Puttin’ on the foil
Back in the early 90’s, before gamers threw their hard earned quarters into NBA Jam machines, most turned to Midway’s Arch Rivals to get their arcadey-sports fix. The no-foul, backboard shattering, punch until your opponent loses the ball antics were the perfect way for two buddies to kill some time while their girlfriends shopped in the various stores around the mall. Taito’s attention was grabbed when they noticed that not only basketball fans were pumping quarters into Midway’s basketball game, but even gamers who had never even touched a basketball in their lives were able to join the fun. They needed a way to get into the exaggerated sports game market but what sport would play well in that “no rules” environment? Hockey, of course!
Hit the Ice found its way into arcades in 1990, 3 years before Midway’s NBA Jam. The cabinet featured 4-player, 2-on-2 (and a computer controller goalie) hockey action that, like Arch Rivals, had a “Do whatever it takes to win” attitude. Players could buddy-up with a teammate and check, slash, and fight their way to victory. If you found yourself down by a few goals you could buy an energy drink to give you a much needed boost just by dropping another quarter into the machine. There were only 2 teams: Red and Blue, but a pool of 12 players each with different special moves were available to choose from. The game was quick, colorful, and extremely fun. A console port would be a perfect opportunity to make Taito some extra dough and get this in the home of gamers who wanted to continue to play even after their girlfriends were finished shopping.
Hit the Ice body checked its way to the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Turbografx 16 (reviewed), and NES. The NES version was completed but never was released to the public. It featured roleplaying-like elements in which players abilities could be upgraded after each game. If you’re interested in the NES version don’t fret, it’s easily obtainable via rom.
Like the arcade version, the Turbografx 16 port features versus play where players can choose the same players available in the arcades and have them play on either the Red or Blue team. Unlike the other ports that only feature 1 to 2 players, up to 4 players can join in the fun on the Turgografx if a Turbo Tap is available. If you are playing by yourself on a team, you’re also responsible for controlling your teammate by calling for passes or shots, and your goalie. The goalie control is similar to other NES hockey games like Blades of Steel and Ice Hockey where your goalie will move in tandem with your forward. If you’ve ever played any of the games previously mentioned you realized that this can get pretty frustrating, especially when facing a barrage of shots. Hit the Ice does follow the same 3-period rules that real life hockey follows, but instead of 20 minute periods, the periods are cut down to 5 minutes.
In addition to the versus mode that the arcade provides, the Turbografx version features a Championship mode and shootout mode called Shot Race. In Championship mode you control the Red team and must defeat 4 other teams to become the Video Hockey League Champions. Shot Race mode features two skaters vs a goalie in a timed event where you just shoot the puck as much as possible in hopes of scoring. There really isn’t much to this mode and once I completed it, I didn’t see much reason to go back.
Gameplay-wise, the Turbografx 16 version of Hit the Ice falters. It’s hard to pinpoint where they went wrong here, but ultimately I believe it’s because the players are too small. The players seem to move just as fast as the arcade game, even faster than the 16-bit ports, but since they’re smaller it takes an eternity to make your way from one side of the rink to the other. This feels totally out of place considering hockey is coined to be “The fastest game on earth”. To make this version feel even slower is the clock that runs in real-time, meaning that it’s not sped up like EA’s hockey series. It’ll take you 15 minutes to complete a game but when you add in all the stoppages due to goals being scored you’re looking at 30-40 minute games, which is extremely long for an arcade sports title. I’ve completed hour long games where the score ended with 30 total goals being scored. This is due to the fact that the goalies all seem to be fans picked from the stands that’ve never played a hockey game in their lives. Don’t get me started on playing the Black team, who is the final team you must defeat to win the championship. Those guys fight every 10 seconds meaning that my championship game lasted almost an hour and a half! If you happen to lose the fight your skater will skate a smidge slower making the game feel even more like a drag. I didn’t have this issue playing either of the 16-bit versions even though those games featured slower skaters. The game will speed up a bit if you happen to find yourself down by 5 goals. If you’re in this situation your team will be given an energy drink to give a much needed speed boost, which is the equivalent of putting in an extra quarter on the arcade cabinet.
As for presentation the Turbografx version does well enough. It looks just as colorful as its arcade counterpart and overwhelmingly the most colorful port, but then again, the players are significantly smaller and not as detailed. The ice doesn’t degrade like the Genesis version, but does look bright, blue, and clean. Fans throw all kinds of debris over the glass and seeing a bottle shatter at a player’s feet never gets old. Each and every player can be picked out due to them all having their own distinct features and the fans all seem to have several different personalities. Sadly, missing in this version is the random ghost in the crowd holding up a sign that simply says “Boo”. Nonetheless, all versions of Hit the Ice are full of that old school charm. Unfortunately, the audio doesn’t hold up as well as the visuals. Everything sounds muffled and certain phrases like “Why I oughta!” often gets clipped when the same action is repeated over and over again. This is one game where I turn the volume down and just listen to my own music while playing.
The Turbografx 16’s version of Hit the Ice is an average addition to an otherwise amazing library. There are only two hockey games available for the console so it’s nice to at least have more than one option, but neither is stellar. I recently had a retro-game party and we decided to play Hit the Ice. It was fun for the first period but once we realized it took us 15 minutes to play 5 minutes of hockey, we decided to call it quits and play another game. I suggest picking up the Sega Genesis port of this title if you want hard-hitting hockey action similar to the arcade game.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Turbografx 16 (reviewed), Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Arcade, Publisher: Taito; Developer: Taito; Players: 1-4 ; Released: 1990