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Blades Of Steel
Tearing the wrapping paper off this, the greatest ice hockey game ever made, on my thirteenth birthday and playing it for as long as possible before sulking off to school was the moment I came to appreciate how much more important games are than education.
Sixteen underachieving years later, my overdue return to the ice on Virtual Console was rather memorable as well, culminating in a 9-8 victory after five punch-ups, quadruple saves from both goalies and the most enjoyable action I've garnered from any sports game.
NES Blades Of Steel isn't arcade perfect, it's better than the coin-op and technically perfect in its own way. Proceedings enjoy a serpentine fluidity, heightened by an aggressive pace. If the movements of the players and puck aren't 100% authentic, they're perfect for a videogame. Brutally competitive action has players regularly crashing into each other and breaking into violent confrontations.
When two opponents have a particularly savage altercation the action zooms in and a boxing match takes place. It's no Street Fighter II, but knocking your opponent's five lights out and watching him dragged to his side's bench as you skate off with the puck is the sweetest of things.
The goalies play a central role in making the game such a gripping contest. Unlike many sports games, especially football titles, they are controlled manually, going a long way to explaining the kind of scoreline I mentioned earlier. They're no pushovers, though, leaving little room in the goal to shoot past - and if you get too near their goal, they'll flatten you.
Presentation and options are kept to a minimum for an immediate pick up and play experience with non-stop action. While I could claim Blades Of Steel to be to ice hockey what Konami's ISS64 would later become to football, it's really the Sensible Soccer of the ice rink.
You even get to play a spot of Gradius during intervals. It is the gift that keeps on giving.