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Blades of Steel (NES) artwork

Blades of Steel (NES) review


"Grab a couple controllers, a couple of drinks, and a couple of good buds and spend an evening working on that slapshot. You wonít regret it."



Confession time: I donít like sports. I donít watch sports. I donít know the rules that govern most sports. By and large, I donít play sports games. With that said, Iíve spent countless hours over the years shredding the ice in Konamiís NES classic, Blades of Steel. That was the beauty of sports games on the system: they offered fun and addictive gameplay experiences that were easy to pick up and hard to put down. When it comes to 8-bit sports titles, this is one of the best out there, and even a non-sports fan like me can appreciate that.

The beauty of Blades of Steel is its simplicity. Part of this stems from the design of the NES controller. You have a pass button and a shoot button, and beyond that itís a matter of navigating the rink and lining up that perfect shot into the goal. There arenít stamina meters or individual ratings for players. The teams are interchangeable, for that matter, and it give guys like me the ability to choose a team for no other reason than the fact that their uniforms have a cool color scheme. Blades of Steel doesnít get bogged down in trying to accurately replicate the game of hockey. Instead, it offers up an accessible and highly entertaining arcade portrayal of a sport that is admittedly nowhere near as popular as football or basketball in the U.S.

If Blades of Steel played the way it plays at the expense of everything else, it would probably still have been a fun little diversion on the NES, especially back in 1988. Couple its core elements with the detailed presentation that Konami packed into this game, though, and it becomes something truly special. From the moment the teams take to the ice, it becomes clear that a lot of effort went into making sure that Blades of Steel captured the energy and feel of a live hockey event, even though all the players are sprites.

Those sprites are impressive, however, I must say. Players are large and move around the rink as realistically as possible on an 8-bit cartridge, and they slide and maneuver around members of the opposing team with crisp animations that provide an almost 3D level of depth. The crowd in the stands animates excitedly, and even the referee has an air of realism, with finely detailed blades on his skates. When players get into a fight, the game switches to giant sprites that duke it out with punishing jabs and crushing body blows. Penalty shots show off yet another look at the action, taking on a behind-the-shooter camera angle as the goalie tries his best to anticipate where the puck is going to fly and intercept it. This is a graphical powerhouse that even today impresses me.

Beyond the graphics and all those little details that make this game such a joy to watch (the newspaper photo for the winning team always makes me smile), I canít stress enough how great the sound design is for this title. From that announcer informing you of the name of the game at the title screen to the catchy player intro music, Blades of Steel did things at the time that I hadnít seen before. A decent amount of digitized voice work bestows a sense of realism to the game, while the ever present roar of the crowd adds a sense of scale. Although the matches are played with no background music, there are a handful of great sound effects that never fail to get me pumped for more hockey. Itís the whistle of the ref and the organ music played for a goal that ties this production together and fleshes it out.

The style and flair that Blades of Steel offer is thankfully enough to disguise how shallow the game is when it comes to modes of play. Simply put, there are only Exhibition and Tournament settings. This makes sense given the era in which this game was made, but anyone who goes in expecting a career mode or anything like that will still be disappointed. I always stick to Exhibition mode because the games are lengthy to begin with, and the Tournament mode doesnít have a save feature.

Letís be perfectly honest, though, and acknowledge that this game was really made for multiplayer gaming. Thatís certainly how I most enjoyed this title over the years, thanks to hundreds and hundreds of games played with my cousin. Blades of Steel really shines with a human manning the second controller, as the computer is a breeze on Junior setting but can get downright vicious as you move up to the College and Pro difficulties. With a second player in the room, every failed pass is a little more soul crushing and every goal that was banked off of the knee pads of a goalie is a little more exhilarating.

Itís true that Iím not a big sports fan, but when a game has this level of polish and precision, even I sit up and take notice. The list of sports games that Iíve spent a lot of time with over the years is very short, but Blades of Steel without a doubt resides near the very top. Itís a game that shouldnít be missed, and one that can usually be found for a song. So grab a couple controllers, a couple of drinks, and a couple of good buds and spend an evening working on that slapshot. You wonít regret it.

Rating: 9/10

AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (May 17, 2013)

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