Released in 1991 by Sega
This is a cute side-scrolling 5-on-5 hockey game that moves fast and has a decent amount of hockey-like chaos happening. It’s charming enough for a few rounds with some friends, and it’s worth the $5 price tag for avid hockey gamers, but doesn’t come close to the immediate appeal of EA’s NHL series.
Where it falls in the series
It’s by itself with no proper follow-up version, but the engine was repackaged for Super Slap Shot on Super Nintendo, released in 1993 by Virgin Interactive.
Hockey translates so well to video games that even this primitive effort is decent fun for a while. The action moves swiftly. The controls are simple. Smart passing and timely shooting are properly rewarded. The puck bounces and slides around in unpredictable ways. And there’s a decent balance between the amount of open space and the speed of the players.
The visuals have a familiar retro vibe to them. This feels like a more realistic, 16-bit update to the beloved NES games Blades of Steel and Ice Hockey.
The control is just a little off in every way. Skating feels needlessly tricky; tight turns and hard stops make you feel out of control for a moment. The passes aren’t quite crisp enough. Checking actually works okay, but it certainly doesn’t look like it has the “oomph” needed to knock a pro hockey player down. And oddly, the pass and “switch player” commands are assigned to different buttons, which is pretty counterintuitive.
There are frequent fights that are surprisingly brutal, as if the fighting engine was supposed to be used in a superhero game or something. They’re not much fun, they just get in the way, but luckily you can turn them off.
The game lacks an NHL license, so teams just have city names with some odd color combinations, like aqua-marine and deep red, not that I would care if the gameplay was more satisfying.
I have the feeling that if it weren’t for NHL Hockey showing up in 1991, this game would be much more revered. For its time, it’s a pretty good game, but EA was ahead of their time and basically ruined every other publisher’s chance at making a splash in hockey video gaming.