Released in 1988
Developed by Konami
Genre: Ice Boxing
Popularity Level: Boston Celtics
Leonardite Rating: Skrrreeeee!

When the explorers finally discovered Canada in 1985, little did the Old World know that they were about to be introduced to the Mountie, the Newfoundland dog, and the game of hockey. As with all spoils from an exotic land, the newly acquired booty was quickly dispersed. The Mountie quickly surfaced in the World Wrestling Federation, animal lovers seeking a pet bigger than a horse but not quite as big as a Dennyís welcomed the dog into their homes, and the Konami game corporation used hockey as the inspiration for their 1988 title, Blades of Steel. When Blades of Steel burst onto the scene, it was by far the best effort at depicting real hockey to date. This isnít saying a whole lot considering the lineage of hockey video games at this point was Pong --> Ice Hockey --> Blades of Steel. Ice Hockey was fun, but when they tried to pass a homemade lawn mower off as the Zamboni, it lost all credibility. Pong really never had any to begin with, simply because its amorphous nature made it just as logical that it was a hockey simulation or a recreation of Cat Bat, the bloody feline pastime of the nation of Laos. Yes, Blades of Steel was king, but the path wasnít that rocky on the way to this lofty pinnacle.

Thatís not to say that Blades of Steel wouldnít have earned it in the face of stouter competition. In fact, other than legends like NHL 94 and the meticulous simulation, Mutant League Hockey, few games are held as sacred by the Molson-swilling masses as Blades of Steel. From its awesome music to the fact that all your friends will want it, itís not too tough to figure out why.

When you first fire the game up, it is likely that others in the room will question whether or not the game is functioning properly. This is normal. The reason the game keeps resetting over and over again is because you canít get over how awesome the ďBladesÖofÖSteelĒ voice is at the beginning and keep hitting the "reset" button to hear it repeatedly. This is without question one of the greatest bits of audio found on the Nintendo Entertainment System. If you put this into a dance mix at a house party, itís guaranteed to get the people bumping and grinding, assuming that the attendees are Darren Pang and that bear that was in the Labatt Blue commercials. In fact, this might be the second-greatest piece of Nintendo audio, just after the music on the pause screen in Battletoads. I have to slot it second because Iíve actually pushed through my euphoria to play Blades of Steel, while I have no idea what goes on past the first three seconds of Battletoads. I pretty much just hit start and itís all a mix of phat beats, phat hos, and chronic after that.

After selecting either one or two players, depending on how independent you are feeling, you are taken to the menu screen. Here you are greeted with a typically classic Konami anthem, not surprising considering this is the same company that delivered the hypnotizing theme from Rush Ní Attack that has been stuck in the heads of 30% of Americaís population since the mid-1980ís. After deciding whether you are a junior, a collegian, or a pro, itís time to select your team.

Iím guessing this was a pretty exciting option when the game was released. While Ice Hockey might have satisfied the throngs dying (literally) to control Czechoslovakia in a Nintendo hockey game, Konami catered to a group that might want to select a more familiar team, like, say, the Rangers. This is all well and good if you choose New York, because New York looks like the Rangers. Things are equally fine if you pick Chicago, because the team looks like the Blackhawks. But if you had your heart set on the Canucks, the six pieces of hockey-playing poop that come skating out will likely come as something of a shock to you. Expect a similar reaction when the North Stars take the ice in pink hot pants. Forget the financial problems and the willingness of Dallas to build the Stars an arena; I think itís pretty obvious that Konamiís portrayal of the team as a group of flaming Johnny Weirs was the predominant factor in the downfall of the Minnesota franchise.

The game itself plays pretty well, especially considering when it was released. Passing is pretty easy - and incredibly rewarding with the ďHITS THE PASS!Ē proclamation accompanying every give-and-go. One-timers arenít in the game at all, and you donít really check people as much as you just skate into them hoping that the opposition falls instead of you. As penalties go, the game was a futuristic simulation ahead of its time as the red line is rendered meaningless, although icing does still make a cameo every now and again. Essentially, your mission is just to wait for the roving red arrow to move to a spot away from the goaltender that will allow your team to score a goal. The difficulty level in doing this is directly proportional to your patience, so as long as you have the three seconds to burn to allow you to score a goal, itís not all that tricky. Combine the ease of scoring with your clumsy, man-controlled goalie at the other end, and games usually end up in the 35-32 range, much like real hockey.

I suppose this is the meat of the game, but I consider at least three other things to be more important than the goalfest that eventually consumes every contest. The first of these is the megaplex card at the Apollo that somehow got lost on the way to its dingy backroom and found its way into the triple-decked Blades of Steel palace. Using the same Bronko Nagurski body checking tactics described before, but this time in a head-on collision, will cause the two players to begin furiously duking it out. If you can stand your ground for a few moments, you are transported to the cut screen for fights. Fighting definitely might be the best part of the game, what with the cheering crowd and the reaction that your player makes when you press "block" that has him looking like he just took an Easton to the johnson. Justice is dispensed following each fight the way itís supposed to be: The loser goes to the penalty box, the winner gets Argonauts tickets. The only downside to this whole affair is that while the fighting might be awesome at first, by the fifteenth fight of the first period, you might be a little burned out on the whole endeavor.

Another high point in the game is the super cool scoreboard that keeps both the fans in the arena and the fans in TV land entertained between periods. This thing is littered with proclamations about your friends' video game tastes, advertisements for Jackal, and a hockey-playing polar bear. The bear is my personal favorite, for the lone reason that when he uncorks his clapper, the puck makes this sound:

If you didnít before think the physics in this game were outstanding, this bat-sounding puck certainly has removed any doubt. Most other people like the scoreboard for the fact that you get to play some crazy little game in between periods where you have you command a Martin St. Louis-sized spacecraft with the purpose of destroying an Ulf Samuellson-sized craft. Itís unclear if successfully destroying OmegaUlf has any effect on the outcome of the game or not, but I do know that 75% of Canadian male profiles on list the lonely guyís success rate in this mini-game, so take that for what itís worth.

While I love a good fracas and a polar bearís screaming puck as much as the next guy, these still arenít the best part of the game. That distinction belongs to the penalty shot/shootout. A graphical marvel of NES technology, the shootout is easily the standout part of the game. Unlike a real hockey shootout where the players skate towards the goalie and Peter Forsberg wins the gold medal for Sweden, the Blades of Steel shootout is more like its soccer counterpart where the combatants stay stationary and the players headbutt the shit out of each for no reason. Itís a battle of wits trying to determine which hole to go after, and conversely, itís a taxing game of reflexes to make the save once the shooter has made this decision. My only complaint with the shootout is that there is no way to just go straight to this mode, so youíre stuck either purposely playing to ties or getting in fights in the slot to rack up countless penalty shots.

Bottom Line:

If youíre looking for a game with a lot of o-ffense, as Barry Melrose would say, this one has it. If youíre looking for a game with a whole flurry of fighting, look no further. If you want a game starring skating turds from Vancouver, brother, this is the game for you!

E-mail the Leonardite

On the whole, video game tributes on obscure webpages are trash [see com, Leonardite dot]. Most of these sites usually have perplexingly long URL's and are updated with each appearance of Halley's Comet [see com, Leonardite dot]. However, I did find a page for Blades of Steel that is downright excellent. Among the highlights:

- Sound Bank: "Penalty Shot" is pretty good, but I'm thinking about putting the sound of the guy getting knocked down on a loop and making it my ringtone.

- Characters: Specatcular gifs with surprisingly good captions. These little guys might find their way poached onto this site someday.

- Teams: Decent page, but the fact that there is a "SKREEE!" image on there put it over the top.

Click the image and check it out.

As much as we all love hockey, I think it's apparent that we all have the same level of disdain for figure skating. Well, most of us do. This is an actual letter to the editor that I saw in the Fargo newspaper:

Mary Jo Watts, West Fargo, Letter: Figure skating not covered very well

"I was disappointed opening the Sports section of The Forum on Jan. 29 and not getting to see a story and pictures from the finale of the Menís U.S. Figure Skating National Championships held Jan. 27 in St. Paul. There was only a line-item listing of the competitors and their scores.

The fact that the top two tied to the 100th of a percent is amazing and almost impossible in this sport that has eight judges and a new complex grading system. Their same score was 244.77, but Evan Lysacek won because he won the long program. Johnny Weir had won the short program. If anything similar would have happened in any other sport, there would be large headlines in The Forum.

I attended this unforgettable event in St. Paul, as well as the other three finals on Saturday. Having the nationals so close to home made it attainable to go and see. Please realize that figure skating is a sport and that there are many followers of it. I had to get a Twin Cities newspaper in Fargo today to have a keepsake of this great moment in sports history. "

A guy dressed like the picture above can't make history in anything but Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and certainly not sports. For clarity, below are actual great moments in sports history:

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