Melted nets and 125 MPH slapshots: Is the arcade Hockey game dead?
Odd for a blog isn’t it? Well I think about stuff like this on a daily basis so I figured why not get some of it out for the fine folks in internet land to consume. Back in the mid 80s the arcade hockey game was king with Blades of Steel on the NES, a game that had team cities (but no real players or actual matching colours) such as Edmonton, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal etc and on the fly fights where the game didn’t really stop if you won the fight you would take the puck from your knocked out opponent and continue up the ice. Other games came out included NES Ice Hockey made by Nintendo which featured international teams and the goofy, small player, medium player and really fat player team lineups for 3 on 3 action. The early 90s led to games like Mario Lemieux hockey on the Sega Genesis and Wayne Gretzky and the NHLPA (notice NHLPA not NHL as the league did not give the rights to use any authentic team names our colours) all stars which were really hybrids of simulation and arcade games. Both games included season modes which most arcade games did not offer.
The simulation games really got a big boost with the EA Sports NHL series which debuted in 1991 with EA NHL Hockey and as the rest they say is history as the series is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 1995 Midway got into the arcade hockey game having already made what is arguably one of the greatest arcade games ever in NBA Jam made NHL 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge. I remember playing both Jam and Open Ice Challenge at a very young age and falling in love scoring 3 goals with Gretzky on the Kings and being able to melt the oppositions net. Open Ice challenge was highly addictive and very funny with the games ability to check a player so hard he would fly off screen and crash back down hard onto the ice while the screen shook. Playing the game with friends was always a joy and yes even on my playstation 2 I still rented Open Ice challenge to hand people a beating. There really was no wrong team to play as even though the game roster of my Edmonton Oilers was from the pitiful 1995-96 season I could still put up 19 goals with the duo of Doug Weight and Igor Kravchuck. Open Ice was really the father to great Arcade games that Midway put out which continued with Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (one of the last games to feature the Hartford Whalers), Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey 98.
In 2000 Electronic Arts (notice not EA Sports) got in on the arcade Hockey bandwagon and created NHL Rock the Rink. The game was one of the most radical arcade games because you started off playing with 6 fictional teams in their rinks (ex: the Cabbies, cab drivers the Mob, mobsters) and you had to unlock every single NHL team through the NHL challenge which made the game highly addictive not to mention the commentator was Sportsnet’s Don Taylor who’s one liners almost caused my bladder to release its contents in my jeans. The game also had no time limit you played until one team scored 5, 10, 15 or 20 goals and had such moves as the ability to do a back flip and then shoot the puck or clothesline you’re opponent’s goalie and then give a Hogan leg drop on his back. These games all lead up the games that made me salivate…
The arcade games that made me just get bug eyed and dance around like Jeremy Roenick during a stoppage in play were NHL Hitz 20-02 and NHL Hitz 20-03, games that were so outrageous Midway in the loading screen had a message saying “the actions in this game in no way simulate actual NHL action”. I’m not joking. The Hitz series had the authentic teams, and players but threw in such things as fantasy rinks (an outdoor rink, a rink on an alien spaceship, a rink in Egypt, a rink on a disco dance floor) and fantasy teams (teams made up entirely of clowns, tree people, zombies etc). Other cool quirks that the Hitz series added was the ability to check players THROUGH THE GLASS but the play didn’t stop guys would just get back up and jump back into the game. The Hitz commentary was gold thanks to Tim Kitzrow, with such quotes as “oh boy he got knocked right into the 22nd Century” (a line that I use often on my own show) and “Its Novocain time!” After Hitz 20-03 Midway changed the series a little too much for my liking with their release of NHL Hitz Pro. Hitz Pro, was a game I got as a Christmas gift in 2004 for the PS2 little did I know that Midway was trying to turn the series into an arcade-sim hybrid with penalties, icing and no goofy fantasy teams or fantasy rinks. This was the final game of the Hitz series and just over 6 years since the last Hitz game Midway games no longer exists as the economic crash killed the company. EA in 2009 did put out NHL Arcade which was downloadable on the Playstation Network and Xbox live and its an ok game but it cant beat the classics. I’m hopeful that one day arcade hockey games will be brought back to its past glory, maybe someone will revive the Hitz series like EA Sports did for NBA Jam.
Until then I think I’ll fire up the Playstation and pop in some Wayne Gretzky’s 3D hockey and watch as my goalie turns into a brick wall (yes you heard me a brick wall) after 3 big saves.
That's all for now but as always tune into my sports show, Avry's Sports Show every Tuesday night at 6PM Mountain time on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/avryofedmonton