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ESPN National Hockey Night

Genre: Sports Developer: Sony Interactive Studios Publisher: Sony Interactive Studios Players: 1-2 Released: 1995

In a somewhat oversaturated market, Sony released four games based on ESPN programs famous in the early 1990s. Three of them were mediocre to poor in quality, with National Hockey Nightstanding out as a diamond in the rough. Lets step into our Bill and Ted time machine, and strap on our goalie pads and rewind back to 1995. There were seven licensed NHL hockey games released by then, so would ESPN be able to produce a product that would be able to stack up to EA (or even Sega Sports?).

Well for the most part, yes. While the oblivious hockey video game fans will make a safe bet with NHL ’95 or ’96, the two standout hockey games for the genesis, the more in depth hockey fan will definitely wish to pop this game into their Mega Drive and give it a shot (pun intended). The game plays eerily similar to NHL All-Star Hockey ’95 minus the annoying Marv Albert voiceover. Most Genesis hockey titles that were not EA tried to have some sort of irritating color guy describe the action either in game or between periods.

Unlike other non-EA hockey games, this game does not hire a non-hockey announcer (i.e. Merv Albert) who sounds uncomfortable and like a broken record (anyone remember the irritating “he shoots, he scores!” from Merv in NHL All Star Hockey ’95?). ESPN National Hockey Night includes our regular Bill Clement as our in-studio tour guide to the hard-hitting, nail-biting experience. The sound in this game is pretty good, though not top notch. The songs feel as if a little keyboard and not a giant arena organ play them. The crowd sounds alright, though a little thin in places. It does the basic “boo” when the home time loses a face off or gets hit or the away team scores, and a cheer when the home team does the opposite of the aforementioned activities. That is something that you see in all of the hockey games for the Genesis basically, though it is still a negative.

Okay, on to the graphics for this title. They aren’t necessarily bad for the time, but if you have played any of the other three ESPN titles (Speedworld, Baseball Tonight, and NFL) this just feels like it is one of those games with hockey slapped on top of it. It is very obvious that it is the same engine as the ones I have described. The crowd isn’t even really a crowd; it’s more of a picture of a crowd just put behind the boards. The ice itself doesn’t show any wear throughout the game, but all of the hockey games released for the Genesis really couldn’t do this very well. The pre and post game graphics are some of the best on the genesis, included with the famous National Hockey Night music that puts me in the mood for some hockey.

If you have felt the skating on NHL All Star Hockey ’95, then you have pretty much played this game. If you haven’t, then imagine a game that does not have quite enough friction. This makes it an emulation nightmare. If you are an emulation-only player, then this game is not for you. The goalies don’t really make enough different saves to make them really good. The hitting in the game is accurate, but it doesn’t really show what really happens, it always just shows the player down on the ice for a second. The game has two different views: sideways, which is better for the console and the Nomad; and vertical, which is the only way you can survive if you play this with an emulator. You can play in a “skills competition” which is a rarity and a big plus to find on the Sega, though all it has is a shoot out and a theoretically impossible fastest man challenge (you have to press the buttons in the right combination ABABA alternating to keep the guy from falling on his face – very irritating.)

The final negative thing on this great title is the view, which is from both the broadcast point of view, or a horizontal view, per se. That leads to the computer scoring some garbage goals on you if you don’t play strong enough defense (for example, you may have two defensemen standing at the face off circles and the computer could dump it in from between the red and blue lines and score). The player may change the view to the more comfortable NHL ’95 view if they are more comfortable with that. National Hockey Night is also the first hockey video game to my knowledge to offer different views on the ice.

Is this a game that all hockey fans will flock to play? Probably not, but this is a good game to dig up and play on your console if you’re looking for some genuine fun with your friends however. It is no NHL ’95 or ’96, but National Hockey Night is definitely worth shooting onto your Genesis for a few hours of breakaway fun.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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