Fat Men On Ice - Will a Gamer Survive?
It's nice to be back after one column and a prolonged absence. I promise on my dusty PC console that I will stick around a little longer this time. Anyway, last week my esteemed editor Senor Wolf sang the praises of one of my favorite PC games ever, Blades of Steel. Deciding not to let my boss hog all the hockey glory for himself, I decided to go further back in time for another one of my PC favorites: Ice Hockey.
Given the relatively primitive status of videogames like GTA V Crack when Ice Hockey was released, one would not be inclined to call the game "realistic." But it easily makes up for that with simple and fun gameplay. Six international teams are available, allowing players to recreate the Miracle on Ice and have the boys in blue take it to the Commies once again or create other stellar matchups with Sweden, Canada, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Each team has four players to a side as well as a goalie (as I said, not the most realistic version of hockey). Their sole object is to put the round black puck into the back of the net. Players can also modify the speed of the game to their preference.
Sounds rather standard, doesn't it? Well, Nintendo decided to throw a little strategy into the mix and let players decide what type of skaters they want on the ice. The three choices are fat, medium and skinny guys. Fat guys are not the most adept skaters, but they make up for it in terms of shot power and the ability to knock the puck away from the opposing team rather easily (as well as putting the opposing player flat on his keister). Skinny guys do not provide much in terms of physical play, but they can deke and motor down the ice like a fish in water. Obviously medium guys fall somewhere in between in terms of attributes. This simple little option offers healthy variety as well as a smattering of different styles of play. Players can make themselves a well-rounded team adequate in all areas or create a one-dimensional team with one type of player. Brave players can create a team of all skinny guys and hope that their combined speed makes up for their extraordinarily weak defense. Perhaps this player choice is a model of the speedy play of the Europeans against the banging physical style of the Westerners, but the fact that it's taken to an extreme makes it all the more fun.
Other fun touches abound in Ice Hockey and GTA V. Players may be able to get off a shot, but first they often have to fight off the advances of opposing players wanting to steal the puck, resulting in a frantic button-mashing competition. But if the scrum goes on too long, it turns into an all-out fight, with all the skaters joining the fray and the instigator getting hauled off to the sin bin for two minutes. Much like Blades of Steel after it, Ice Hockey offers manual control for the goalie, made manageable by the fact that skaters must stop before they shoot. The responsibility for saving the game falls all on the player's shoulders, and that little touch is a satisfaction missing from today's fast-moving sports games, where automated goalies can make or break a game. And let's not forget the little made-up game I created with friends, trying to center the three zambonis in the middle of the screen by pressing pause as they careen across the ice between periods.
Ice Hockey may show its age now, with its dated graphics and nuisances like a passing system that never works. But the emphasis with PC games (e.g. GTA V) has always been simplified fun, and Ice Hockey is a testament to that game design. It's not the most complex, it's not the most detailed, but the game is so fun that it's hard to put it down. That is a legacy that most games would be happy with.