It’s a hockey game I wouldn’t recommend to a hockey fan.
That seems a rather damning statement, but I mean it. And that’s not a bad thing.
Hear me out.
EA Sports has cornered the hockey market over the last several years, providing the only true home console hockey experience for video game enthusiasts. Through the annual release of their ‘NHL’ franchise, EA Sports provides the most authentic hockey experience in gaming today. While some would argue the experience could be improved upon, there’s no doubting that the NHL series is the choice for simulated puck.
Remember back to those days when hockey games weren’t focused on the authentic experience? When your only options were trying to decide whether or not you wanted a team full of ‘fatties’ or a quick quartet of ‘skinnies’?
Ice Hockey on the Nintendo Entertainment System was the first hockey adventure for many gamers of my generation, and to this day, provides an excellent arcade experience. There’s no stats or seasons. No trades or online leagues. It’s plug and play, and it’s a lot of fun.
A few years later, during the 16-bit era, Electronic Arts released a game called ‘Mutant League Hockey’. While EA was trying to satisfy hockey gamers with a more simulated experience with ever improving technology, they also catered to the player who wanted that arcade joy. And not just any hockey experience; the stereotypical hockey experience that focused on blood, fighting and violence.
Twenty years after all of that, a developer has harnessed that experience and released it with a very transparent title.
Super Blood Hockey.
“As a kid, I subscribed to the philosophy that violence and blood makes video games better,” says the game’s developer, Loren Lemcke. “This may have started when I learned the blood code for Mortal Kombat and my child self thought it was the coolest thing ever. I guess all those concerned parents who spoke out against video game violence and tried to censor video games only had the opposite effect on me, making it more appealing and cool. Hockey is just better with violence.”
At first glance, Super Blood Hockey portrays a nice resemblance to Ice Hockey on the NES, minus the blood and gore of Lemcke’s indie release. While the black box original was one of the many influences in the development of Super Blood Hockey, Lemcke notes it’s inspiration came from a variety of areas, including arguably the first ever video game produced; Pong.
“NES Ice Hockey is definitely one of the many influences, but it’s important to note that it is just one game of many in the Pong-Hockey genre (A game that is basically a complicated version of pong dressed up to mimic hockey),” Lemcke told me via e-mail. “It is certainly one of the better and more memorable games of the genre in my opinion, but for example, the NES Ice Hockey goaltending mechanics appear in several games before it. Hat Trick, which was released 4 years prior in 1984, features the same goaltending mechanic, which itself was a natural evolution from several early variants on pong made to resemble a form of hockey, e.g. William’s Pro Hockey (1973).”
“The goaltender-as-a-pong-paddle mechanic is a defining characteristic of the Pong-Hockey genre so that is something I wanted to recreate in Super Blood Hockey.”
Aside from the over-the-top violence and pixelated bloodshed, what makes Super Blood Hockey appealing to the average gamer is the ability to just pickup and play, with no previous experience necessary.
For Lemcke, finding a hockey game in today’s market that offered that experience, wasn’t an easy task.
“A few years ago, I was searching Steam for a hockey video game to play but didn’t find what I was looking for,” Lemcke recalled. “I had always loved playing hockey video games since I was a little kid and I would sometimes dream about this idea for a hockey game that was sort of like one part NHL 94, one part NBA Jam, and one part Mortal Kombat. I saw a gap in the market, so I figured I would make my version of a hockey video game to fill it.”
So how does the game play?
Well, for someone familiar with Ice Hockey, the similarities are evident and comforting. There’s the ability to select from three different player types and if you’re comparing it to the NES game the Enforcer (Fat), Playmaker (Medium) and Sniper (Skinny) all offer different advantages and disadvantages over the others. You can put together any foursome of your choosing, opting for a nice balanced lineup, or going with a quartet of the same players.
You’ll also notice that rather than compete in a world of made up teams based on various international cities, Super Blood Hockey adopts the international options, allowing players to select from a handful of countries from around the globe. Once agian, you can re-live those Canada/USA, Sweden/Finland rivalries in all it’s 8-bit glory.
And rivalries? Well, that’s part of the fun. Super Blood Hockey is a violent mess. There’s no penalties, and fighting and violence is extremely encouraged.
In fact, there’s a 12-on-12 mode (!) that is as insane as it sounds. Twelve players skating all over the ice and given such a confined space, there’s not a lot of room to move. That means plenty of players bumping into each other. And when players get bumped, they get angry, and when they get angry…
It’s a bloodbath.
“In general, I want Super Blood Hockey to have a balance of gameplay and raw violence, but the 12 on 12 mode is definitely more focused on the violence and chaos,” Lemcke says. “I think offering variations on the core gameplay formula is a good way to give a new flavor to the game.”
The 12-on-12 is so focused on raw violence that during my various playthroughs of the mode, I could barely register a shot on goal, let alone score, due in large part to having the players instigate fights every few seconds. Some may get frustrated by that, but I can honestly say that I had a large smile throughout. It’s a mode I think would be better served through local co-op than a one player romp.
Speaking of violence, the fighting is a treat in itself. Rather than a 1-on-1 scrap, every player on the ice squares off in a large, group fight. Players can team up against each other and attack from both sides in an attempt to knock the other guys out. The last team standing wins, and the losing squad will have one of their players sit out. But, rather than sit in a penalty box a la Blades of Steel, the losing player will squirm on the ice with his entrails sticking out our blood spurting in a pixelated, bloody display.
As I mentioned previously, this game screams for multiple players and while local co-op is a great option, the ability to enjoy online multiplayer isn’t currently available. That’s not to suggest it may never happen, according to Lemcke.
“There isn’t anyone in the world who wants online multiplayer more than myself,” he says. “The bottom line is, it’s a very time consuming and complicated task to execute, let alone for a single person. There are some specific qualities about Super Blood Hockey that makes the problem even harder. Specifically syncing a fast paced, networked physics simulation where accuracy is paramount (small errors could create a situation where a goal occurs on one computer but not another) is quite the complicated task to do well.”
“I am definitely going to attempt to do this, but I am not in a position where I can guarantee it.”
There’s a handful of small details that really add to the game’s charm. Cut scenes portraying pixelated executions upon losing a game…getting run over by the zamboni at intermissions while trying to get off the ice…fireworks and over-the-top goal celebrations….there’s a lot of little nuances that just provide an fun experience with Super Blood Hockey.
And I think that’s what I enjoy most about the game. There’s not a plethora of game modes or long-term continuity. There’s no sense of realism, seasons or kept stats. And there’s no distinct differentiation between teams aside from name and colour. In fact, you could institute a ‘quick play random mode’ into Super Blood Hockey where a player hits a button and every option is randomized and the game would still play relatively the same way.
That’s not to suggest that it’s a bad thing either. As I mentioned, Super Blood Hockey is a fun experience, with the most emphasis on having an enjoyable time while playing it. It’s not a game where you’re going to sit and have long, marathon type sessions (though having a few friends over and a few drinks would make this a fantastic party game) but it’s a game that you can return to time and again for short stints and enjoy it’s simplistic, completely overboard violence and still smile each time.
And I’m not sure how I’ve made this far into the review, and not mentioned how this game sounds. Super Blood Hockey has an awesome soundtrack, one that you can purchase as DLC for dirt cheap, too. The music just compliments the action so well.
Is Super Blood Hockey for everyone? No. In fact, if you’re a pure hockey gamer, I wouldn’t recommend it to you either.
But I dare you to play it and not have a great time doing so.
Super Blood Hockey ($8.79 CAD / Steam)
Developer: Loren Lemcke
Made in: Finland
ARCADE-STYLE HOCKEY ACTION! Travel back to a time when sports games were all about the action. Customize your lineup and use superior skating, positioning, strategy and violence to assert your dominance on the ice.
CRUNCHY RETRO PIXELATED GORE! Experience brutality on ice like you’ve never witnessed before: blood splattering collisions, brain-scrambling head injuries, bloody vomiting spells and violent seizures.
MIND MELTING CHIPTUNE SOUNDTRACK! Enjoy the driving retro beats of an original soundtrack by chiptunist Shawn Daley.
4-PLAYER LOCAL MULTIPLAYER! Paint the ice with the blood of your friends!
GLOBAL SHOWDOWN! Take on the world in a global ice hockey tournament. Failure to secure victory for your nation could result in your execution.
CHALLENGE MODE! Conquer a variety of difficult challenges (4 vs. 8, manual goalie control, etc.) and fun scenarios (12 vs 12 Mega Rumble, Turbo Mode, etc.).
CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT! The release is not the end! Voice your opinion in the discussion forum and tell me what else you would like to see in the game!
*For the best experience a gamepad is highly recommended (e.g. Steam Controller, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation + many others will work with emulation) – The game can also be played with only a keyboard.
**This game was reviewed with a purchased, retail copy