Retro Review - NHL '94
Could the best hockey game out today have been released 10 years ago?
2003.1.18 by Big D

I know most of you (sure, that could be like 10 people :) know me from writing about wrestling. However, I have played a video game or two in my day (nowhere near as many as the Drunk, though). I have played a ton of hockey games, including every game from the EA series, and a few more. I know there are more out there, but as far as the EA series goes: while the games continue to be more elaborate and complete, there aren't any as fun as NHL '94.

The thing is, the game is so simple, it's nice to not have to worry about 20-30 individual settings per game. You just pick your teams, set your lines, and drop the puck.

Game Modes:

There are several to choose from:
Regular Season: the analog to "exhibition" by today's standards
Playoffs: Complete 16-team brackets, each series is one game
Best-of-7: Classic 16 team playoffs, each round is best of 7.
Shootout: Fun. 5 skaters from each team participate in alternating, best-of-5 penalty shots.

The only options you can adjust are:
Time: period length from 5-20 EA minutes (substantially faster than regular minutes)
Penalties: on, off, "on, no offsides" (Note: icing is always enforced)
Line changes: on, off, automatic
Goalie: manual, automatic

After you get things set up on the main screen, you can set up which controllers go to which team. If you're lucky to have a multi-tap (like me), you can use up to 5 controllers, which is, incidentally, more than any of the current systems.

Then, you go to the EA Sports desk, where Ron Barr (remember him? Ron and Bing Gordon were the EA "announcers" back in the day. On FIFA 96, Bing was even on the USA roster-heh). He tells you how the teams have been playing lately (I don't think it makes any particular difference though), and which players are on "hot streaks" and "off their game", 3 per team. The only thing that means is that their stats will be +/- 2 to 4 points from their regular overall rating.

During the game, and before/after periods, there is a fairly elaborate menu where you can look at stats, player ratings and status, edit lines, check other scores, check the crowd level, and turn the defensive control off/on (after 10 years, I don't ever use it.maybe I should look at the book again). During the playoffs, you can even check highlights from other games, which is a nice touch. The crowd meter is fun, too. It ranges from about 60dB-128dB. Anything over 126, and it breaks the meter, which is another fun addition.

Everyone is based on a 0-100 scale. They have an overall rating, followed by a breakdown in several areas, including shooting, passing, checking, aggression, speed, and endurance. At least personally speaking, it's the most fun to put the big checkers out there, but that's just me.

Player ratings run from about 28, for Flyers 3 rd string goalie Stephane Beauregard, to 100 for Boston D Ray Bourque, Pittsburgh C Mario Lemieux, and Chicago G Ed Belfour. For skaters, any rating below 50-55 means that they will probably be pretty slow and ineffective. For goalies, it doesn't mean too much except for slower reactions and more rebounds on shots. The lineups are great, because I can always remember Gretzky in LA, Jagr in Pittsburgh, Chelios in Chicago. Mis that with fledgling franchises such as Ottawa, Anaheim, Florida, and San Jose, and classic franchises such as Hartford, Quebec, Minnesota, and Winnipeg, and you've got a recipe for some great nostalgic fun. The only problem I have with the players or the rosters is that you cannot move a forward to defense or vice-versa-they come from 2 separate lists.

The gameplay is a little slower and a little choppier than current games, but an improvement over 93, and way better than the disastrous years of 95-98, where the gameplay actually got worse. The biggest single improvement in the game was the addition of the one-timer, which is a staple in hockey. The players all kinda look the same, but hey, it's to be expected. However, it's easy to tell which
player has the puck, or which player you are controlling, thanks to the classic colored-stars (eg: green, orange, blue, yellow, and red, and it fills in when you have the puck). Passing tends to be as accurate as in real life, as does shooting. A lot of that depends on the player ratings. The controls are simple:

A-Shoot (hold to charge)
Y-Flip puck/clear
X-change to goalie

A thing to note about goalie control: If you have any sort of talent, you should control the goalie whenever the computer is on a breakaway, it's pretty good about cashing those in. And the controls for the goalie are pretty easy (same as a skater when you have the puck) without the puck:

A: Kick save
B: Switch player
X: Poke
Y-Dive (not recommended)

And lastly, skating without the puck:

A: Speed burst/body check
B: Trip/poke check
Y: Hook/hold

The best advice I can give is that when you don't have the puck, you should be furiously pounding the A button, and get ready for the bodies to start flying.

The AI for the goalies is a little flawed, in that if you skate from one side of the goal to the other, you will be faster than the goalie, giving an empty net to shoot into. However, the computer makes up for it by seemingly getting the benefit of the referee's penalty calls. Fortunately, there's nothing worse than a 2-minute penalty. There is also no fighting, which could be the game's only major drawback.

Player Animations: Pretty good for the time. The body checks, while somewhat quick, look and sound pretty painful. They're really ugly (good ugly) when you check them into the wall or into the bench. Also, the little celebrations they do when you score a goal are cool. And for a hat trick, they do throw hats onto the ice. The crowd, while not detailed, don't look like people drawn on a piece of paper like in many games (wrestling games are notorious).

Note: If you win the game, and manage to get a shot off after the final horn, you'll do one of the goal celebrations.

Sounds: Pretty damn good, and I think they are what keeps bringing me back to the game.

Breakaways: You get a "beep" if you end up on a breakaway. You can also get the "beep" even after a stoppage. It counts on your total. There's also a nice beep sequence when a penalty expires.

Crowd noise: Much better than in 93 if you happen to be playing on a SNES. If you have the Genesis version, it's about the same, if you like that sort of thing.

Organ music: My absolute favorite thing about the game. It has a nice, full sound (unlike 95-98), and has the widest variety. There's a couple that are still around today in real life (Chicago and St. Louis). They did a good job of giving most teams a unique library of music. The song selections may overlap, though. Just really great sounding stuff. I wish there was more of this in today's games. Also, the volume balance is just right. Hey, the game is only 5 bucks, it's worth it just to check the organ music out, unless I can get somebody to make me a CD or something. The only complaint is, if you press start, it cuts it off.

Final Thoughts:
Probably my favorite game in history, so my opinions may be skewed. But I doubt it. This game has the most fun and replay value I've seen. What are you waiting for? Go to GameCrazyh, FunCo land, Ebay, and get it! It was a steal at $60, and now that it's less than $5? You don't need my permission! BUY THE GAME!

The Good: Player animations and organ music are top-notch. And besides, Dany Heatley from the Atlanta Thrashers also endorses it as the best hickey game ever. And 5-player mode is great.

The Bad: No fighting. And maybe that the computer loves to grab and hold, but you get stuck with all the penalties, especially interference.

The Ugly: There is none! Well, except for the fact that players with low ratings are worthless, and there's a lot of them. It took them a while to figure out that most players should be no worse than 60 or so. But look at it this way: unless you're en expansion team, or love playing with line changes, you may never need them.

Personal records:
Goals: 51 (Chicago)
Body Checks: 332 (Los Angeles)

This is my old project, THROWDOWN.

A group of friends and I put together this little project in 2003 as an outlet of out collective rage and anger about the subjects that each of us cared about. I was the editor-and-chief and games writer back then.

It was a blast to do and it to be involved in a great collaborative effort using the strengths of my friends was simply amazing. I hope you have fun reading our work as much as we had in creating it.
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