Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nintendo and hockey; a tradition lost?

by Jake

The recent announcement of Madden and FIFA for the Wii U both excites gamers and leads to inevitable questions regarding EA Sports' other titles. What about Fight Night? Tiger Woods PGA Tour? SSX? Rugby (remember that one)?  And, nearest and dearest to my Minnesota-born heart, NHL?

They sell these shirts right down the street from me. I do live in the State of Hockey!

Until a few years ago, Nintendo and hockey were seemingly inseparable. In fact, Nintendo's hockey tradition began way back in 1988 with the aptly titled, Ice Hockey. It was one of Nintendo's "sports series" games along with Pro Wrestling, Golf, Rad Racer, and other beloved gems.

While it is true that the Odyssey, Intellivison, and 2600 brought video game hockey into our homes nearly a decade before Nintendo's offering; there is no doubt that Ice Hockey made the biggest impact. Many of us have fond memories of picking our teams (consisting of "light" "medium" and "heavy" characters) and going head to head for hours on the virtual ice.

    Ice Hockey- Chant with me, USA! USA! USA!

Ice Hockey wasn't the only popular game in town. The NES also had an excellent port of Konami's Blades of Steel. Incidentally, "Blades of Steel" would have been a great title for an 80's metal song. Just imagine a singer screaming, "BLADES! OF!! STEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAALLLLLLYEAAHHHHH!!!".

Blades of Steel- Now you're playing with power... the power to pummel someone!

The Nintendo/hockey tradition continued in the SNES era with such games as EA Sports' NHLPA 93 and the subsequent yearly installments of NHL. EA Sports did not release Mutant League Hockey for the SNES but Nintendo gave fans a reason to brag with the SNES exclusive, NHL Stanley Cup. 

NHL Stanley Cup, the game that bled Mode 7. 
The perspective switched with every puck change and you would get a little woozy after a few games.

Williams, Jaleco, Accolade, Time Warner, and Sony all released hockey games for the SNES. Although most fans would agree that the Sega Genesis ruled the sports arenas during the 16bit wars, there were still plenty of options for Nintendo fans to don their virtual blades. 

Soon after the N64 launched, Nintendo fans got a well-received exclusive with Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. This game introduced 4 player mode to the N64, which was later utilized by EA Sports' NHL series. The proud Nintendo/hockey tradition was carried into the new millennium. 

No multi-tap needed, just a boatload of these. 

There was only one Sega NHL 2K game released for the Gamecube (2K3) but EA Sports' NHL and Midway's NHL Hitz were also viable options for puck-heads. These games helped keep the Nintendo/hockey tradition alive initially, though the Gamecube's lack of online multiplayer caused the tradition to begin to fade. I still appreciate NHL 06 on the Gamecube because it was the last EA Sports NHL title to display an obvious sense of humor (using the c-stick for trick shots and plenty of goalie vs. goalie fights).

Unfortunately, during the Wii era, the Nintendo/hockey tradition suddenly screeched to a halt faster than a defensemen seeing his goalie's hand raised to indicate an icing call. The good news is that we did get two Wii exclusive hockey games in 2010 (NHL 2K11 and NHL Slapshot). The bad news is that 2K11 was lambasted for being outdated and Slapshot was overshadowed by NHL11. At least Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel are available on the Virtual Console... 

NHL Slapshot's  Peewee to Pro mode is cool, but not cool enough to keep the game from early retirement in the bargain bin. 

As we anticipate the release of the Wii U, the only hope of re-establishing the Nintendo/hockey tradition seems to be in EA Sports releasing an NHL game for the new console (unless Nintendo makes a 25TH anniversary update of Ice Hockey). It also appears that the difference maker for cross-platform games on the Wii U is utilization of the Game Pad.

Consider these possibilities for an NHL title:
  • The Game Pad screen could zoom in to a view of the opponent's net and the player could use the analog sticks to deliver an accurate shot to any part of the goal.
  • A zoom feature could also be useful from the goalie's perspective. Perhaps something akin to the "hitter's eye" from "MVP Baseball 2005" could pop up on the Game Pad screen, helping the player to stop pucks in real time?
  • Details during face-offs could pop up on the Game Pad screen. 
  • Fighting in first person mode with a touch screen- need I say more?
  • Best of all, Nintendo fans would once again have a proper (maybe even superior) NHL game.  

The Nintendo hockey tradition goes back some 25 years but it has been dormant for nearly 2 seasons (the last hurrah was 2011's Mario Sports Mix). We need more than rumors and speculation about NHL Wii U, we need the Nintendo/hockey tradition to continue on the Wii U. If not EA Sports, someone please drop the puck and let Nintendo fans hit the ice again. 


  1. Agreed, nintendo needs to keep the hockey tradition going. I have nhl 2k11 for wii, but thats the most recent one. Please nintendo, make a new one for the wii u

  2. Thank you for your comment, Burtis!
    There were rumors flying around the internet of a NHL release from EA for the Wii U. Unfortunately, they have yeilded the same results as the talks between the owners and players in the NHL.


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