It’s a huge milestone in the world of hockey today that won’t be mentioned on the NBC Game of the Week or likely any hockey broadcast today, but one that deserves to be mentioned. That’s right, the NES classic Ice Hockey turns 30 today.
Ice Hockey was released on this day (Jan. 21) in 1988 for the Famicon in Japan, before eventually making its way to North American two months later in March. Ice Hockey was ahead of its time, being one of the first sports games that had some sort of roster and lineup customization, and huge feat in 1988, when most sports games at the time were simply plug in and play with what you were given.
Rather than just one type of player, the game feature three types different players to build your team of four skaters on the ice. No idea why they couldn’t get 5 on 5, but the 4 on 4 made for lots of open ice and scoring. You could choose from a skinny guy who was very fast, good at face-offs, but bad at hitting, being hit and shooting; a medium guy who was OK at everything; and a fat guy who was very slow, bad at face-offs, but a monster when it came to hitting and slap shots.
Those different types of players allowed you to tinker with roster composition and figure out what lineups worked best for you when trying to take down friends. For the record, the best lineup is either one skinny guy to win face-offs and skate up the ice for setup passes to three fat guys; or one skinny, one medium and two fat guys.
The game was also one of the first sports games to have international rivalries, with the US version having six teams on it, USA, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Poland, and the Soviet Union, while the original version in Japan had a Japan team instead of Sweden.
But what also makes Ice Hockey such a great game is that it is still just as enjoyable in 2018 as it was in 1988. It’s a simple pick-up-and-play game that had one button for passing, one button for shooting, and that’s it. Anybody in either the modern era of gaming or the early days 30 years ago could just pick up the controller and know how to play within two minutes. There’s a reason why IGN called it one of the 100 best Nintendo games ever made.
It could also be said that Ice Hockey was the influence for such games as the early NHLPA series (now just NHL), Brett Hull Hockey, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, and others.
So here’s to you Ice Hockey, you don’t look a day over 29.