Like a lot of successful games of its time, Blades of Steel started out in arcades as a smash hit that was ported to the NES in 1988. As one of the first hockey games that I had ever played – Ice Hockey being the first – and hockey being one of my all-time favorite things period, this game holds a near and dear place in my heart. I remember renting the game from a rental store that is no longer with us – gods rest its soul, as it was the place I endlessly rented Super Mario Bros. 3 and Final Fantasy from – and taking it home for the very first time and, like a lot of NES games, I spent the first twenty or so minutes sweating with frustration over how to work the game and getting crushed by its relentless flaws. I also spent a lot of time cursing the lack of a Detroit team, even if the game was unlicensed by either the NHL or the NHLPA as that wouldn’t come into a hockey game for another five or so years.
Where Ice Hockey held a more realistic approach to the sport, it was almost like Blades of Steel went in the other direction, glorifying hockey fights and playing a game style more akin to tabletop hockey that was more frantic and fast paced. Players were rewarded by hitting other players, winning fights, starting fights in front of the opposing nets – that earned you, as pictured above, a penalty shot – and shooting as frequently as possible. It was a game that could change at any time and, for a hockey game in that era, was a sorely needed injection of excitement to the sports simulation genre.
The NES version of the game was actually pretty nice, considering the standards of the year it was released; while not quite up to par with its arcade counterpart, you had a game the still retained a lot of the visual and audio flare that the arcade version did without losing a lot of the fast-paced action that made the game well-known, even to this day.
What do I think of the game now, having popped it in my Retron 2 after not playing it for almost two decades? I think it’s extremely gratifying, once you get the hang of it. I extremely dislike the goalie control and the lack of real control in shooting but that’s part of what makes it so fun: it’s not meant to be a simulation or a realistic take on hockey but rather an arcade style that focuses on chaos and completely slapstick competition.