The Game: Hit the ice and get the puck outta here. You have control of two players in this scaled-down match: one offensive player and one defensive player who can leave his goalie position (but not without giving the other team a better chance to land a shot). Keep the other team – whether it’s a second player or the “Activision computer” – from getting a goal, while trying to get past their defenses to slam a shot into their net. The holder of the highest score when the clock runs out is the winner. (Activision, 1981)
Memories: Hockey had been a fixture of the video game world long before Activision released Ice Hockey as one of its earliest titles. Early video hockey was essentially Pong with hockey rules, despite attempts to make the players look more like people than paddles (see the Odyssey 500 console). But Ice Hockey flipped the playing field 90 degrees, and made the on-screen characters look and act like human hockey players – right down to being knocked on their butts.
Actually, Ice Hockey did more than that. By freeing the player from the ultra-constricted Pong-hockey hybrid that resembled foosball more than it did hockey, Ice Hockey finally presented players with something that, while scaled-down, actually resembled the sport that inspired it. Add to that an intuitive control system that doesn’t even require the manual to figure out, and you have something that was a vast improvement on any previous video game claiming to be hockey. Considering that, by this time, the Atari sports library was routinely being upstaged by Intellvision’s sports titles, Ice Hockey and others of its ilk from Activision were a big boost for the VCS.
Not that Atari realized this, of course, fuming over its inability to fire a legal slap shot claiming that the four former Atari programmers who founded Activision had stolen Atari trade secrets – but in the end, Activision’s sports games can only have been a much-needed shot in the arm, demonstrating that the seemingly outmoded Atari machine could hold its own in video sports.