TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘NHL ’94’ earned its reputation as an all-time best sports game
When sports titles are regarded as the best of the best, even after decades of advances in technology, the key I believe is how much fun you had and can still have playing this game. Every single year, sports fans gobble up titles that, aside from roster updates and perhaps graphical advances, don’t offer much of anything new in most cases. I personally feel that it was a far greater feat in the ‘90s to make a sports title that would appease the core audience of sports fans, as well as bring in some usually reluctant sports title gamers.
We tackled the realm of football last week (see what I did there?) so, today, we take to the ice with what is arguably the greatest hockey game of all time, or at least pretty high on the list – “NHL ‘94” on the Sega Genesis!
“NHL ‘94” (Sega Genesis, 1993)
Whenever a sports game franchise has that one game that almost defines the entire series, chances are what puts it head and shoulders above the others is the attention to detail. “NHL ‘94,” all across the board, introduced things that we often take for granted in today’s sports titles, things that are no brainers for sure but, prior to this game, just didn’t exist or didn’t sound quite as good as they do in this game, like crowd chants, boos, and cheers, along with the checking, passing, and shooting.
This isn’t to say that the limited soundtrack of music is bad, but just incredibly generic in comparison to the detailed sound effects that make you feel like you’re at a hockey game. Whether you’re someone who grew up with hockey, or someone like me, who only chose the Calgary Flames as your team of choice because, “Hey, they’re Canadian, so they must be good at hockey,” you can appreciate these elements of realism during the overall fun you’ll have playing the game.
For the most part, ‘90s sports game sprites were nothing to write home about, using a mostly uniform style in presentation. Once again, however, while obviously the players themselves are the stars here, the little details are what make the game unique and a standout among the other entries in the EA Sports’ series of hockey titles over the years.
When you have things like the Zamboni driving by as scores in other games are displayed, a crowd that actually looks like they’re enjoying the game and not just mindless uniform zombies, and even things like a little boy going over to the glass and yellow hats being tossed onto the ice when a player scores a hat trick, you know developers took their time in creating a true hockey game experience for your Sega Genesis.
As I said before, “NHL ‘94” introduced gamers to features that were not being offered in hockey games at the time, simple things that made a huge difference in gamer enjoyment. With penalty shots, support for up to four players, reverse angle instant replays, and “one-timer shots,” allowing a pass to be quickly reflected into a shot at the goal, eyes were certainly opened in the mid-1990s that would pave the way for future hockey games to come.
When a sports game is fun to people who don’t know the sport (hi there!) or aren’t really into sports at all, that’s when you know you have something special, and “NHL ‘94” is the hockey equivalent of that within the spectrum of easily accessible sports games.
Are there flashier hockey games out there? Of course there are; that’s what advances in the technology do. However, I’d be safe to say that every hockey game after this one owes a bit of a debt to the folks behind “NHL ‘94” for really not only setting the bar, but being the bar for hockey games for a number of years, and it’s still highly regarded as one of the best hockey games ever made.
I guess the best way to put it would be that it is the most fun and easy-to-learn hockey game you’ll probably ever play, so if you’re someone like me who isn’t big into them or know much about hockey at all, that definitely increases a game’s chances of being in high rotation when it comes time to sit down and game after a long day.
That does it for me. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this review. Join me next week when we hit the baseball diamond, but one reserved for the youth, in “Little League Baseball: Championship Series” on the Nintendo Entertainment System!
Until then, stay warm and, hey, think of spring and the opening day of baseball season, which, by the way, is another great time to game on!