Konami’s fights-and-all arcade hockey game remains a multiplayer classic.
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: December 1988
The legend of this game loomed large on the playground when I was a kid. It was a sports game for kids who didn’t like sports games. It had honest-to-God fights, like real hockey did. It was fun and anyone could pick up and play it. Many of my friends swore by it and claimed to play it for hours on end. Yet, despite their testimonies, I never tried the game myself. I think because, by that point, Street Fighter II was out and there was no need to fight in any other video game ever. Not giving two beans about hockey sealed the deal for me at age seven. Now that I have played the game to some degree, I can see why my schoolyard chums went nuts for it: it delivers on simple arcade sports action. Even if you don’t know or care about real hockey, it’s ok because Blades of Steel doesn’t either.
Konami gives you several options from the get-go: you can choose to play in a single exhibition game or a large tournament that involves beating all of the teams from around North America. You can choose to play in a Junior league, a College league or a Pro league. It’s a nice, honest way of saying Easy, Medium, or Hard. That’s it: no different rosters, no switching of teammates, just good ol’ fashioned American/Canadian puck passin’. There’s not much to the actual game at all. You try and get the puck in the other team’s net. You use “A” to shoot and “B” to switch players. It’s classic simple gaming, but what really took me by surprise is how fluid the action feels. Konami does a great job of keeping you in the game, while giving the illusion that you know exactly what you’re doing at all times. Such a task is difficult to do, and this is the only sports game I’ve played aside from Baseball Simulator 1.000 that’s truly accomplished that.
But blood is what the people really want to see, and while there is no actual blood in Blades of Steel, people do get into fights and get hurt; so, you know, there’s surely red streaks across the ice somewhere. The fighting isn’t that good, truthfully. It feels like a less intuitive Urban Champion, which could never be a good thing. But, for what it’s worth, it’s a nice break from the action. When you enter into a fight with someone, both players have a power bar, and whoever can get the power bar down to nothing first, wins the right to… take the puck. It’s a bit underwhelming now, but for 1988, it was probably stunning.
I can see why such a game captured the hearts and minds of little children in the early ’90s. The Mutant League games had yet to come, NBA Jam was just a thought in a designer’s head, and NFL Blitz didn’t come until the second half of the decade. For arcade sports action, Blades of Steel was it back in the day. It still holds up today surprisingly, but like all arcade sports games, two-player is where it’s at while one-player suffers from eventually repetitious gameplay, depending on how long one plays. Basically, don’t fly solo or else you’ll wonder why I’m giving it such a high score.