Educational Power Play
Super Blood Hockey reminds me that I will go to my grave thanking God for the incidental educational power of gaming. They taught me football, western geography, how to fish, how to manage a budding theme park, conduct a train, and soon, they’ll teach me how to not be so intimidated by how a car works.
Sports games like Super Blood Hockey are perhaps the best teachers, abstracting a game to its basic principles to educate an open-minded audience. Madden, NBA 2K, UFC, you name it. If there’s a sport I love, a video game brought me to it.
These days one wonders if games have become too focused on being everything a game is versus how a game feels.
In that regard, NES Hockey was the first sports game I ever played. As a pudgy kid I made everyone fat and had no idea what I was doing beyond the basics. I don’t remember much more than that white hot flash of a memory. Learning hockey. Making fat players. Customization. I needed more.
And Super Blood Hockey, all these years later, provides it. If nostalgia is cynically commoditized youth, then Super Blood Hockey lends that term undue credibility. Super Blood Hockey goes beyond cynical homage and treads in evocation, and in the interest of personal disclosure, if you can’t tell from above, this game hits me right in the childhood – and has since I first laid eyes on it.
They Call Me The STICK
But first, the basics. Super Blood Hockey is an arcade-style 8ish-bit arcade hockey game with a focus on simple, smooth controls, on-the-fly strategy, and fighting. Despite the “Super Blood” in the name and the ability to turn the gore up to levels not seen since the elevator in The Shining, the real revelation here is how focused and centered the whole game is around delivering a quality arcade hockey experience, the likes of which folks haven’t had for what feels like decades.
On the ice, the game controls exactly as expected. A button for pass, a button for shoot, and then a button for punching when on defense. There’s no turbo button or crazy “hold trigger” combinations. Pass, shoot, score, rinse, repeat. Simple, really. Save for all the blood.
Scoring a goal through strategy or dumb luck is as joyous as you’d expect, and the loop of defense, offense, shooting, and brawling is simply enthralling. Additionally, players have body sizes that define their roles, and stats that affect passing and shooting accuracy, durability, speed, and how ‘loose’ they feel moving around the ice.
But Super Blood Hockey changes some pesky rules, too. This version of the sport has no icing penalty, the goalie cannot be pulled or leave the net or grab the puck, and The only ‘power plays’ occur in favor of the team that wins a brawl.
This is hockey’s essence, not a simulation, and it’s better for it. EA”s NHL series is woefully complicated, opting to bring the ‘NHL experience’ to players with complex controls and detailed physics and shot and stick tricks and line changes. Putting it another way, if EA NHL is over-prepared fillet mignon, Super Blood Hockey is the best hockey-flavored McDonalds cheeseburger of all time.
And speaking of McDonalds, Super Blood Hockey features a franchise mode that is silly, charming, and perhaps a touch shallow. Playing through three seasons and failing to win it all each time, it’s possible there’s progression lurking once you score the gold, but I’m confident in reporting this mode remains a delight, if not a touch of a slog.
Managing a prison hockey league, the game takes on a top-down RPG aesthetic and has you managing players diets, workouts, recovery, and recreational drug activity (which you buy in an alleyway). After each game on your calendar, your players sustain stat increases and ‘brain damage’. The higher the brain damage, the more likely they are to die on the ice. As your players with the most brain damage are also likely to be the most experience, you may find yourself ‘saving’ your best players for the playoffs, while slotting in some rookie players who might not have the goods.
So, while this isn’t particularly in-depth, it is charming, and stays out of the way of gameplay in the best way. Super Blood Hockey absolutely needed a mode to keep players coming back, and this is it. If Franchise was too easy, or too complicated, it would be easy to brush it off. As it stands now, Franchise feels just about right, erring on the side of keeping the player focused on gameplay, versus the minutiae of day-to-day player management.
Ultimately, when you judge a video game, you have to view in two ways. The first is its value. Does this game provide me quality entertainment for my purchasing dollar, and when I am done, will I feel like I got my money’s worth? Second is as art form. Did the creator or creators of this title execute on their vision and deliver the product they promised to garner the desired reaction from its viewers and purchasers?
And in both cases, the answer is a resounding yes, but that’s not to say Super Blood Hockey is for everyone. If you hate sports or hate the notion of micromanaging players by walking up to every single one to adjust their stats, or *do* want crazy line shifts and icing penalties and trick-stick knucklepucks, Super Blood Hockey may disappoint due to its relatively streamlined nature.
Simple but not boring. Silly but not a joke, and fun as all get out, Super Blood Hockey has delivered the game children of the early 90s always wanted from their sports titles. Mr. Loren Lemcke, the eight year old inside us all, wants to say hello, and thanks for making this delightful game.