In the summer of 1989 I was getting ready to enjoy an all-time rager of a birthday party as I was turning 8.  Just like in years past, before my friends were to arrive at my house my parents would give me presents earlier in the day.  One year it was a sweet cherry-red Schwinn 10-speed.  Another year it was a Disney guitar and microphone set.  In ’89 though, on that hot August day, I received a Nintendo Entertainment System and a copy of Blades Of Steel.  My life was complete.

“Legendary” is probably the best way to describe today’s special Throwback Thursday, #tbt, Blades of Steel.  It set the tone for all hockey video games going forward to this day.  Besides having a killer soundtrack, choreographed goal celebrations, and a mini-Contra game during the second intermission, there were a few other key ingredients that really made it an instant classic.

First and foremost, it was the fighting.  Bump into the guy with the puck three times in a row and the announcer would shout “Fight!”, in all his Optimus Prime sounding glory, and the gloves were off.  But what really made it great was if you lost the fight you went to the penalty box.  If you won the fight you just carried on with the puck and play continued.  I tended to soften ’em up with body shots and then end it with a vicious straight or uppercut.  The button mashing abuse controllers took from 8-year-olds trying to beat their buddy was unrelenting.

steel fight

Secondly, it was the basic game-play.  There were no off-sides.  Every player was a right-handed shot.  The body checking was endless.  It was kamikaze hockey really.  Featuring ping-pong style passes, (“Get’s the pass!”, “Get’s the pass!”), slappers taken from anywhere, while simultaneously controlling your goalie and skater at the same time.  The anxiety lasted the entire game.

steel gameplay

And the last great element to the game was the penalty shot.  The occurrence was as rare as a Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup victory in the last 25 years.  They didn’t happen often.  But when they did it was a big deal.  You had to get into a fight near the net in order to get a penalty shot, but players had usually got a shot off before it could get that far.  However, if the game was tied at the end of the 3rd period there would be a shootout using the penalty shot mode.  It was the equivalent of video game “paper, rock, scissors”.  Simply take a guess at what your opponent might do and hope you can beat it.  What’s more is you got to experience the game from a new visual angle, even if it was limited to 8-bit graphics.  

steel penalty shot

Yes, it didn’t get much better than all of that combined into one game.  As a child of the 80’s I always played with Edmonton, one of the 8 teams in Blades of Steel. My little innocent self would imagine I was Wayne Gretzky racing down the ice, ignoring off-sides, then fighting, then immediately picking up the puck and scoring to take a 12-9 lead.   It really was as close to the real thing as you could get.  And it was awesome.

(If you’re on a computer stuck at work feel free to click here to play Blades of Steel right now.  You’re welcome.)