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

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Super Mario Bros. 2 Box Cover

#33 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Jump into the Mario game of your dreams!

You can already tell the game play will be a bit different!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/9/16 – 10/10/16
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Super Mario Bros. 2 Longplay

I was pleasantly surprised to see Super Mario Bros. 2 at a mere 33 games into this project. This is also the first sequel covered on the blog! Despite significantly changing the style from the original game, this one is a classic NES game and a must play for anyone who may have passed on it back in the day.

Normally I would refer to the Super Mario Bros. post to recap the history of this game and series, but I went pretty skimpy on the words in that original entry and so it’s time to make up for it here. Nearly everyone knows about Mario and many people in all walks of life remember the groundbreaking NES platformer Super Mario Bros from 1985. Mario originally debuted in the arcade smash hit Donkey Kong in 1981, though he was known at the time as Jumpman. He joined with his brother Luigi in Mario Bros in 1983, but it was Super Mario Bros that really put Mario in the limelight. The iconic plumber has more or less been the mascot for Nintendo ever since. Mario is the star of around 20 platformer style games but has also been the poster child for the Mario Party series, the Mario Kart series, several sports games, and more. Include the spinoffs games from all the supporting characters and there are dozens and dozens more games based around the universe of the one and only Mario.

Nintendo designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka quickly set out to create a sequel to Super Mario Bros, but this is not the sequel that we know of in the US. Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Famicom Disk System was released in 1986 and expands on the concepts of the original game. Luigi is a playable character here with a higher jump but slippier momentum on the ground. The game is perhaps best known for its high level of difficulty compare to its predecessor. Nintendo deemed it too difficult for American audiences and decided not to release it in the US. They instead decided to take one of their other games, Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, and update it into a game with Mario characters. This became our Super Mario Bros 2.

No goombas here!

The series in both Japan and the US would converge again with Super Mario Bros. 3 which was identical between the regions. Nintendo would eventually embrace both Super Mario Bros. 2 games in all regions. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 on FDS was eventually released on the Super Nintendo as part of Super Mario All Stars. Here it was named Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the Famicom in 1992 and renamed as Super Mario USA. Super Mario Bros. 2 also made it to handhelds in 2001 as the Game Boy Advance launch title Super Mario Advance with a few more enhancements.

Now let’s talk about the NES title! Super Mario Bros. 2 is a side-scrolling platformer game. Mario comes across a land named Subcon in his dreams that he eventually discovers is real. He brings along Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool and they set out to save Subcon from the evil frog Wart.

At the start of each level you may choose from any one of the four playable characters. Once a character is chosen you must use that character until either the level is cleared or you lose all your lives. Each character has different traits and abilities that come in handy depending on the situation. Mario is the straight average character. Luigi jumps the highest with a slow, loopy flutter jump but he is a bit weaker than Mario. Toad is both the strongest and the fastest –especially when carrying an item — but he has the weakest jump. The Princess is the weakest character but she has the very useful ability to float in midair for a few seconds during a jump.

The princess’ float ability is very useful!

The game has standard platformer controls. Use Left and Right on the D-Pad to walk. Press Up and Down and climb ladders or vines. You can also press Up to enter doors and press Down to duck. The A button is for jumping and the B button is for running when held down. The B button also lets you pick up an item or an enemy. You can carry it around for awhile and later throw it with the B button. There is also a special move called the Power Squat Jump. Press and hold down to duck and after ducking for long enough you will start to flash. Jump while flashing to perform a very high jump.

In this game you cannot defeat enemies by simply jumping on them. In fact most enemies can be ridden safely with no damage to either you or them. When riding on an enemy you can pick it up and toss it into another enemy to defeat both of them. You will find grass on the ground all over the place in this game. You can stand on top of the grass and pluck it out of the ground to reveal an item. Most of the time this will be a vegetable that you can throw into enemies, and these come in ripe and unripe varieties. Other times it will be a useful item. You can find turtle shells that slide along the ground when thrown killing enemies just as in the original Super Mario Bros. Bombs will detonate after a few seconds so you need to get rid of them quickly, but they are useful for destroying crumbled blocks to open up passages. Occasionally you will find a Bob-Omb enemy that explodes almost instantly. You can also find 1up mushrooms that give you an extra life. If you happen to pull four ripe vegetables in a level, the fifth one will be replaced with a stopwatch that freezes all the enemies in place for a little while.

The most important item you find from a plant is a magic potion. Throw it into the ground to create a door leading to Sub-space. This is a shadowy, mirrored version of the current screen where the scrolling is locked into place. Here is where you will sometimes find a large mushroom that expands your life meter when you pick it up. You start each level with two points of health and there are two mushrooms in nearly every level that help increase your maximum health to four. These mushrooms are always in the same location when you play so you will need to enter Sub-space near where the mushroom is hidden to be able to grab it. Also in Sub-space any plants you pull up will reveal coins which I will explain what they are used for a little later. You can collect coins in Sub-space only twice per stage. Sub-space ends on its own after a short while unless you go back through the door, returning you back to the normal level to continue your journey.

Some places have both a mushroom and a lot of coins.

There are other useful items that are out in the open. Cherries can be found floating all over the levels. Collect five of them to spawn an invincibility Starman which rises up from the bottom of the screen. For every five enemies you defeat, a small heart will appear that restores one point of health. POW blocks shake the entire screen when thrown on the ground defeating every enemy touching the ground. Mushroom blocks can be thrown over and over again. You can use them to defeat enemies or stack them on top of each other to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. There are also keys that will unlock a nearby door, but beware of Phanto chasing you around whenever you carry the key.

At the end of each level, you must grab a crystal ball to open the mouth of a giant bird head. Usually the crystal ball is carried by the recurring mini-boss Birdo, but in some cases you find it alone. Proceed through the open bird mouth to clear the stage. It’s definitely weird the first time! Here you get to play a bonus chance slot machine game to earn extra lives. Each coin you collect in Sub-space gives you a chance at the slot machine. If you match three of the same icon you get an extra life. Cherries show up here and they award a little differently. If you get a cherry in the first slot you get one life, if you get cherries in the first two slots you get two lives, and if you get all three cherries you get five lives. It is possible to skillfully stop the slots in order to get the best prizes, and if you play well during the game you will have dozens of opportunities to try.

The last level in each world contains a boss battle at the end. There are five bosses in total. Mouser is a large rodent that tosses bombs at you. Tryclyde is a three-headed fire breathing snake. Fryguy is a floating plumb of fire. Clawgrip is a crab that throws rocks. The final boss Wart is a giant frog that shoots deadly bubbles at you. You won’t attack these bosses directly but fight them with the means given to you inside the boss chambers. The fights can be difficult but I find them to be interesting to play.

Fight fire with … mushroom blocks?

There are 20 levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 over 7 different worlds. Each world has an overall graphical theme but the levels themselves often deviate into other caves and areas. There are three levels within each of the first six worlds, and World 7 only has two stages to round out the 20 levels. You start the game with three lives and you are only allowed to continue twice if you run out of lives. The game is pretty long with no passwords or saving, though there are four hidden warp points that will bump you ahead in the game if you are able to find them. The lack of lives and continues does make the game pretty challenging overall, though this is mitigated by collecting coins and getting either skilled or lucky at the slot machine.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the earliest NES games I had growing up, so I have spent a lot of time playing it through the years. I have a relatively good memory of the game overall aside from many of the mushroom locations, but I am good enough at the game that I can get by without them. I knew this one would be pretty easy for me to clear once I sat down to play it.

To spice things up for my run of the game I used a random number generator on the side while playing to help select the character for each level of the game. It made things a little harder as some of the levels are best suited for one particular character. I ended up getting the Princess the most often though each character got a few stages of play. It was not a great run of the game for me as I feel I died far too often, but I managed to spread those deaths out enough that it wasn’t too repetitive. I captured footage of my playthrough and decided to edit out a bit of the backtracking after some deaths for my upload to YouTube. It really wasn’t necessary and maybe only saved a couple of minutes overall on the video.

Toad is not the best suited for tiny jumps like this.

I had a couple of interesting things happen during my run worth pointing out. During the Fryguy boss fight, we both defeated each other at the same time. I got the exit door to spawn during the death animation which was kind of cool. I had to do the battle over again though. I also triggered a glitch that I wasn’t aware of. In the second to last level, I managed to throw a mushroom block inside of a ladder. When that happens the mushroom overwrites the ladder tile but the color palette for that location stays intact, so the mushroom is the same color of the ladder until it is picked back up. I almost got it stuck in a spot where I couldn’t get through. That would have meant replaying the game from the start but I avoided that. A little further ahead I got another mushroom block stuck into the top of the ladder where I could pick it back up. I got it all captured on video!

Super Mario Bros. 2 provided a lot of new characters that persisted in future Mario games, such as Birdo, Shyguys, and Bob-Ombs. It also gave new life and personality to Luigi, Toad, and the Princess. Each of those characters has starred in their own game as well as had major supporting roles in other mainstream Mario titles and spin-offs. This game really left a lasting impression. I don’t think that it is publicly regarded as well as it should be and if true that’s a shame. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not just a good Mario game but a good game period and it’s one that should not be missed.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Ending Screen

#33 – Super Mario Bros 2.