Review by hangedman

"The ultimate sports game for people that hate sports."

''I hate sports.''

I never watch any sports on Television, and very rarely do I ever go to see any games. When I was in high school, I could care less how my water polo, football, or basketball teams were doing. Therefore, it should come as no surprise when I say that hockey has never been my thing. I don't know any of the players, numbers, history, or win records, nor do I care.

It's interesting to me that because I could give less of a rat's ass about sports, the only sports game I like seems to have a detachment from the sport it's based on. Sure, Nintendo's Ice Hockey might not have authentic teams, rosters, or different hockey rinks, but it has a simplicity and wholesomeness that's never been matched by any other sports game I've played since its release.

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PREMISE
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''We are Russians, da?''

Ice Hockey is based on the real life sport of Ice Hockey. In it, heavily padded players skate around a very cold puddle attempting to get what looks like a urinal cake spray-painted black into an oversized net protected by the guy from the Friday the Thirteenth movies (with padding instead of machetes). When they do, everyone gets excited and they attempt to do it again. The only people who aren't excited are the people who are trying to defend the goal, because when they let people score in their goals nobody will respect them around the office any more, and children will take down their team posters and refuse to buy their Starter jackets.

A sad, cruel world.

Thankfully, Ice Hockey manages all the things about Hockey that I could care less about, like realism, team rosters, an excess of players, and intimate, precision-based controls. Thank god. The only team distinctions are through countries, and the controls are simplified into two buttons.

It allows someone much like myself to experience an idealistic version of the sport without all the hassles that come with it, and I fully approve of that.

Premise: 10 / 10
Simple, effective, and free of excess baggage.


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GRAPHICS
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''And to further detach the game from real hockey....''

Thank god for NES graphics. For 1988, the graphics are actually pretty decent at portraying something that resembles a hockey rink. No doubt about it, the NES graphics here are a real double-edged sword.

First, if any of you are expecting a depiction of reality through the graphics, turn back now. Ice Hockey is cartoonish and lighthearted, from the fat, medium, and skinny characters to the squashed face-masked goalies. There's only one Ice Hockey stadium, but it looks like an Ice Hockey stadium. The crowd is a simple collection of twitchy-moving heads, and the teams are only palette swaps of one another. You could call them Poland, Russia and Canada, but you could get away just as easily with dark green, red, and green.

Despite the caricature of ice hockey through the graphics, they're very expressive. The fat guys, medium guys, and little guys all have a cute personality through the Megaman-esque design, like little anime characters wallowing around on ice. The fat guys have big noses, and the little guys have toothpick-like legs and arms. Cute! Also, the goalies hop in the zambonis after the second period to caper around and do a little dance! CUTE!

Each of the three body types has more animation than I expected, like side views, rear-views, front views, shooting, skating, getting knocked down, and socking people in the back of the head in true hockey-fashion. Although simplistic, they are very direct and likeable.

The only way that you might possibly be disappointed is if you come into the game with expectations of realism. Not happening. Everything here is simple and colorful, which fits the rest of the game incredibly well. Consider also that since it is 1988, there's not a whole lot you can do to small characters to make them more detailed than they already are.

I think the NES graphics here are a great success, but I'm sure that will be met with some resistance.

Graphics: 9 / 10
Simplistic, but are true to the feel of the game.


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AUDIO
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''Hearing the crowd's cheer after I score a goal makes my pants feel tight.''

Ice Hockey's sound is about as basic as the graphics, but only is intended to carry a modicum of functionality. You have very basic, very average NES quality sound to express everything from a goal being scored to a fat Swedish guy socking a Canadian in the back of the head. In that light, it's somewhat disappointing.

There are only a few music themes, and only one theme for all of the three hockey periods. It's not bad, but it would have been nice to see the music change based on the scores or perhaps the period. A suspenseful overtime ditty, a relaxed tied-score first period number, etc. However, the audio isn't gonna make or break this game.

The sound effects are charming in the sense that they're entirely nondescript. Shoot a puck or pass it, and it's a static-bleeping cocktail of sound. Pretty much every special effect in the game falls under the category of static, bleeps and bloops, or a mixture of the two. Again, it's the NES, and a fairly early title as well, so there's not terribly much to be expected.

The only thing that really stands out is the cheer of the crowd when you score a goal, which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy for some inexplicable reason. Time to get a medical checkup!

Audio: 5 / 10
Typical NES fare, very average.


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GAMEPLAY
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''They all laughed at me when I said I was going to create team Fat Poland.''

Ice Hockey has amazing gameplay. It's simplified as far as it can be without any sacrifice in fun, and delivers an experience that's easy to get into and somewhat difficult to really master.

First of all, your team consists of five people over the usual six, a goalie and four general-use players of varying body-types. Each selectable body-type (fat, skinny, and medium) has different strengths and weaknesses, and can dictate what the focus of your team will be. Fat guys are useful for giant slapshots, as well as blocking the goals with their sheer girth while playing defense. Skinny guys on the other hand skate like the dickens and are good at stealing away the puck. However, they need some time for long-shots and are easily knocked over.

Ice Hockey allows you to specialize your team, and the player types can work together beautifully. If your fat guys are inept at playing offensively, pass the puck to the gnat-like little dudes to circle around the goal while the fatties ready a capable offensive.

The controls and the AI work incredibly well for the game. One button passes, the other is responsible for a shoot. On defense, your controls are relinquished to the goalie, who can move up and down to block incoming shots. Double-tapping the pass button switches between teammates when you don't have the puck so that you can more effectively hound the person who does. Hitting the pass button near the guy with the puck will push him around in the hopes of getting the puck back, if not causing a massive fight to break out. While on defense, your team will come to the aid of the goalie in order to take the puck if the opportunity arises.

Offensive controls work well for only pass and shoot, and encourages the player to take advantage of holes in the opponent's defense as well as the seemingly haphazard placement of your own team. Again, I'm not bothered by the fact that I can't place my team how I would like near the goal or do any specific planning to execute a multiple pass and shoot offensive. The game is entirely spur-of-the-moment, which makes for fun and original bouts of impromptu passes and hopeful shots.

Unfortunately, the control can be a little tricky at certain times, and the AI has a tendency to disappoint some, especially on defense. For starters, your goalie has a tendency to pass to the other team more than you would like, even if you're directing the pass towards the player right next to you. Additionally, your team doesn't have much of a concept of getting the puck back while you're playing defense, as they'll stumble around your net making little attempt to get the puck back.

Essentially, the shift from defense to offense comes when your team manages to get the puck from sheer luck, or when your goalie randomly catches the puck. Although it usually isn't frustrating enough to become detrimental to the fun of the game, it can be somewhat concerning when your team fails to get the puck back after ten seconds of the opposition failing to score. ''Come on! Help me out!''

The single-player experience has a lot to adjust, but is a simple one-game deal. There's no championship mode, no world tour, no RPG mode, it's one match. Fortunately, there's a lot to adjust. Each team has a certain difficulty and set body makeup, and the speed and time the game goes on for can be adjusted. For the people wanting a challenge, Ice Hockey will deliver. For those seeking different modes of gameplay, Ice Hockey will also deliver.

However, the real fun of the game is in the two-player mode, where you and a friend can holler at each other in real-life. It's a blast trying to score a goal on a human player, who obviously plays a little more unpredictably and less omnipotently than the computer is capable of. You can also have fights with your friends to determine the superiority of certain countries, or reenact historic conflicts through certain teams. Don't believe me? A friend and I fought the cold war with the American and Russian teams. What a battle.

Essentially, Ice Hockey feels like a hockey game that has cut out all traces of fat (excluding the lovable fat guys). There are no controls outside of what you immediately need to do, and it doesn't hinder the fun at all. Your team might be slightly inept on defense, but assuming you can maneuver the goalie well enough everything will turn out OK. Offensively, you have no control of your team outside of the guy you're controlling with the puck, but again it miraculously has little detriment to the overall fun of the game.

Although there have been scores of more realistic, technical, and precise hockey games, you'd be hard pressed to find one that matches the fun of this. The controls are spot-on ninety percent of the time, and the simplified gameplay leads to hectic battles and tense offensives. I loved it.

Gameplay: 10 / 10
Great control and unparalleled fun.


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OVERALL
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''USA is number one! Die, Canada!''

Ice Hockey is the ultimate sports game for people that don't like sports games. I always thought it was silly to wish for a sports game that did away with all of the plays, rosters, technical mumbo-jumbo and predictable patterns that sports games usually follow. This game does it.

Despite the average sound and simple graphics, Ice Hockey is one fine product of gameplay. This game, played with a friend, can be fun for hours. There's so much depth and control available for a two-button game, and the presentation is so charming that I can't help but love it, even if I could care less if everyone associated with the NHL suddenly burst into flames. Ice Hockey follows the axiom of ''Simplify, simplify'' to a T, and has cut out anything that could potentially cause the game to become less fun. Bravo.

Ice Hockey has about as much to do with the NHL as Burt Reynolds has to do with Reynolds wrap. Although some might be put off by it, I'm glad I found this completely unpretentious godsend.

Overall: 10 / 10
The best-playing sports game ever. Simplified, but refined.


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*I was playing Ice Hockey instead of watching Super Bowl XXXVI.




Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/07/02, Updated 02/18/02


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