With the sports world effectively shut down waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside, one way to get your fix is to play video games. But what if you’re not into the 2K life because… okay, because you’re washed.
Fortunately, for those of us whose gaming lives peaked with Nintendo, the Czech Republic has us covered at retro games dot cz. Presumably, since the site is the first thing that comes up when you Google “play tecmo bowl”, they’re not in any danger of getting shut down, but we’ll just leave it unlinked, just in case, so as not to blow up their spot.
And don’t worry, we’ll get to Tecmo Bowl, and its cousin, Tecmo Super Bowl, eventually. The thing is, we already know from having Googled “play tecmo bowl” in the past, that Tecmo Bowl does hold up, gloriously, after all these years. What about other games? We’ve got a lot of time on our hands, so let’s get started…
First up, it’s Ice Hockey!
I got into Ice Hockey, like so many other games as a kid, by renting it from Mr. Video III in Brooklyn, for $2 a pop. I took it out so many times that it finally made sense just to buy the dang thing. It grabs you right from the start with some classic 8-bit video game music, and you have your choice of six international teams: USA, Sweden, Poland (for some reason), Canada, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia.
The easy choice is the classic rivalry, Miracle on Ice revisited, USA vs. USSR.
It’s kind of weird that it’s 4-on-4, but you could also make a case that this game should be 3-on-3, with the lineup consisting of one of each of the player types. Skinny Guy is good at faceoffs, is fast, and gets knocked on his ass at the slightest touch. Medium Guy is boring and average at everything. Fat Guy has a rocket shot, knocks dudes over, and is slow as molasses. My lineup choice was always one of each, plus an extra fat guy, which also is what the computer selects for the Soviets.
As gameplay starts, the music is still great, the graphics are smooth, and the AI is… pretty much nonexistent. Players out of your control just skate everywhere, with no real rhyme or reason.
When your goalie has the puck and you attempt a pass, he just kind of fires it into the ether, not to a teammate. For me, this meant a very quick 1-0 lead for the USSR after a pass directly to Fatty Fatonov, who unleashed an uncontested slapper from the goalmouth.
Defense is more of a challenge than I remember, and I’m quickly down 2-0 after I finally manage to check a Russian, but the loose puck skitters into the net because the goalie, for some inexplicable reason, moves in tandem with the defensive player being controlled. It’s 3-0 on a sharp angle shot by Skinny Skinnyov, and then it’s 4-0 before the end of the first period when the American goalie manages to put the puck in his own net.
Despite the score, I don’t feel like I’m playing terribly, like I’m just a couple of passes away from getting some offense going. Sure enough, early in the second period, I manage to weave through the Soviet zone with my own Skinny Guy, find Fat Guy, who managed to get to some open ice, and blast one home to get me on the board. The hopes for a rally are dashed in relatively short order by another defensive zone catastrophe that allows for an easy Soviet goal, but the good news is that the second intermission is Zamboni time.
The answer to, “Does this game hold up?” is here, and the answer is yes, because I loved this silly little sequence as a kid, and I love it now, right down to the bobbing heads on the mask-wearing Zamboni drivers. The music is perfect, too.
The game is basically over at 5-1, but I’m going to see this through and see what I can salvage. And what I can salvage is getting into a fight with those commie bastards.
While timed in a way that would be in keeping with hockey norms, the fight really is a result of some good defense, and a puck battle that went on too long.
Unfortunately, because it was my own Fat Guy who started it, he’s the one who goes to the penalty box. (This would later be revolutionized in Blades of Steel, where the loser of a fight would have to go to the box, but whatever.)
In this case, getting a pound of flesh from the Russians might be the highlight of the affair, except…
Are the Russians winning this game handily? Yes.
Am I playing a Russian hacker instead of the computer? Possibly.
Have I spent the last several minutes somewhat embarrassed on behalf of my 8-year-old self? Yes.
Is this the only thing that matters to me about this entire game? Hell yes.
Do the Russians score almost immediately on the still-going power play, finishing up the game at 6-2? You bet they do. Does that matter? No, it does not.
If the mark of a good game is that you can still have fun when you’re getting your ass handed to you by a Russian Bot, pretty much the entire time, then Ice Hockey fits the bill.
It’s a flawed game, for sure. There’s no reason for it to be 4-on-4, passing the puck is a lottery that you’ll most often lose, and defense is a veritable joke, and yet…
I can’t wait to fire up the game again and wipe the blank expressions off their stupid Soviet faces.