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Geek Life
A Look Back @ Blades of Steel PDF Print E-mail
Written by ssj100matt   
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 08:56

With the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs over and the hockey season coming to a close, I thought it would be great to take a look back at the classic sports game "Blades of Steel". Hit the jump for a full in depth look back at the NES classic and its eventual sequels.

 



Personal account:

Now before I can get into the game, I need to explain my back-story and why this game has influenced me enough to write this story. As many of you know from listening from to Under Sedation Live or seeing me in the chat-room I am a big sports fan. Sports has become such a big part of my life that now I have been given the opportunity to work in it. When I was a child growing up, me and my father would always (and we still do) catch every hockey game that was on T.V. I would stay up long past my bedtime watching our hometown “New York Rangers” play. Around this time I was introduced to the world of video games. At the time my father already bought me a Nintendo NES but sadly there were no hockey games to play (at the time). My older brother on the other hand, had an Atari 2600 that he rarely played. One of the games that my father bought for that system was “Ice Hockey from Activision. It was the first hockey video game I had ever played and it wouldn’t be the last.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lROb1vWNiig

(Yes that’s the late Phil Hartman in that commercial)

Fast forward to December 30th 1989. It was my 6th birthday when my father bought me a game called “Blades of Steel” for the NES. I immediately fell in love with it and just like how we would watch the real thing on T.V, we would always play this game together. Those were some great times.

Now that I have that out of the way I can talk about the game itself.

 

History:

Blades of Steel was developed by gaming giant Konami under lead programmers Shigeharu Umezaki and Satoshi Kishiwada. At the time these two gentlemen were already well known for developing “Contra”, “Double Dribble” and assisting on legendary projects like “Gradius” and “Castlevania”.

This was Konami’s 4th sports title and its first stab at making an ice hockey game. Before coming to home consoles, the game originally was released in the arcades.

 


The games controls (as you can see) were very simple. There was a pass, shoot, a FIGHT button (that would initiate fights in-game) and a trackball for player movement. I myself have never seen this cabinet in person before, but if given the opportunity I would buy one in a second (But I digress). Soon after its arcade release the game was put on multiple home consoles (Amiga, DOS, Commodore 64, Gameboy and FDS). For the sake of this overview I will be talking about the NES version more specifically.

The NES version of “Blades of Steel” was released in Japan on July 22nd 1988 (December 1988 in North America). It was the 2nd ice hockey title for the NES, the first being “Ice Hockey” by Nintendo (which I wasn’t aware of at the time).

 

Starting up:

At the start of the game players are given a choice of either Exhibition or Tournament mode. Exhibition can either be a straight up vs. match with the computer or with a friend. Tournament mode features playoff style match-ups against the computer. After advancing through and winning the tournament, the player is awarded with the Konami Cup.

After choosing a mode the player is given a choice to play against the computer (with 3 difficulties) or against a friend. At the start players can choose up to 8 teams, 4 US teams and 4 Canadian teams (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto). An interesting note about these team’s. All of the teams in the game are based off of real National Hockey League (NHL) cities. But since Konami did not have the NHL Players License, they were unable to use specific team names and players, but they did somehow manage sneak in some team’s jersey.

Example: New York Rangers

But it’s also been noted that many of the other team’s jerseys were created after each cities respective football teams (example Minnesota wears the same purple and white as the Minnesota Vikings do).

 

Gameplay:

The game play itself is where the real treasure is. Once the game begins the player takes control of any of the 3 forwards and 2 defensemen on the ice. The player in control is indicated by said player flashing.

On offense, the controlling player can either pass or shoot the puck. Passing is done by pressing the ‘A’ button. Whenever the player pass’s the puck, it’s always to the nearest teammate. This can be troublesome when the nearest teammate is your goalie where often times you find yourself putting the puck into your own net.

Shooting is done by pressing the ‘B’ button. Aiming your shot is determined by a small arrow that moves vertically behind the opponents net. The arrow is moved randomly and is not controlled by the player so timing your shot is very important.

When playing on defense, the user takes control of the player that is closest to the puck. His job is to either hit the opposing team’s player holding the puck or intercept the opposing teams pass’s. Hitting a player is done by running directly into the path of the opposing player. Doing so will either initiate a fight or knock him to the ground.

The user also takes control of the goalie. To make a save the player just needs to stand in front of the opponents shot.

One of the games most signature ways of defending your goalie are the fights. Like in real hockey, fighting is an important part of the game. You initiate a fight by bumping your opposing teams’ player 3 times. After a short scuffle a fight screen appears and the gamer takes control of their player. The fight sequence is more of a button mashing event. The person who presses the punch button quick enough wins. There is a block button but a real tough guy never uses that.

Unlike in the NHL where both fighters are penalized after a scuffle, “Blades of Steel” penalizes the losing fighter. The loser is dragged to the penalty box for a designated amount of time while the winner is free to play on. The game became really famous for these moments. The only problem was that it happened far too often. But like in real hockey, you can never have enough fights. When my father and I played he would try to cheat during the fights. He would try to get me to stop pressing the buttons so he could “figure out” how to fight. Doing so would result in him quickly kicking my ass and winning with a wicked smile on his face.

After three 20 minute periods of hockey a winner is decided. In the event of a tie you go to a tie breaking shootout. At the time of the games release, shootouts were only allowed in International ice hockey matches (i.e. the Olympics). Many North American hockey fans were delighted to see this feature. People such as my father and I would try to force a tie to get to the shootout, because everyone knew that only the “real” winner could be crowned in the shootout. Once you do win, the winning team is given a celebratory victory lap around the ice and an ovation from the crowd.

 

“Hit the Puck!”:

Now along with its hardcore fighting, the game also featured voice sampling. This was very rare for an NES game to have at this time. Most notably, the voice says "Blades of Steel" during the beginning of the game, "FACEOFF!" before each face-off, "FIGHT!" when a fight breaks out, "With the pass..." after a successful pass is made, "Hit the Puck", "Icing", and an "aaahhh" made by the losing player after a fight. Since this feature was in its infancy the quality was very garbled and hard to hear some of them. Players of the arcade version were awarded with better speech quality, more sound bytes and commentary. Despite the poor quality of the voice sampling it seemed to fit with the games gritty style and became its trademark.

 

The Music:

This is probably the most overlooked and underappreciated thing about the game. Music is the key ingredient to any game, including a hockey game. What many people aren’t aware of is that the music was created by legendary Konami composers Kazuki Muraoka, Shinya Sakamoto, Atsushi Fujio and Kyouhei Sada. Separately they have composed the soundtrack for many classic Konami games like “Gradius”, “Contra”, “Metal Gear”, “Top Gun” and “Castlevania”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zfn_ape5Qw

For being a sports game let alone a hockey game this was a pretty epic soundtrack to hear at its time. From the pre-game warm-up tune, to the cheerful victory theme, to the soothing final credits theme, players were treated to an A+ quality soundtrack.

 

“Contra, all your friends will want it”:

Now no Konami game is complete without some Easter eggs. Like most Konami games the signature “Konami code” (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select start) is fully functional in “Blades of Steel”. Doing the code at the starting screen would unlock the sound test mode for the game. The next Easter egg was a quick commercial for the game “Contra”, that would appear during intermissions mid-game. The commercial would say, “Contra. What an exciting game. Fantastic graphics. Awesome music. All your friends will want it”. This was probably one of the first in-game advertisements for a Nintendo game. Granted it was for another Konami game, but it was pretty blatant advertisement for its time. The last Easter egg was a very quick game of “Gradius” that would only occasionally appear during the intermission in-between periods.

Here’s a look at the Easter eggs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qILu0oF4Gs

 

Aftermath and sequels:

Blades of steel held the standard for hockey games for the NES for a few years. At the dawn of the SNES, the EA sports “NHL” franchise became the new standard of hockey video games for many years. Konami changed gears and left the professional Hockey game battle and “Blades of Steel” faded away. Fortunately this wasn’t the end for “Blades of Steel”. In 1999, ten years after the release of the original game, Konami brought the franchise back with “NHL Blades of Steel ’99” for the Nintendo 64.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fhDi-NnMk8

The game was a late arrival to the Nintendo 64 where games like “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey”, “NHL Breakaway” and EA’s “NHL” series had already left its mark on the system. The game (as you can see) was a very crude and sluggish representation of hockey at the time. The game did manage to hold onto some of its core values of the original NES game with it’s over the top announcer and voice sampling. The game also had a release on the Game Boy Color. The game interestingly enough was almost a direct copy of the original NES/Gameboy game. It held true to the original feel of the NES game by using the same game-play format of the original but like its N64 brother had the official Players License of the NHL. Essentially it was classic “Blades of Steel” but with all your favorite hockey players and teams from the NHL.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1NbD1F0U54

The following year the franchise was moved to the Playstation with the release of “NHL Blades of Steel 2000”. In this incarnation of the game, Konami was able to utilize the power of the Playstation to make a quality game. The game was very similar to that previous years N64 version, but unlike its predecessor the game was far more polished and far more fluid. The game also had in my opinion the best announcing in a hockey game for its time. Sadly this would be the last “Blades of Steel” game of the franchise.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X-yUcmBJ08

 

Conclusion:

“Blades of Steel” has come a long way in the past 20 years since its original home release on the NES. The game has attracted a great following and continues to influence gamers to this day. Even people who do not care for hockey still find it hard to not enjoy this game for what it is. With 2k and EA Sports holding dominance on the hockey video game market it is very unlikely that we will ever see another “Blades of Steel”, but you never know. Until then we can continue to “Hit the Ice” on our own by dusting off our old cartridge or download it on the Wii Virtual Console.

I hope you have enjoyed this in depth look back on “Blades of Steel” and be sure to give the game a try if you haven’t already.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2009 08:59
 

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