Up until recently the best hockey game Nintendo 64 fans could hope for was NHL Breakaway -- a game that, all in all, teetered on generic. It wasn't until EA Sports stepped in with a tight, fast version of NHL 99 that the hockey bar was raised. Konami hopes to up the ante even further with the release of its first N64 hockey game, a 64-bit version of the NES classic Blades of Steel franchise.
The first thing you will notice about the game is that it's aimed to be more of an arcade-like hockey title than a full-blown simulation. Right down to the game's look -- which, incidentally, resembles the Wayne Gretzky series with bright, vibrant colors and big 3D models -- Blades of Steel screams arcade. And that in itself is not a bad thing, especially when its done right (please see NFL Blitz).
Players select from three basic modes:
1. Exhibition: Play one match against up to three friends or together with them against the computer.
2. Season: Select your team of choice and take it through a full season.
3. Playoffs: Jump directly to the playoffs. Use either the 97-98 tree or create your own.
Depending on just how good the player fancies himself, there are multiple degrees of difficulty to choose from. The easiest, Juniors, is no doubt geared to please monkeys and other subhuman species. We played two games in the mode, both of which resulted in the following:
Then we switched into the game's most difficult mode, All-Stars, where we promptly received the butt-kicking of our lives. But we won't go into the score of that game as it's sure to bore you. Let's just say that the game's AI improved significantly. Whereas easy mode allowed us the pleasure of skating straight down the ice without the need to pass to teammates, hard mode forced us to use our skills and we quickly forfeited, crying out loud like schoolgirls.
Options are plentiful. You can select from seven camera angles, adjust period length, game speed, overtime, penalties, offside, icing, player identification (position/name), number of players and change the lines, goalie control and cursor mode. If you're not into the arcadey TV-style presentation, you can also get rid of the puck streak and automatic shot zoom that occurs when you pull off a slap shot. Like in the NES hit, fighting occurs when you manage to piss off one of the players with a particularly nasty foul. Unfortunately, winning in a fight automatically lands both players on the bench -- a disappointing departure from the NES Blades of Steel.
In terms of visuals and sound, Blades of Steel '99 comes up strong, though it's hard to rival NHL 99. Bright, cheery colors, big polygon skaters, dead-on play-by-play commentary, ambient sound effects and more all work together nicely. Keeping with the series' arcade character, the whole presentation will remind you more of a movie like Running Man, than of an ice hockey game. Some of the game's textures have the "muddy" presence to them so familiar to Nintendo 64 games and the framerate, as we've noted, could use some work. All in all though, the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Publisher: Konami America
Release Date: 04/05/1999
Nintendo 64 exclusive
Full NHL, NHLPA licenses.
Multiple gameplay modes including Exhibition, Season and Playoffs.
Different degrees of gameplay difficulty.
Real league arenas.
Multiple camera angles.
Memory Pak support.
Full stat tracking.