But, it's hard to imagine how anyone can confuse Hockey with any other sport. The speed, the hits, the excitement are all part of Hockey's greatness and uniqueness, but when it comes to Hockey video games, the sport was not always so distinguishable. Often confused with Soccer or Table Tennis in the early days, Hockey's video game history begins with the early Pong machines.
So, what were the games like? The pong systems incorporated a dial-like controller, so movement was limited along a single plane. The "Hockey" games were often similar to Soccer games, which were similar to table tennis, etc. And the Hockey ones were basically the same as the other pong games, sometimes adding another paddle to simulate the three forwards in the game. Sound was almost non-existent, but the early programmers didn't have much to work with. With more resources and experience, the games would start to develop into something great, something worthy of Lord Stanley's cup.
Intellivision hit the market with its major league franchise sports, NHL Hockey (1980), a great two-player romp, but still needed a single player mode. Three players a side, hits, penalties and crowd noise added to the action. The NHL franchise was for marketing only, and no players, teams or even logos are present in the actual game. Later, near the death of the Intellivision, the NHL licensing is removed, and Super Pro Slap Shot Hockey is released with a one-player version and little else. Unfortunately, a four-player version of Hockey was never planned, even though the ECS adapter eventually supported it.
Atari unfortunately didn't release a Hockey game for its VCS line (other than the Video Olympics pong version), but Activision's Ice Hockey (1981) was a simple classic, and made up the void left by Atari. Offering one or two player action, hits and the unusual use of geometry to score goals, the game was a popular seller for the Activision in its early years. There were two players to each side (including the goalie).
The Colecovision and Vectrex systems, neither strong in their sports lineup, never released Hockey games. Damn, I was hoping for a good version of vector Hockey too. I guess I'll have to wait for a homebrew.
Commodore-- anyone who thought that the battle was only Atari vs. Intellivision was wrong. Atari was fighting a home computer battle against evil Commodore, and losing out badly. It comes as no surprise that Slapshot (1984) was a great Hockey game then, much better than anything on Atari. It captured the feel of being at the rink with crowd noise, digitized voices, penalties and intense action. It also offered us the first time to raise the puck off the ice level. This game reminds me of Blades of Steel (1987) because you still control your goalie as you move your other players. But, there's one thing that I still don't get--the game uses international teams (thumbs up), but it has defensive zones longer than two football fields (thumbs down). It still plays a little like Soccer, mainly from the supersized ice rink.
Finally, Bally/Sente arrives with a good, realistic, one-on -one Hockey game. It had sharp graphics, skate trails, and even a Zamboni that cleaned the ice after games. Hat Trick (1984), was considered one of the better arcade sports games of the early 1980's and lead the way for great games like Blades of Steel.
Finally, we end with the Great Video Game Industry crash. As the market has been flooded with terrible games, sales slump and funding for new games dries up. Projects are shelves and many companies file for bankruptcy. But, the end is not near, the video game industry is just re-balancing itself, and clearing out the junk, like cleaning the ice for the next period of action. Great Hockey games are still to be made, including Blades of Steel (1987), Face-off (1989), Wayne Gretzky's Hockey (1989), Hit the Ice (1990) and EA's arrival into the sport. More next time.