor flaw: That damn theme song would still be stuck in your head almost thirty years later. Trust me on this one.

Overall experience: Not bad. While the gameplay wasn't the most realistic, it was all sorts of fun to build an expansion team of plodding castoffs from last place also-rans to Cup contender status. And even if you couldn't win a game in year one, you could always amuse yourself by choosing weird uniform colors and then hacking your opponents' ankles until they did flips. Are you listening, George McPhee?

Lingering question: Who was "Norm", and why was he the default strategic setting?

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

1 comment:

  1. I actually have fond memories of the N64 Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey you briefly mentioned. It wasn't a GREAT game by any means. The goalies were total sieves. But in terms of just racing around and racking up the scores, I had a blast in high school.