Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
For the Nintendo Entertainment System, one of the biggest developers was Konami, the maker of such legendary, defining titles as Contra and Gradius. As one of the best video game companies in existence at the time, each of their titles was met with eager anticipation yet each usually met their high expectations. When they decided to release an ice hockey game, it was no exception.
The only existing competition was Ice Hockey, one of the original NES releases, but it was no slouch. It had fun gameplay, a loyal following, and was gaining status as a gaming icon. In order to compete, Konami had to ensure that Blades of Steel was a solid game in its own right, and to offer an X Factor or two.
The play is basic, but wonderfully intuitive – the directional pad directly controls the hockey player with the puck, with one button shooting and the other passing, or changing defenseman when the other player has the puck. There are eight different teams to choose from, all from US and Canadian cities, and the game generally follows the rules of the sport, with three periods, icing, goals, etc.
The game looks sharp, with its skaters looking slightly more life-like than the cartoon-proportioned counterparts in Ice Hockey. Otherwise, the elements are fairly basic, though effective, in portraying such aspects as the rink, mass of fans, goals, markings, et cetera.
For some reason, this cart really shines in the sound department – the developers obviously made sure that it was an auditory treat. It even includes voice samples to accompany the action on the ice, along with the memorable “Blades of Steel!” at the starting screen. The music is lively and appropriate, with the effects being perfect Konami-manufactured ingredients in a lovely dish of ear enjoyment.
Creativity and Innovation
Here is another area in which Blades of Steel truly shows off, and there are two specific items worth mentioning in this arena.
1) Fights – Everyone who has ever played Blades of Steel will not primarily remember it for being a half-decent hockey simulation; instead, they remember the fights, which are rendered in such a way as to almost make the rest of the game seem dull and lame by comparison. Whenever a player makes contact with an opposing player three times without anyone else being touched, the two enter a fight… and the game entirely changes, with the fight now taking up the screen, the two players in gorgeous full view, and the controls change to that of a combat game-within-a-game. The amazing part is that the winner of the fight keeps skating, while the loser goes to the penalty box for a few minutes. This means that not only are the big fights the most fun part of the game, but they also provide competitive advantage.
2) Promotion – In hindsight, it is almost laughable, but at the time, Konami was competing in a red-hot NES market for games, and wanted to gain every edge it could. Within the game world of Blades of Steel, there are advertisements and banners for Konami, but the most blatant of advertising is the minigame. It does not always happen, but about half the time, at the end of the second period, player one gets to play a quick demo of a Gradius-type game that concludes with a self-effacing marketing ploy by Konami. The brilliance of this tactic is that it is so shameless that it becomes humorous, thus providing a positive attachment rather than jaded negativity. It is a fascinating ploy.And overall, those two areas put this right into the rink against Ice Hockey: The fights and the unique Konami flavor. Blades of Steel is not among the greatest games of all time, not even for the NES, but it is a solid hockey match that is good for many hours of fun, especially with a friend, solidly earning four stars out of five.