Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#120 – Ice Hockey

Skinny, regular, or fat, they are all great players!

Here there are more players than allowed on the ice.

To Beat: Win a game
To Complete: Win against all teams
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 4/6/19
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: Ice Hockey Longplay

I am surprised at how few hockey games there are on the NES. There are only four of them. Hockey may not be one of the more dominant professional sports in the US, but there are many NHL teams and tons of fans all over. I’m surprised that there are more wrestling games than hockey games, for instance. I am not huge on hockey, but I have spent a lot more time playing a couple of the NES hockey games than many other sports games. Ice Hockey is in the conversation for the most popular NES game of the sport.

Ice Hockey was developed and published by Nintendo. I couldn’t figure out if it was made by either their R&D2 or R&D4 divisions at Nintendo. It was first released in January 1988 in Japan on the Famicom Disk System. The NES release launched first in North America in March 1988 and in PAL regions in April 1988. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for converting an FDS game to an NES cart and launching worldwide within months of each other.

Ice Hockey on NES is a simple game. This is a five-on-five game with four players on the ice for each team and a fifth player serving as goalie. The action all takes place on one screen that pans side to side to follow the puck. Games are three periods long. To beat the game, all you have to do is win a single match.

I always pick two skinny and two fat.

At the start of the game, you can choose options for your match. There are six teams to pick from: The United States, Sweden, Poland, Canada, The Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia. Choose your team and your opponent. Each team is a different difficulty level, but it’s hard to tell which teams are easier or harder aside from experience. In a two-player game, each player picks his or her team. Next, choose the game speed from one to five, which is from slowest to fastest. You can also choose the length of each period. They can be either seven, ten, or fifteen-minute periods. Press Start to move to the next screen. Now each player can select the lineup of the starting four. Use the D-pad to move the cursor between players and press A to change the player type. The three player types are skinny, regular, and fat players. At least that’s what most players I’ve heard call them. The players are also numbered on this screen. Players 1 and 3 are supposed to be defensive players while 2 and 4 are offensive players. To finish up here and get started with a game, move the cursor to END and press A.

Each period begins with a faceoff. You can set up your players in the formation you want. Use the D-pad and the A and B buttons to swap players around before the puck is put in play. The referee will blow a whistle to signal the end of setting up the formation. The two players nearest the referee will wait for the puck to drop. Mash the A button to hopefully pass the puck to a teammate before the opponent gets a hold of it.

I found the controls to be a little tricky but not too bad. The D-pad moves you in all directions on the ice. You only control one player at a time. The buttons do different things depending on if you are on offense or defense. On offense, the A button passes the puck to a teammate. Control moves to the closest player in the direction of the pass. The B button is used for shooting. You can hold down B before releasing to perform a more powerful shot. On defense, the B button changes which player you control. The flashing player is the one you move. You can also move the goalie to protect the goal. At all times, the A button is used for battling for the puck. Get near the puck and press A to fight for it. This can help you steal the puck away from an opponent or knock away a defender trying to steal from you.

Large players tend to knock over smaller ones.

There are some advanced techniques that are handled by the B button. On shooting, the longer you hold down B, the more powerful shot you will take. Keep in mind this leaves you open the longer you prepare for your shot. Instead of holding B, if you quickly tap the B button while holding the puck, you will pose for a shot but not actually shoot. Sometimes faking out your opponent like that is helpful. The manual mentions that you can do “flip shooting” by storing enough power in a shot by holding B. This lets you shoot through an opponent. I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how or if this works or how to pull it off. The final B button control is a defensive one. If you are actively defending the goal, rapidly tapping the B button causes all the players to move in near the goal, helping you in defense and probably recovering the puck after a missed shot.

Much of the strategy in this game depends on the mix of players on your team. The three player types have different characteristics. The regular-size player is the typical average player that has no real strengths or weaknesses. The skinny player is a weak shooter and he does not hold up well in a puck battle. However, he is the fastest player on the ice and he is really good at winning a face-off. The fat player is just the opposite. He is very slow and is poor at the face-off, but he has a very powerful shot and he is good at body checking opponents in the fight for the puck. You can choose whichever mix of players you want that either fits your playing style or provides balance.

There are some penalties in the game. The main one is icing. I’m not going to pretend to understand how icing works. I’ve read the explanation several times and have even watched videos on it, and I still don’t quite get it. What you need to know is that icing stops play and results in a face-off. You can also be penalized for getting into a fight. If a puck battle goes on long enough, other players will join the fray. Eventually the referee will come in, break up the fight, and send one player into the penalty box for a couple of minutes. The harder you mash the A button during a fight, the less likely you are to be penalized. With one player out of the game temporarily, obviously one team has more men on the ice. This is called a power play. You want to take advantage of the power play to help score as much as possible.

Quite a scrum in the middle there.

The game mixes things up a little bit between each period. Teams switch sides at the start of a new period. After the second period, you’ll see a brief cutscene of the Zamboni machines smoothing out the ice. There is overtime if both teams are tied up after regulation. Overtime periods are two minutes long. If both teams are still tied after that, they go into a shootout. Each player goes one-on-one against the goalie of the opposite team, and any goals scored are tallied. If the game is still tied after the shootout, it loops back to another two-minute overtime period. The game will cycle back and forth between overtime periods and shootouts until a winner is crowned.

Ice Hockey seems to be one of the most popular two-player games on the NES. While I have never actually played multiplayer, I have played the game solo once before as part of the Nintendo Age contest. I was happy enough just to win a game. I’m not skilled enough for any huge blowout scores like would be expected in a contest setting. This is a very common game. I’ve acquired many extra copies and still have several spare carts currently.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good at this game, even though that would be expected for not having much experience with the game. I started playing by picking USA every time and playing the remaining teams from left to right on the highest speed. My lineup was two fat players and two skinny players. I was able to win just barely on the first try against Sweden and Poland, and I won with a sizeable lead against Canada. I first lost big then won easily against the Soviets. The Czechoslovakian team was far and away the most difficult team for me to beat. Their team has three heavy guys and they just wrecked me all over the ice. I had a lot of trouble scoring goals because I couldn’t get good position and didn’t really figure out any consistent strategy to scoring. I had the best luck scoring with a skinny player and “passing” the puck into the net. After a few tries, I played well enough to squeeze out a win.

Skinny passing into the net was sometimes effective.

After reading through the manual, I decided that my goal was to beat all of the other teams. If you defeat all the countries on speed level 5, then you get to change the lineup of the opposing team before a match. Ultimately, I was not able to unlock that feature. I had a couple of really bad matches that went off the rails so early that I reset the game. I figured resetting was why I couldn’t do anything extra after finishing off the last team. It wasn’t until several days later that I realized I never actually beat the USA team and that was probably my issue. Oops! I went back and beat USA in a single game, so now I have beaten all teams.

There are a couple of bonus features that you can enable by entering in a code. On the title screen, press and hold the A and B buttons on both controllers, then press Start on Controller 1. This removes goalies from the game. If you do the same button inputs on the team selection screen, this disables puck friction. When the puck gets loose, it will fly about and ricochet until either a player collects the puck or it enters a goal.

I can definitely see the appeal of Ice Hockey on NES and why it is highly regarded as a fun game to play. It is a simple game with a good amount of depth. The graphics are simple but charming. It is clear what is going on all the time. It has good music. The controls are straightforward, yet it has some complexity with some additional features that only use the two buttons. The gameplay is solid and it is an ideal two-player game. It certainly checks all the boxes for what you want in an NES game. For so few hockey games on the NES, this is definitely one you want.

#120 – Ice Hockey

by :
comment : 3

#45 – Rollergames

Maybe this game should have been called Skate or Die instead.

They aren’t even shy about this being a Konami game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/30/16 – 1/2/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
Video: Rollergames Longplay

I used to go roller skating often growing up. The local roller rink was the place to be for young kids on a Friday night, and even though I was not particularly good at skating I still enjoyed being there with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the contact sport roller derby, and it just so happens there is also an NES game based on the sport. With a library this vast, I guess I should not be so surprised!

The sport of roller derby originated in the 1930s. The game is played with two teams of skaters who skate laps around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by having a designated member of the team lap opposing players. The sport grew in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. As interest started to decline, and as television became more prominent, the sport shifted more toward storylines and theatrics and away from pure competition. Since then the sport has shifted back toward its competitive roots. Roller derby has seen a resurgence beginning in the early 2000s, predominately in all-female leagues.

In the middle of all this is Rollergames, a 1989 TV show that went all in on the theatrical approach to roller derby. There were changes made for Rollergames, such as introducing a figure eight shaped track instead of the traditional banked oval track. Rollergames is like the WWE with a heavy focus on rivalries and storylines. The show was quite popular, but despite that it only ran for one season because some of the show’s producers when bankrupt.

Complete with broadcasters!

There are two video games based on Rollergames. The first is an arcade title of the same name developed by Konami in 1990. The gameplay is modeled closely after the TV show. The second name is the NES version of Rollergames, also developed by Konami and published under the Ultra Games label. This version is also influenced by the show, but it plays more as a classic beat-em-up game. It was released in the US in September 1990 and in Europe in October 1991. It was not released in Japan or ported to any other systems.

Rollergames is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game with some platforming elements included. Members of a criminal organization have corrupted three of the Rollergames teams leading to the capture of the league commissioner, and the only people that can save him are the members of the other three good teams. The introductory cutscenes frame the game as a storyline fitting of the TV show. You must complete all six levels to save the commissioner and win the game.

At the start of each level, one of the sideline reporters asks you which team you would like to choose. You can pick either Ice Box of the Thunderbirds, Rolling Thunder of the Hot Flash, and California Kid of the Rockers. Each character plays differently so that you want to choose the team best suited to clear the current level. Ice Box is the slow but powerful character, while Rolling Thunder is the weak, but speedy character. California Kid is naturally the balanced choice.

You can knock down the bad guys quickly.

The controls are very natural. Use the D-Pad to skate in all eight directions. The A button is for jumping and the B button is used to attack. The standard attack is a basic punch, but you can do a jump kick by pressing B during a jump. You also have a special attack that you trigger by pressing both A and B at the same time. Each character has a slightly different special move. Ice Box does a body slam, Rolling Thunder does a spinning jump kick, and California Kid has a double jump kick. The moves are powerful but you are limited to only three per level, so use them wisely.

The levels all play from a side-scrolling perspective, but there are two different types of levels. The normal levels can scroll in all directions and you progress linearly through the level. There are many slopes to navigate and pits to jump across, as well as other enemies and traps that stand in your way. These can be quite tricky to clear while on roller skates! As you go, you will run into groups of enemy skaters and you must beat them all up before moving forward. Three normal levels revolve around each of the bad teams, which are the Bad Attitude, Maniacs, and Violators, and these levels have two sections each. The final level is in this normal style but it has four parts.

The other type of level is an auto-scrolling level. The skater of your choice is always moving forward here and the goal is to survive to the end. These levels follow along a broken highway so there are many gaps to cross. Of course, there are also various obstacles, traps, and enemies to contend with. These levels also feature boss-like encounters, but all you need to focus on is dodging the attacks until they go away, ending the stage.

Roads are always under construction!

At the top of the screen, there is a timer in the middle. This countdown only applies to the normal stages where you have to move ahead on your own pace. At the lower left is a vertical health bar. Your skater can suffer several hits before losing a life, though falling down a pit or landing on spikes results in immediate, swift death. The lower right area shows markers that indicate how many special attacks are remaining for the stage. There is a separate screen at the start of each stage that displays your score, high score, current level, and number of lives remaining. There are no powerups in the game for replenishing any of these elements. However, you can earn an extra life when reaching either 20,000, 50,000, or 80,000 points.

The obvious gimmick to Rollergames is that you play the entire game while on roller skates. As a result, your character controls in a fitting manner. It’s akin to playing a game with nothing but ice levels and ice physics. The skaters are generally slow to accelerate and slow to come to a stop. Often, I found myself making quick turns in a different direction than where I was moving to keep myself from falling. The game has various sections of platforming where you need clear gaps of different sizes. Not only that, but there are falling platforms, moving platforms, and crumbling floors to deal with. It’s a tough combination to work with and there is much trial and error involved to learn the right moves.

Slopes and tiny jumps on roller skates don’t mix.

The game balances this difficulty out in several ways. The levels tend to be reasonably short with checkpoints after every sublevel. The hand-to-hand combat is simple and the enemies themselves don’t pose much of a threat. Lastly, there are infinite continues in the game, so you can keep banging away at each level until you clear it. You always start at the beginning of each sublevel if you die, so once you reach the checkpoint you don’t have to play past sections again.

Seeing as it’s a Konami game in the middle of the NES lifespan, Rollergames is a quality title. Not only do the controls make sense, but the game has good graphics and some excellent music. It’s the soundtrack that really stands out overall. In my mind, it has a similar sound to TMNT II and III. Maybe that is because both games are beat-em-ups, but regardless it sounds good and it suits the game well.

I first played Rollergames last year for the NintendoAge weekly contest. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to play that week and I only reached Stage 2. That was barely any experience so this was the first time I seriously played Rollergames. This was one of those filler titles that I acquired in a random NES game lot that I purchased back in my collecting heyday. When it showed up on the list, I knew that Rollergames was a pretty good game that is easily overlooked, so I was happy to play through it.

This part is particularly devilish.

I beat Rollergames over two days and those two days just happened to fall on either side of New Years, making this the first game I have played for the project over two separate years. On the first attempt, I reached Stage 5-1 and this is where I got stuck. The first part of level isn’t all that bad, but the section right before the checkpoint is pretty nasty. You have to cross along the edge of a cliff where the ground periodically crumbles away in front of you. It forces you to move slowly to reveal the hidden gaps, and then you must back up enough to get the momentum to leap to the other side. But you must be careful not to go too far past the hole or you will fall into the next one. It wouldn’t be so bad if the controls weren’t slippery, but here it’s a pretty evil little section under the game’s ground rules. After several attempts at Stage 5-1 I turned the game off for the night.

The next time I sat down to play, I performed decently up to 5-1. After many new attempts, I reached 5-2 and from there I pushed my way through to the very end. I recorded my playthrough on video, but it was the ugliest playthrough I have recorded so far. There are several sections that must be practiced, and without any of that experience I died a bunch of times until I made it through. There are enough problem spots that I would have to beat the game a few times just to record a decent run. However, a game finish doesn’t have to be pretty to count, so I’ll accept this one and move on!

Rollergames is a fun game that I enjoyed playing. It’s got that Konami standard level of polish to it with solid controls, good gameplay, nice graphics, and catchy music. The one problem with the game is that there’s a significant amount of platforming that doesn’t properly fit the game’s slippery physics. It makes this game less accessible than other NES games of similar style right off the bat. If you can get by the initial hurdles, I think you would enjoy playing the game. It’s also an inexpensive cart for the collector or player insisting on the original cart. It’s too bad that it is overlooked because I think it deserves more recognition than it receives.

#45 – Rollergames