Review by Alecto

"8-bit minimalism at its best"

Back in the day, sports games were different. Most of them were realistic to a point, but also took a lot of liberties with the game to make it, well, fun. There were no marathon season-long campaigns, name-brand players or realistic physics, just arcade-style action sometimes only very loosely based on the sport it was meant to represent.

In Ice Hockey, the rink is huge, the players are small, and there are only four of them on the ice at a time. This isn’t the NHL, so teams represent various countries around the world. You get a bonus point if you remember back far enough to when there was a country named Czechoslovakia. There are actually icing calls in the game, but the realism pretty much ends there.

The most endearing feature of Ice Hockey is its players. There are three templates to choose from when forming a team: the fat guy, the thin guy, and the medium guy. That’s it. No endless stat-tweaking or bewildering columns of numbers. Anyone with any instincts and common sense can put together a team within a matter of minutes. The thin guy is fast but weak, and can easily be knocked off the puck. The fat guy is a bruiser: slow, but impossible to knock down. Within the four-player confines of a team, many possibilities and combinations exist.

Control is nice and simple in the 2-dimensional sideways rink. Skaters can shoot or pass, and the player controls whichever skater is closest to the puck. The goalie also becomes useable to defend the net.

Games are divided into 7, 10, or 15 minute intervals depending on preference.

The computer AI is perfect: not stupid, and not flawless either. It is possible to score on the computer goalie, something that can’t really be said for games like the later Stanley Cup Hockey for the Super Nintendo. There is also a riotously fun 2-player mode.

Visually and aurally, Ice Hockey has the typical starkness of the NES era. Graphics are passable, functional, and rather cute in the way that the rotund and skinny players are depicted. Teams are able to be told apart by the different mono-colored uniforms that the players wear.

Some of the brutally minimalist games of the 8-bit era are just too painful to go back to unless from the point of view of a video game historian. Ice Hockey, on the other hand, is brilliant because of this very simplicity. It’s a pick-up-and-play title that gamers of any era can appreciate, whether they broke their gaming teeth on a 2-button or 12-button controller.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/04/03


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