As someone who played ice hockey for a number of years, I have a certain affinity for this sort of game. Similarly, I played the hell out of Ice Hockey as a kid, so every other title that simulates the illustrious game of hockey will be viewed through the lens of that silly lesson in body image issues. With that history laid out, let’s talk about a game I should have played decades ago.
Blades of Steel was released from the NES by Konami in 1988. Although conceptually similar to Nintendo’s own Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel plays out as a completely different game in almost every way. Focusing on realism as much as possible, Blades of Steel is probably one of the best sports titles available on the NES, despite coming out on the first half of the console’s life cycle. Solid graphics, great gameplay, and the option to beat down on your friends equates to an amazing 8-bit experience.
Blades of Steel offers a couple modes of play and several difficulty levels. A player can either choose exhibition or tournament play, along with either Junior, College, or Pro difficulty levels when playing against the CPU. Games take place over 3 regulation length periods, however time moves at about 10x speed so you can play through an entire game pretty quickly. Teams are chosen by city and are roughly based on local NHL teams within the confines of the NES color palette (and their 1988 uniforms). Unlike the Nintendo published version of hockey, Blades of Steel’s players are all identical to each other and have the same strength and speed.
The graphics found in Blades of Steel are actually pretty decent for a 1988 NES game. Going for realistic graphics compared to Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel features accurate representations of human beings as well as the ever famous zamboni. Colors are a little muted, but beyond that the game looks very good.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the game, however, are the fights. Buried within this hockey game is a halfway decent (for the time) fighting game. After knocking into an opposing player 3 times in a row, a fight can be initiated. This causes the game to switch over to a different screen where a 1v1 fight takes place. Both players are given a health bar and the choice of three moves, either a high attack, a low attack, or a block. When one player’s health is depleted, they are sent to the penalty box while the other player gets the puck and an opportunity to exploit the power play. While very simplistic, the fighting mechanic is an incredible addition to the game and helps to mix up the gameplay.
Sound is one area where Blades of Steel flip flops between extremes. On the one hand, the synthesized voices used are incredibly realistic for the NES hardware and give the Altered Beast guy a run for his money. However, all the other audio is pretty mediocre or non-existent. Crowd noises are muddled and unremarkable, FX noises are forgettable, and music is missing completely during the game. Sound effects are the only noises you will hear during play, and do little to spice up the game. Even the slightest bit of background music would go a long ways towards making the game seem more interesting.
Interestingly enough, between the second and third periods, you will likely get the chance to play a Gradius rip-off on the Jumbo-tron, along with a not-so-subtle advertisement for other Konami games:
Gameplay: Great gameplay. Fast paced action, good control, and best of all, 2D fighting! One of the best sports titles for the 8-bit NES.
Graphics: For 1988, the graphics are pretty solid. Overall they aren’t matched by some of the later titles on NES, but are still perfectly adequate.
Sound: Great voice synth, but lackluster everywhere else. A little background music would go a long ways.
Nostalgia X-Factor: I was an Nintendo Ice Hockey kid growing up and played the hell out of that most days before my friend and I walked to school. Blades of Steel was a new (and better) experience for me.
Worth Playing? If you have ever enjoyed playing hockey, watching hockey, or just plain wanted to beat up your friends, give this one a go.