My Top 5 Arcade Sports Games series of rankings lists continue and today the spotlight is smack-dab on the sport of hockey. None of the games you find on this list should ever be sent to the penalty box, as they receive my full endorsement and are some of my favorite retro sports titles. Would you like to see the 5 best Arcade Hockey Games and why they are so great? Then without further ado, what the puck?
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5. Hat Trick (developed and published by Bally Sente in 1984)
Released in 1984, Bally Sente’s Hat Trick had its moments as a popular arcade game for gamers to indulge in. This title was also made available for the Atari 7800 console in 1987. Hat Trick is the epitome of an old-school arcade game. If you have an appreciation for and cherish antiques, then you will hold this in high esteem. The sound effects and music are not particularly good, but seeing the Zamboni resurface the ice at the end of a match makes up for it.
When you sling up the laces and take the rink for some Hat Trick action, you will do so in a 1-on-1 game of hockey against the computer or another player. Well, it is actually 2-on-2, if you count the goaltenders as well. You can choose to be a red or blue player. The contests happen in quick rounds (usually 1 minute and 45 seconds), although you can set the time limit higher or lower.
The gameplay is very smooth and it is not as much of a struggle to control your player as you might expect to navigate across the ice. Goaltending can be a challenge because your goalie moves significantly faster than the player. You have to constantly remind yourself you are responsible to control both your player and goaltender. Because if you do not, the opponent’s puck will wind up in your net.
4. Blades of Steel (developed and published by Konami in 1987)
Konami’s 1987 Blades of Steel is a beautiful 5-on-5 realistic hockey simulation. It was truly ahead of its time as playing the arcade game is thrilling and can be addicting. All of the graphics, sound effects, music, and gameplay are impressive. You can check your opponent hard into the boards, and even come to blows in fights that will put your opponent out of action for 30 seconds if you win the fight.
When it is about to go down, BoS goes to a cut scene where two players will duke it out. Each player has a power meter that will decrease with the more damage you take. Once it reaches zero, the player will crash to the ice and that player’s team will be at a 4-on-5 disadvantage for 30 seconds. The gloves get discarded and the talented athletes taunt each other by shouting stuff like “You’re gonna pay!” and “Hey pretty face!”.
After you score a goal, you are rewarded 30 seconds of bonus game time. Each game has penalty shot sessions that give you a chance to slap-shot your way to as many goals as you can, or vehemently defend your goal to earn additional playing time. The announcer can start to get annoying after a while since he says the same things over and over. Other than that, Blades of Steel is an all-around great title.
3. Hit the Ice (developed by Taito, published by Taito for Japan and Williams Entertainment for NA in 1990)
Making its debut in 1990, Hit the Ice is a cartoon style 2-on-2 hockey simulation allowing up to four players. Touted as “The official video hockey league”, players select to control either the Reds or the Blues. There are 12 characters on each team to choose from after selecting either the red or blue squad. They all are mean, brute, angry-looking dudes that were named by the gaming studio accordingly.
The music and sound effects are easily one of the game’s greatest strengths. You can also hook, fight, and beat the tar out of your opponents in HTI. The gameplay is smooth and fluid from the very moment you face off at the center rink. While you can comfortably move around with few issues, it would have been spectacular if you could have retrieved the puck from your goalie after a save more quickly and cleaner.
Having the computer as a teammate is not ideal and you may want to bash their head in sometimes instead of your opponent, lol. I say this because they are too nonchalant when it comes to chasing down the puck, and their artificial intelligence is noticeably lacking. It is not an uncommon occurrence for your teammate to have a wide-open shot on goal directly in front of it, only to back it out and skate around some more. You can imagine how frustrating that can be.
If you have a few other friends to join you however, Hit the Ice is so fun to play, and quite frankly, its multiplayer mode is what gets it the number 3 spot on this list.
2. Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (developed by Williams Entertainment, published by Atari in 1996)
Atari Games dropped a bombshell on the arcade gaming world when they released Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey in 1996. This classic hockey 3-on-3 simulation allows you to play as some of your favorite NHL superstars on your way to victory. Every NHL team is available for you to pick, and includes 3 of each team’s best players.
The 3D graphics are sharp and transcendent as the players appear to be leaping right off the screen with every fast break. Controlling your players is a joy because it feels like you are floating on air maneuvering around the rink. You control whoever has the puck on offense and can switch onto different players on defense. There is a turbo button that you will want to use frequently in the fast-paced environment of NHL action. This is also used to check your opponent.
If you are out on the break, you can tap the shot button to gently guide the puck into the goal. During the intensity of actual offensive sets, you will want to use a slap-shot. What you do is hold down the shoot button and release it when you are ready to let it fly. The longer you hold down the shoot button, the more power it will have. It is possible to get into fights in Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, except they do not happen too often. It is probably for the best, as this is a surprisingly disappointing feature of the game, but fortunately it is also the only one.
1. 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge (developed and published by Midway Games in 1995)
The crème de la crème of my Top 5 Arcade Hockey games is none other than Midway’s 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge, which made its debut in 1995. This is another option you have available to you, if you prefer to compete with real NHL players. If you have visited an arcade before, then it is more than likely you have played at least one game of NBA JAM. 2-on-2 OIC uses the same controls to play the game.
The announcer is also just as enthusiastic in this title. Regularly serving up commentary like “What was he thinking?!”, “He unloaded on him!”, and “He poked at it!”. You can also get on fire, just like in NBA JAM. After you have made three consecutive goals, our lovable commentator screams “He’s on fire!” This player will be virtually unstoppable during this time and will remain on fire until the other team scores. If you are really in the zone with the puck engulfed in flames, then the goal and net will explode when you score.
Aggressively mashing the turbo button and timing your checking technique perfectly will result in your opponent surrendering the puck and going airborne. There are no cut-scenes where players engage in hand-to-hand combat, but the game is still a blast. If your opponent is loitering around your goal too closely, you can push them down with your goalie. It is also possible to leap into the air and do flips and somersaults to showboat on your opponent, if you mash the right combination of buttons. Remember, during the 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge you gotta “Hit em’ hard!”.
This glorious hockey title concludes today’s list retro folks, but more and more are coming… As is the custom, if you think I left out some big names or some games deserved a higher spot, do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section.
Till next top-5 list!