November 25, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 48  

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SPORTS

Once upon a time... Ice Hockey

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

Obese hockey players rejoice! Ice Hockey for the 8-bit Nintendo gave you your due 15 years ago and continues to do so today.

The beauty of Ice Hockey was its simplicity; it could be argued Ice Hockey was even easier to pick up and play than Blades of Steel (which we looked at in our Sept. 12 issue.) While Blades had tournaments, penalty shots and mini-games you played on the Jumbotron between periods, Ice Hockey gave nothing more than what its title suggested.

At the outset of the game, you could choose to represent one of six “major” hockey meccas: the United States, Sweden, Poland, Canada, the USSR or Czechoslovakia. The reason these six countries were a player’s only choices was never revealed, though figuring out the Czechs were represented by the letters “TCH” provided me with my first lesson in geopolitics.

Teams were made up of four skaters and a goalie. There were no player names or even positions — players just skated around in a general melee and chased down the puck. Realistic player modelling akin to the latest versions of EA’s NHL franchise was nowhere to be found either. Instead, the game let you edit your team’s “lineup” by choosing between three different body types: skinny, average and fat.

The skinny guy was the fastest available and the best person for face-offs; he also had the weakest shot. The average guy was, for a lack of a better term, average. Finally, there was the vaunted fat guy. With his thundering slap shot and huge physical presence, the fat guy (dubbed “Chubbs” by me) seemed unstoppable. The huge limiting factor for Chubbs was his speed — he’d be hard pressed to catch a jogging Cecil Fielder.

Ice Hockey’s gameplay was simple, too. The B button was used to shoot (the longer it was held down, the harder the shot) and the A button made your player pass to a teammate. On defense, B and A changed players and threw a body check, respectively.

On both sides of the puck, frantically pressing the A button is what won you “puck battles” that took place as you ran into the puck handler. If the battle went on for too long, a scrum would form, everyone would rush in and at the fight’s conclusion a seemingly random player was relegated to the penalty box.

I never learned the secret to winning a fight — was the winner simply the person that tapped A most furiously or was it the person that initially challenged the puck carrier? Was it impossible to lose if you held the puck when the fight started?
The wildest theory — advanced by me to the chagrin of my politico friends — was that the game had a built-in political spectrum; the more left-leaning your team, the less likely you were to be penalized. Thus, the Soviet Union was able to goon its way to victory without fear of referee reprisal.

Another neat feature of Ice Hockey were the Zambonis. You read that correctly: Zambonis, plural. The Zambonis would come out following the second period — though not the first, oddly enough — and resurface the ice without any visible effect or any change in gameplay. And despite common sense and the least regard for safety, three Zambonis somehow operated simultaneously. To top it off, they were piloted by men wearing goalie masks.

Like most games that we have examined, Ice Hockey has been surpassed many times over by hockey games that promise digitized player faces, popular music, surround sound and franchising options galore. While it may lack the creature comforts of the new type of uber-sim, Ice Hockey still provides a fun two-player game of video game hockey.

If nothing else, Ice Hockey could be the one game that delivered Cold War tensions to an emerging generation, albeit in Nintendo form.

 

 

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