Watch the graphics puck up

Wayne Gretzky Hockey 1 logo Amiga Computing Supreme Award

SPORT simulations have a habit of falling short of expectations. They generally fit into two categories: Raving joystick wagglers and the million-parameter strategy marathons with no game to play. With respect to TV football fans we have yet to see a sport simulation which gets that critical mix of strategy and arcade action right.

Wayne Gretzky Hockey was voted Best Sports Simulation of '88 in the USA, where pounding the puck is as much an institution as the hot dog. They were bound to like it. But bring it over here where no one knows who Wayne Gretzky is, and the odds are it is not going to sell. Which would be a shame.

After a surprising animation sequence followed by a good title tune and digitised HAM loading screen, you begin to feel you have something special in your drive. Something tells you that this piece of software was written for the Amiga by people who know what they were doing.

The no frills Game Setup Menu is packed with options to click on. There are home team and visiting team columns. You can play either of the two, neither of the two, or both, where it helps if a friend joins you.

There are four modes of play. Control Player puts you in charge on the ice; all coaching decisions are handled automatically. You move a mouse-controlled cursor around the rink and the player you are controlling, easily recognised by his white helmet, follows the cursor.

Combinations of cursor movement and button-presses control his actions, right down to grabbing an opponent and holding him against the boards. In two-player mode, your friend would control his man on the opposition in port two.

For people who hate or are no good at arcade action, there is a Coach Only mode. Here you are responsible for setting up the 18 team formations and deciding when to make changes during a game.

The best part of Coach Only is that you do not have to stop the game to make changes. Function key presses cause the team to start a different play or to come off the ice while the next formation piles on. In this simulation you do not just choose parameters before the game then sit back and watch - you have to continue taking coaching decisions throughout the game. Once you have mastered both the above modes you can choose to play and coach together. Difficult, but it gives you an incredible feeling of power over the game's outcome. Ice hockey is fast - one bad decision or play and you could find yourself a couple of goals down.

The fourth mode of play is my favourite - Wayne Coaches. Here the computer handles the coaching and the play on the ice. See both teams to this mode and you can sit back and feast your eyes and ears.

The sound effects are sampled from real rink. The puck being slapped, the carsh of bodies and puck against walls, the murmur and roar of the crowd, the referee's whistle - they are all there to add even more realism.

If you missed the action when a goal is scored, and instant replay option lets you view the last eight seconds of play in normal, slow or fast motion, forwards or backwards. Nice touch.

When play is stopped because of a foul the viewpoint changes to 3D with an action replay screen hanging from the roof. Here you see an animation of the referee's sign language for the fuel he has blow for. When fights occur - I have yet to instigate one - the action is shown on this screen.

Teams can be set to play at any of four difficulty levels ranging from High School to Pro. You can set the periods to be 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. Play can be either Slow or Normal. For Normal read Fast.

Games and teams can be saved or loaded at any time, even during a period. Four teams are supplied, while an editor allows you to make up your own teams, giving each player strength ratings in 11 categories. Give every player a raging of nine in every category and you will have an invincible, if not very realistic, team.

You can display game stats and team rosters or send them to a printer. When coaching, printouts are indispensable.

The short manual explains all the options and how to use them clearly. There is even (thank heavens) a brief description of the rules of ice hockey, plus hints on coaching and controlling players. What it does not explain is that the game will not run properly on a machine with extra memory, which is weird because the box claims additional graphics with 1 meg. Sorry chaps, got to knock some marks off that.

In the end it did not matter, it was worth unplugging everything and upending my machine. Without a doubt. Wayne Gretzky Hockey is the most accurate and enjoyable simulation of a sport I have ever had the pleasure to play.

Wayne Gretzky Hockey 1 logo


Pride of Canada, biggest name in the world of ice hockey, but still virtually unknown in the UK: that is Wayne Gretzky. In North America he has achieved the sporting god status reserved for Ian Botham and Daley Thompson over here.

Like recent soccer games, it is viewed from overhead. The pitch is about two screens wide and scrolls horizontally as the puck moves from end to end. While not visually stunning, this display is functional, because you can always tell exactly what is going on.

As with most American sports games, this one loves statistics. There are whole screens full of information and options, which are useful on the coaching side because you can alter everything from individual player's attributes to the 'lines' (best described as preset team line-ups for particular situations: attacking, defending, taking penalties and so on). You can opt to control a player, coach, both or neither. The coach decides which lines to play: the strategic side of the action.

On the ice, you control one player at a time but can switch between any of them except for the goalie. All the rules of ice hockey must be obeyed, so there are penalties for charging, holding, tripping, cross-checking, elbowing, high-sticking, hooking, roughing, slashing, spearing and anything else ending in '-ing'. You can also have fights and instant replays to add even more realism.

Options allow skill levels and playing time to be altered: a match against the professionals is the ultimate challenge, and no easy proposition. Starting at the most basic level, the game is very easy to play, but has hidden depths of strategy. To begin with, you can hit the ice and simply skate around enjoying the game, but later on there is more satisfaction to be derived from it through gaining experience of switching lines and learning tactics.

In the long term, most reward can be obtained fro the process of creating your own team. Each of the teams has ratings for 11 different characteristics, and once the players are defined they can be arranged into lines of your own choosing. As well as changing lines, the players can be made to operate certain pre-arranged plays to try to gain the upper hand. All in all, this wealth of detail adds depth to an already good sports simulation, making it one of the better ones currently available.


There is a very impressive opening sequence in which an animated skater smashes the puck into the screen, accompanied by a snatch of pleasant music. After that, sound is limited to crowd noise and spot effects. The rather basic game graphics are well supported by nice presentation screens for the referee's decisions and for fights, but these are still not outstandingly fine.

Wayne Gretzky Hockey 1 logo

Price: £24.99

Well, after Speedball, it is back to basics with a game that is nearly as violent, yet just as fast. Ice Hockey is a game ripe for conversion. Full of big muscular men with large pointed sticks and a death wish.

No, I am no hockey aficionado, but I do know that it consists of five men all dressed like American footballers skating around knocking a little flat black object (called a puck) along the length and breadth of a frozen swimming pool. At either end of the pool is a goal and the idea is to knock the puck into the goal of the opposing team. Simple.

There have been other hockey games, but to be honest, this has to be the best. You know you have got something good when you see the intro sequence, which was even good enough to make Iron Mike Pattenden to stop and stare. An excited crowd jump around in their seats. Why, you cannot see. Then you see it. A large hockey player (aren't they all!) runs on screen from the right side and then whacks the puck, straight at the screen. The screen explodes and you are left into the inside of your monitor. Great!

The game itself easily comes up to standard, with a wealth of options to boot. Name and select your team members, choose colours, select lengths of matches, team skills and even whether you want to play or just coach, telling the team which strategies to use.

The game is viewed as a horizontal scroller set over two screens - much like Speedball. The scrolling is always centred over the puck, but the interesting thing is that you control one player. Not one player at a time, but one player overall. Interesting, but when you realise that there are normally only ten players in the game at any one time, it is not a bad idea at all. It sure makes the game a little easier to follow.

Controls are simple enough. Left, right, up and down move you in the relevant directions, but response is slow. Not because of any bad programming you must realise, but because you are, after all, skating on ice. You cannot expect to perform 90 degrees turns while racing on ice, can you?

Another nice point in the game is the way the other players react. Follow a player, and he will try to shake you off. Start hitting a player, and he may fall down. If he falls, a fight might ensure, and the fights are violent. They normally end with a team against a team. Loads of violence and bruises.

The game plays well, though the slow reactions can be a little frustrating. That said, it does have a very original feel to it. The system of only controlling one player, along with the relatively realistic reactions of the other players makes you feel that you are playing a game with other people.

An excellent game. Hockey fans should slide down the soft-shop even if they have never heard of Wayne Gretzky.

Wayne Gretzky Hockey 1 logo

Mindscape/Bethesda Softworks, Amiga £24.99

For the uninitiated, Wayne Gretzky is probably the best ice hockey player in the world. His computer game comes with a suitably impressive array of options. During a match you can make coaching decions such as substituting players (unlimited substitution is allowed), choosing team formations, and calling time-outs. Before a match you can even create your own team complete with player ratings, names and numbers, and even save it to disk.

If you prefer to leave the strategy to the talented Mr Gretzky, you can concentrate on playing the match. Players are manually selected and controlled by joystick or mouse. Aspects of this extremely rough game include slamming other players into the side of the rink, holding and even knocking them over. However, if you're too rough the ref will call a penalty and send you into the 'sin bin'. For added realism, when two players clash they will sometimes start to fight.

Paul Rand If you're looking for a fast-action sports game, this is a superb example - play is amazingly fast and furious. I particularly like the way you can knock over opposing players and sometimes even get away with it! The graphics are small but well animated and the thudding sound effects add realism - the only thing missing is the electric organ.
Phil King The one slightly annoying thing about this is the manual selection of players - I would have preferred an automatic option. But apart from this, Wayne Gretzky Hockey is an extremely enjoyable, action-packed game. And the ability to make coaching decisions adds extra interest to a fine sports simulation.