Blades of Steel
by Polly

Stereotypes say that since I'm a girl, I should only be interested in cooking, jewelry, clothes, and spending your money. Sports are a good six or seven planets away from the things I should find interest in. Well, I do enjoy cooking, jewelry's alright I suppose, everyone needs clothes, and of course I want your money. I have a gaming habit to feed. You'd just waste it on stupid shit anyway. While I don't enjoy actually watching sports on TV or going to any kind of sporting event, there are instances when a videogame based on a specific sport has caught my attention long enough to make me enjoy said sport for a short amount of time. They're always of the fast-paced and arcadey variety, so you can keep your Maddens, NFL2ks, Triple Plays, NBA Lives, etc., etc., etc.

Blades of Steel is just that - A simple, easy to pick up and put down arcade style hockey game that doesn't have a bloated rulebook to follow, no fancy NHLPA license, and very little in the way of customization. You pop it in, you play a game or two with a bud or the computer, and you're done for a while.

Blades of Steel is by no means difficult for anyone to pick up and play. That's the biggest selling point. The instant you know that B passes the puck, A shoots the puck toward the goal, and the D-Pad moves your guy, you're already an expert at the controls. All that's left is for you to out-wit your opponent on the offense and defense and score the most goals to win.

Each game lasts 3 20 minute periods. The game clock moves much faster than that obviously, so in the end each period is probably around 3-5 minutes in length in actual game time. Once the ref drops the puck for the initial face-off the action almost never stops unless a goal is scored or a penalty shot is awarded.

You'll constantly be switching from offense to defense as the puck is passed and shot around the ice. While on offense, you try to out-maneuver defenders, keeping the puck out of their possession with passes which should ultimately lead to you taking a shot at the goal. Passing is easy peasy, as all you need to do is point the D-Pad in the direction of the player you wish to pass to and press B. Shooting is a tad more simple than it needed to be, but it's still a decent system. When you're in the opposing team's side of the ice, the goal will have a red arrow moving up and down behind the goaltender. When the arrow is pointing at where you want to place your shot, just press A and the puck will be shot to that position. On defense, you'll always have control of the player closest to the puck. It's your job to keep bumping into the puckholder to try and loose the puck from his grasp. While you have control of your defender, you're also controlling your goalie's movements at the net. Once you know the attacking team is ready to take a shot, goaltending is as simple as moving your goalie to the position where the arrow is stopped and he'll either deflect the shot or hold onto the puck so you can pass it to one of your teammates and go back on the offensive. And that pretty much sums up how all games play out. It's a simple system, but it's one that can be very intense and ridiculously fun.

Also a good bit of fun is the ability to instigate fights. Bump into a player enough times and both men will drop their sticks and begin slugging it out on the ice. If neither falls during this quick exchange, the game goes into a close up of the action with each player throwing off the gloves and slugging it out. It's a simple punch and block punch system, but once again simple and fun. Even better is that the LOSING PLAYER is the one who gets stuffed into the Penalty Box for 2 minutes. There's some incentive to start fights and win 'em!

There are only two modes of play to choose from. You can either play an Exhibition game or play in a single elimination tournament with three degrees of difficulty. Both modes offer pretty much the same challenge and even on the Professional difficulty the AI really doesn't play as hard as it should. The only real benefit to playing Tournament mode is to see the credits roll and your team skate around with the winning trophy.

Graphics and sound presentation are decent overall. The player sprites are brightly colored and have enough animation on them to not seem too dull. You're gonna be staring at the rink the whole time, so just get used to that light grey-ish background with red and blue lines all over it. I don't know why they didn't go with white since hockey rink ice is...umm....WHITE! There is no music while the game is actually going on, but the tunes that play before the game, during the 2nd period intermission and credits roll are pretty decent. The referee is likely to get on most players' nerves as everytime the puck is passed he yells something I've not been able to figure out in almost 20 years of having played the damn game. There are a few more speech bytes here and there, and I guess for 1988 speech in an 8-bit game it's not too bad, but it really does get old after a while.

Konami was also sneaky and slipped in a decent amount of in-game advertising for other titles of theirs that were already out at the time or coming out soon. During the 2nd period intermission, you're given a close-up of the score board and there you can see advertisements for Contra and Jackal and even play a mini version of the first Gradius game's first boss fight. I thought it was a pretty neat little feature at the time. The little choreographed bits that teams do before and after a game are also quite the little gay site to behold. Ice hockey figure skaters! They're FANTASTIC! You'll love it.

A video of the teams entering the rink, the 2nd period intermission adverts, and winning skate-off.

What surprises me is that Konami never really revisited this game on the NES, especially with how great Tecmo's Tecmo Super Bowl turned out. It was revisited on the N64, but like the PSX rendition of Tecmo Super Bowl, had been stripped of everything that made the original fun. Blades of Steel could have easily been the Tecmo Super Bowl of hockey on the NES had it had a few more key features and maybe a little more depth to the gameplay. An NHLPA license, ability to play full seasons, Stanley Cup playoffs, and actual NHL teams would have made for such a great package, but sadly it never happened.

Blades of Steel makes for great fun due to how easy it is to pick up and play. That feature also sadly knocks a few fun points off the game, because it's not really one you can return to immediately. After a game or two, you'll likely just put it down. The game is ridiculously fun with friends, because a human isn't quite as easy to read as an AI and that's where the game shines.

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