My first exposure to the NES was at a babysitter's house one summer. I'm trying to do some internet sleuthing to pinpoint the exact summer, and I think it would have been 1987. There's a very specific short list of early NES games that I can remember being exposed to at the time: Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, and Ice Hockey. So that being said, Ice Hockey has always had a certain level of nostalgic importance to me. After playing those three games I remember going home and pleading my case that I needed a NES. Dear Parents, this 2600 just isn't gonna cut it anymore.
Of course we all know the problem with nostalgia. It's the problem that creeps into being a fan of retro games. More often than not, going back and replaying these old games that have high levels of nostalgia attached to them tends to highlight that our memories aren't quite accurate. As much as I still appreciate Super Mario Bros, I'd much rather play 2 or 3 on NES for instance. And Excitebike? I'm really not a fan in my older years. So I had to wonder if Ice Hockey would still hold up. The answer is, "kinda."
What's interesting about the game is that you can tweak your team. There are three player types: a skinny weak dude that's fast, a big giant slow dude that's strong, and a totally average dude. And what's fascinating is that Nintendo has sort of stuck with this Goldie Locks philosophy ever since. I mean, some of us like to play as Toad in Mario Kart - a little weak fast dude. And some of us like Bowser who's a big slow strong dude. Others might just pick Mario who happens to be totally average. And so our picks can cater to our style of play. It's pretty neat to see this in such an early game.
The visual representation of hockey works fine here. The horizontal view of the rink; the fights; the Zamboni. It's good stuff. The controls are certainly serviceable as well. I never really had a tough time figuring out what was going on or anything. So in the big picture, I'd say sure, Ice Hockey still feels good to play today. But taking the game out of its original context... I don't feel like I have much reason to keep playing it. It's fun for a single game, but given that there's no season mode or anything, it's really kind of meant for a quick game. I guess it'd probably be a lot more fun against a friend rather than the computer, though.
What it ultimately comes down to is while it's simple and fun, there's been better hockey games since. And I'm not even talking about this year's entry. The truth is that if I'm in the mood for a hockey game (as rare as that might be) I'm thinking that EA's 90's games would be something I'm far more likely to think of than this game. So hey, Ice Hockey was fun for a sitting but I'm in no rush to get back to it.