Review by JHarring
"An interesting diversion"
Ice Hockey is the first hockey title to appear on the NES. It's not meant to be a true simulation by any means, rather, it features the kind of simple arcade gameplay which was prevalent among many early NES sports games. Although it's kind of amusing and somewhat fun when you first start playing it, after a while it grows tiresome and you'll be wishing for more.
Everyone knows the objective of hockey - score more goals than your opponent. That's pretty much the objective here. There are six teams from different countries: USA, Canada, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and TCH which I think is the Czech Republic. Each team has four players, plus the goaltender. Like actual hockey, you play three periods, and you can choose between 7, 10, and 15 minute periods.
Each player is one of three different sizes - small, fast guy with a weak shot, average guy with an average shot, and big, slow guy with a powerful shot. You can choose what the makeup of your team is - four skinny guys, four fat guys, two of each, or any other combination. The speed and shot power differnces are tremendous so it really makes a difference who you pick.
In the actual game, the four players skate and bounce around, checking each other, passing and shooting. The game is very simple - one button passes, one button shoots (hold for a slapshot), and the direction keys aim and skate. There's no check button because all you have to do is run into the guy. You also physically control the goaltender and all of your players at all times. One player is flashing to indicate he's selected, but the rest of your players move similarly depending on which directions you press. There's no A.I. patterns for your computer-controlled teammates.
The net is also much wider than a real one, but it has to be. Shooting at the goaltender is like playing Pong with the goaltender as the paddle. There's no depth or height here. If the shot touches the goaltender, it bounces off him (or he manages to hold it), if it doesn't, it's a goal. If the net were any smaller, it would be impossible to score. Since there are also no faceoffs except after goals, the game will force the goaltender to shoot the puck after a few seconds if he catches it, to prevent you from running down the clock when you have a lead.
The game is pretty much arcade all the way, although it does include some rules. Two-line passes and offsides are non-existent, but if they were there the game would be pretty much unplayable. There is icing, however, and also a penalty. Randomly (it seems) all of the players on the ice will get into one big fight, and after a few seconds the ref pulls one of them out and gives him a penalty. This results in an actual two-minute power play. Kinda neat how they put that in.
There are five speed settings which control how fast the players on the ice move (but not the timer). This is somewhat similar to a difficulty setting because the faster the speed, the quicker you need to react to on-ice action as a skater and a goaltender.
Finally, there's a two-player mode so you can play against a friend.
The rink is bland with little detail other than the lines, face-off circles, and Nintendo logo. Fans in the stands are either facing to the left or right, which is okay for the fans at the ends of the rink, but this means the ones in the middle are never watching the game. Oh well.
All of the players look similar, but you can tell the three sizes apart. The goaltender has his own sprite, but little animation, with just his ready stance and his sprawling kick save stance.
Between the second and third period, there's a little Zamboni event. Three Zambonis go back and forth cleaning the ice. Why there are three and not just one, and why this doesn't happen between the first and second periods, I just don't know.
A thirty-second song plays over and over again during the action, but there are different songs for goals, between periods, and the title screen. None of them are any good however. There aren't many sound effects other than the ping of a puck hitting the goaltender and staticy crowd noise.
A major problem with the control is the fact that you're essentially controlling everyone at once. The manual goalie control is pretty easy to pick up, but it's difficult to get rebounds because your teammates won't move to get them. You basically have to hope that someone is in the area of the rebound and won't have to move very far, or else you'll probably pull your goalie way out of position if you try to move somebody over.
Also the game resembles more of a pinball machine than anything. Players bounce off each other constantly, and you just have to run into a guy to knock him over (or sometimes get knocked over). Passing is somewhat difficult and almost seems pointless at times because it's not like there's any one-timers or anything like that.
As I mentioned, the highest speed setting is the highest challenge, but with no season mode or difficulty settings, there's just the one game. It doesn't last very long once you get the hang of it.
Replay Value: 5.0
Well, with the different speed settings, period settings, teams, and player sizes, I suppose there is some replay value. The question is, do you really want to play through each permutation of the settings? Probably not. At least if you have someone else to play with, the game will have more lasting interest.
I know the game is called Ice Hockey but it really plays more like Pinball Pong or something similar. It barely simulates the sport and isn't a whole lot of fun. You'll grow frustrated with the lack of control and the big sea of anonymous players. I know the game came out in 1988, but Tecmo Bowl came out the same year and had all the real players and their statistics. Why couldn't Nintendo go the extra mile and do that, or at least put it in some kind of playoffs or rudimentary season? Oh well. With the few quality hockey titles on the NES, this is one of your only bets for NES hockey.
Reviewer's Rating: 2 - Poor
Originally Posted: 05/09/00, Updated 05/09/00
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