Why is Ice Hockey so good? Well, programmer Alan Miller pulled off quite a feat in this little, four-kilobyte cartridge - the game is pretty simple, yet it still manages to simulate a two-on-two hockey match quite well. This game, indeed, is one that's easy to learn, but hard as heck to play well as even the computer is a worth adversary. Indeed, 1981's Ice Hockey is so good that it simply whips the skirt off of it's closest competitor - Atari's Hat Trick for the mighty 7800.
The graphics in Ice Hockey are surprisingly clean and well-done. The player is presented an overhead view of a stark-white rink with a couple of indentations which serve as goals. The players look darn good in this - they appear to be honest-to-goodness hockey players, sticks and all. They even look like they're skating! The puck is merely a black rectangle, but it's large and easy to find.
The graphics are good, but not exactly great. That doesn't really matter, however, is this game is absolutely brilliant in terms of design. The player controls a forward (I suppose) and a goalie, but not both at once. Control switches to the player nearest to the puck, and that works out better than it might sound. It is kind of drag to chase a player across the rink and have control switch to a goalie, but that's a very minor problem. The goalie isn't just restricted to his goal, either - you can bring him out and into the opponent's territory if you're in the mood to "double team" the enemy's goalie. The computer uses this strategy quite often, which leaves your goalie free to steal the puck and pass it down to your waiting forward for an easy shot at an open goal.
One fantastic feature of this game is the ability to "check" opponents. Is your opponent getting too close to your goal? Are you unable to steal the puck? No problem! Simply use your hockey stick to beat the tar out of your opponent and knock him off his feet! Once you learn to check well, the game truly becomes a hoot.
The way the game allows you to set up for shots is effective, too. The puck slides back and forth on the end of your stick, allowing you to shoot when you see the angle you want. Lining up shots is a bit tricky at first, but it's fairly easy to learn the process to the point where you can take accurate stabs at the goal from across the court.
The game is for one or two players and offers four variations - two at "regular action" and two at "high-speed action." The computer plays well at either level, but be warned - the regular action games as very slow. The game lasts for three minutes at either speed level.
The sound, as usual, is pretty weak. You get a tone when a goal is scored and hear plinks as the puck bounces off of walls and such. There's also the ever-present "whoosing" sound as players take shots, try to steal the buck or attempt to beat each other over the head. Honestly, the sound is the only flaw in the game, but it's not exactly annoying or terrible.
In the final analysis, this is one of the better games out there for the 2600 and well-worth finding. It might not be as common as, say, Asteroids or Space Invaders, but you won't have to break the bank to pick up a copy, either. And, best of all, it's so easy to play you won't need a manual, either.