[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Loren Lemcke’s Super Blood Hockey is an indie throwback to the yesteryears of gaming; an 8-bit inspired love-letter to the NES NHL classics designed around simple mechanics, bare-knuckle fun, and more about the pure enjoyment of hockey rather than the technical structures of the real-life sport.
Lemcke’s outing also combines a little bit of the Mutant League element to the gameplay by throwing in buckets of gore and blood during the matches, and sometimes even after.
The core of the gameplay is rather simple: you have a check, a pass, a shot, and a switch-player button. That’s it.
The simple face-button setup means that you’re relying more-so on how you utilize those skills rather than any technical combination between the four. For instance, if you hold down the shot button or the pass button you can charge up your swing.
While this might sound like it adds an extra bit of layer to the game, it really doesn’t. You won’t be relying much on charged shots because they’re unreliable and usually will result in you passing the puck off to the opposing side… unless, of course, you reduce the puck’s elasticity by completing the challenge mode. But I’ll get to that later.
For the gameplay, there are no rules. There’s a ref there but all he’s good for is getting in the way.
If you body-check your opponents too often, and they return the favor, a fight will break out and you’ll engage in a mini-game where you have to throw hands with your opponents in a team brawl.
Don’t get your hopes up too high about the fact that all eight of you can engage in some massive brawls. The fighting is definitely the weakest part of the game given that it’s tough to see where your character is on-screen during the brawl because it focuses on those directly involved on the brawl and not the player-character. So this means you have to go to the fight, instead of the fight coming to you.
Another problem is that the fighting mechanics, while simplistic, are a little difficult to make out. Pixels blend, characters flash, and you’re mostly spamming the attack button in hopes that you’re hitting the right guys. It’s an orchestrated orgy of chaotic fisticuffs.
That may sound enticing to some, but it’s the lack of coherency during the fights that makes it hard to follow and far less enjoyable than it should be. The fighting also isn’t entirely clean. As I mentioned, it’s tough to tell who is hitting who at times when everyone gets jumbled together. A better way of setting it up would have been to pair off the players and have them duke it out in a back and forth fight until everyone is beat up and beat down.
I think NHL 94 still has one of the best fighting systems on the Sega Genesis because it’s simple and clean. Despite being highly pixelated, the game kept the fighting visible and focused on the players engaged in the fight. While the latter games had better sprites and clearer visuals, the fighting wasn’t quite as satisfying because the animations weren’t as concise and the hit/reaction became more muddled.
In the case of Super Blood Hockey, I found that body-checking opponents was more satisfying than the actual fights. The clumsy rumble of rolling fists could use some sprucing up and clarity, which would make it infinitely more enjoyable.
Beyond the fighting and the passing, and shooting, there isn’t much else as far depth goes. Scoring is either calculated or random – sometimes the puck will bounce off something and slip behind the net, other times the goalie will be a terminator on the defense, preventing anything from getting by. The only way to properly score based on skill is to have to players approach from the top and bottom of the opponent’s net and wait for the goalie to either follow one of the players up or down, and then quickly pass the puck to the opposite player to score the goal at the part of the net where the goalie isn’t situated.
The AI isn’t very bright, and the difficulty settings – ranging from ‘Easy’ to ‘Pro’ – center around the AI’s aggressive and how often they check and pass as opposed to to actually utilizing skill.
And speaking of passing… it’s only really good in the situation I mentioned above about scoring. Other times you’ll likely only pass when attempting to get out of a bind behind the net, otherwise passing seems to put the puck in the safekeeping of your opponent’s stick more often than not.
This leads to a rather frustrating position in terms of gauging the gameplay loops of Super Blood Hockey. The lack of rules should make it seem more intense and over the top like Mutant League Hockey, but instead it just means you just check your opponents incessantly and fire off as many shots toward the net as possible. It’s definitely more 8-bit oriented than 16-bit oriented.
Another issue is that there are only three game modes: Exhibition, Tournament, and Challenge Mode.
Exhibition matches are exactly what they sound like, you can choose the length of the match, the team, and the playing conditions or match modifiers. Tournament play would be the closet to a “Career” mode that the game has; you pick a team and attempt to battle through three other teams to become number one. If you lose you’re greeted to a super violent game over screen. If you win you’re treated to a victory screen.
Each country has their own game over and victory screen, so losing will provide you with a chuckle or two.
Beyond that there’s the option to unlock new gameplay modifiers through the Challenge Mode. Each challenge has different requirements to complete, from having to win a match while facing off against double the amount of opponents, to manually having to play the goalie, to having a massive 12 vs 12 fight where nothing but chaos ensues. It’s a nice little touch that adds an extra element of replay value to the package.
Some of the modifiers make a bigger difference during the gameplay than others. Changing, for instance, the weight of the players will either speed everything up or slow everything down – this will also depend on the three different character classes you choose for your line-up, since some classes are faster/slower than others. Other features like ramping up the blood spillage doesn’t do much but add to the visual spectacle of seeing blood pour out onto the ice rink. Unfortunately, changing the blood doesn’t seem to do much else.
One upside to the game is that it does support local multiplayer for up to four players, which could make for some good afternoon fun by bringing over some buddies and playing in the tournament mode. Unfortunately, it’s only local multiplayer and not online, so you will need real-life friends to take advantage of the mode.
Personally, it’s not quite as enjoyable for me as NHL 94 was on the Sega Genesis, but it’s likely going to appeal to gamers who have a sweet tooth for the NES nostalgia act. At $7.99 it’s hard to justify going all in, but it might be worth trying first just to see if it’s to your liking.
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