Genre: Sports Developer: High Score Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-4 Released: 1995
There are some games that are instant hall of famers, and NHL ’96 is one of them. Along with Bill Walsh College Football, Sports Talk Baseball, and NHL ’94, NHL ’96 is the next inductee to this hallowed fraternity. As I have said multiple times on the forums and in various reviews, the thing that makes a game fun or not is whether or not one is able to play it. I don’t think there is a much easier game to play on the Genesis. Columns, Sonic, and other related games are the only ones I can think off of the top of my head that are as easy to control. Really, every Genesis NHL game has had the same controls: A is dump, B is pass/change players and C is shoot/check. So, why would I choose NHL ’96 as hall of fame worthy? I see what you are thinking, Steve Yzerman is on the front cover, and I am a huge Detroit Red Wings fan. Nope. Let’s lace up our skates, grab our sticks, and get out there and see what NHL ’96 has to offer!
I guess I will start with the presentation. It is spectacular. Nothing is really that confusing in the menus, and everything is completely straightforward during the game. Perhaps the best thing NHL ’96 offers in the presentation department is the ease of the regular season mode. You simply choose your team – you can save your user records – and the next game is simply set right in front of you! I am in love with the settings and the regular season mode in general. It’s just the first of many things that are simply amazing in this game.
Speaking of amazing, how about the gameplay? A near total revamp from NHL ’95, ’96 has a dimmer rink, smoother gameplay without lacking the friction (see: NHL Hockey), and a great deal more animations. Oh, I forgot. THERE’S FIGHTING. OMFGROXZORZ, there’s fighting. And it isn’t rampant or non-existent like it is on some other hockey games. However awesome the fighting is in this game, it is important to note that it is fairly simple and little more than a button-mashing contest unless you know the duck and weave strategy and to always play with the Detroit Red Wings and fight with Dino Ciccarelli. That’s not a bad thing, especially if you have played the multitude of games that have fighting controls that are ridiculous. Too bad there aren’t any epic fights like this one, but there are a number of fights and a number of penalties for said fights available in this game.
On the ice, the gameplay is very smooth and setting up intricate passing offensive plays up and down the rink is a breeze. The goaltenders are quite good in this game, too. Sometimes I think it is even a little too difficult to score, but I am pretty sure that is just me playing my style of hockey (shooting the puck at any and every opportunity, racking up the shots on the goal statistic) One thing about playing NHL ’96 that I really respect is the numerical ranking system. Even strength rankings, power play rankings, penalty rankings and goaltending rankings – alongside the overall ratings – perfectly determine who is the best (or worst). Oh look who’s ranked the top overall? Isn’t that convenient? (It’s the Detroit Red Wings.)
I think that this game kind of doles out the penalties a bit too much, but it’s not egregious or anything. For some reason, it sometimes feels like a lot of things are worth double minor penalties. I think of it like “oh, we can call double minor penalties, so why don’t we?” Refs call double minor penalties faster than I throw back ice cold Miller Lites on Friday night. Whatever. Really, it doesn’t matter that much unless you play a slower paced game. For the most part, it gets the penalties pretty spot on. There just really is not that much to say that NHL ’96 doesn’t do nearly perfectly. Another bad thing (which I will not deduct points for) is the lack of the god of EA Sports gaming Ron Barr. He’s nowhere to be found, but it’s not that big of a deal, since none of the kids in the neighborhood has ever heard his voice (I never heard it until I picked up NHL ’94 and then subsequently wrote the review). The music is fairly simple and not really worth complaining about. It has a famous tune for its intro music “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited), and that’s cool. The organ doesn’t get in your way and there is minimal music throughout.
All this adds to what I said in my other hall of fame game reviews: it is all about the experience. The experience that got me into playing hockey video games (other than my dad buying me NHL ’96 back in the day) were all thanks to the Detroit Red Wings. I remember this goal being what started all of the hockey talk around the block. Let’s check that out again in super slo-mo. After that goal, everyone in the neighborhood wanted to come over to my house and play NHL ’96 with me since the only sports game most of them had was NBA Jam. I remember having to set up days where only certain people came over, and having to set up a schedule of sorts! It was ridiculous; NHL ’96 must have spent over forty-eight hours a week jammed in my Genesis. Besides Sonic 2 and maybe Bill Walsh College Football, there has been no other game that I have played more in all of my gaming years than NHL ’96.
That being said, you aren’t going to find what makes NHL ’96 hall of fame worthy just by reading about what is actually in the game. You don’t have to take my word for it either. Play through an eighty-two-game season, and you’ll see that no other hockey video game made to that point will be nearly as good as this gem. It’s cheap, too! If you live across the pond, there is the European version, Elitserien ’96.
Regardless of which version you choose, NHL’ 96 is the most solid, complete hockey game that I have played until probably NHL ’04 for the Playstation 2. Therefore, I name it to the inaugural class of the Sega Genesis Sports Hall of Fame. Now for that, you’ll just have to take my word. Through all of the multitudes of sports games that you will most likely come across, I will guarantee you that this is the best one you will find when you buy Genesis games, and it is completely worth your investment. This is the first ten I have ever given a review because it’s that good. So, lace it up and get ready to lose to me and my mighty Detroit Red Wings, because NHL ’96 is the best hockey game ever made for the Genesis.