Genre: Sports Developer: High Score Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
For just about the entire life span of the Genesis, EA’s NHL Hockey series ruled the Sega ice rink. Out of all the games released in the series, NHL ’94 was hailed as the best game in the long-running franchise. But after more advanced editions appeared on the Genesis, does the 1994 edition still hold onto the championship title? Let’s take to the ice and find out. Please note that this review covers the Genesis version, not the Sega CD version.
NHL ’94 features quite a few options, some of which were introduced with this edition. This was the first edition to have both the NHL and NHLPA licenses, meaning real teams and real players from the 1993 season are featured. You get to choose from all 26 NHL teams and two All-Star squads. This was the first hockey title to feature the two expansion teams that came in at the time: the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. You get several game modes, including the regular season, playoffs, and shootout, where it’s just you and the goaline. You can turn penalties on or off, enable line changes, and select the length of each period. NHL ’94 was also the first real multi-player game. Up to four players can take to the ice with the use of a four player adapter such as EA’ 4Way Play or Sega’s Team Player. However it’s limited to two-on-one or two-on-two games.
Once the players take to the rink, it’s standard hockey havoc. All the hard hitting moves you’ve come to expect from a hockey cart are here, body checks and all. If your guys take too many hits they can become injured and taken out for the period, or even the rest of the game. Try not to get too rough with your opposition or you could be penalized (if you left the penalties on) and end up short handed. The gameplay has some neat moves like flip passes, speed boosts, and One-Timers, which are quick one touch shots at the goal straight from a pass. Goalies can even make some thrilling saves. The cartridge features a battery back up which can save player records and your progress during the playoffs. However one feature you won’t find is fighting. Starting with this edition EA removed fighting from the hockey game, due to NHL regulations at the time. Some liked it, others didn’t. I would have liked the option to turn fighting on or off.
Naturally since this is an EA Sports game, you get the full broadcast treatment. Before each game EA commentator Ron Barr runs down the teams playing and gives his analysis on the game, including match ups with the starters, represented by black and white photos. You also get a look at players who are on hot and cold streaks, which should give you an idea who you should leave on the bench. You still have an instant replay feature, but now you can look at your moves from two different angles. Plus during the intermissions between periods, you get to see scores and highlights from “other” games going on.
NHL ’94 does a great job in the audio/visuals department. The sprites look quite similar to other games in the series, but they move smoothly across the ice and have great animation, like when they celebrate after scoring a goal or when they fly down the ice after a hard hit. The crowd is more animated as well, and sometimes a fan just might walk up to the glass. When you manage to pull off a hat trick, the crowd celebrates by throwing their hats into the rink. The intro music is okay, and the organ pieces that play throughout the game are fun to listen to. You’ll probably recognize most of them. The sound effects mainly consist of grunts and groans, which are pretty cool. The crowd booing and cheering is good, but a little scratchy.
The controls and gameplay are spot on. The standard three button controller works great and you shouldn’t have too much trouble making your moves on the ice. This is certainly a game that’s pretty easy to pick up and play. Be aware that playing against the computer will not be a walk in the park. Sometimes its tough to even score one point, but it’s not impossible. Naturally the game excels with its multi-player option, although it would have been nice to divvy up the teams anyway you want. Still it’s no big deal, and it’s just plain fun to take on your buds.
Anyway you look at it, NHL ’94 lives up to its title of best hockey game on the Genesis. It’s an excellent sports game as well as a great party game. Even 12 years after its release, this edition holds up well against its younger brethren on the PlayStation. NHL ’94 does take the Genesis Stanley Cup, and deserves a spot in any Genesis lineup.