Genre: Sports Developer: Park Place Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Okay, Ill admit it, I’m a hockey guy. Really, I am a seasonal sports guy, liking hockey mostly in the winter months (some March madness B-ball is cool too) and then baseball and golf take over in the spring, and football obviously occupies my fall sports attention. However, hockey really stays in my mind all year, and my favorite types of video games are hockey games (or Tecmo Super Bowl ). It would be appropriate to describe my background and knowledge of the various hockey games for the Sega so suffice it to say that I know as much about hockey games for the Genesis as fellow forum user Zebbe knows about the various millions of import titles the Mega Drive has to offer.
The original NHL Hockey has always been like the black sheep of the EA NHL series to me because by the time I started playing hockey on my Genesis, NHL ‘95 was spending most of its time jarred in my cartridge slot. I never really played it for more than a game or two until about a week ago. My first reaction: Yeah, it’s not bad, considering it was released somewhat early in the system’s life. It’s certainly better than Sega’s offering, Mario Lemieux Hockey , that’s for sure. This game is a table setter for the future EA NHL titles to shape and form around the same type of format of game for years to come. A perfect analogy to describe the essence of this game is that it is like the pilot episode for the future EA NHL series to come and build some of its best episodes later on.
NHL Hockey has a lot of ups and a few downs, like most good titles have. It’s got good graphics for a sports game released in ’91, with probably the best sprites of any sports game that had come before it (subject to debate). The game includes a cool “in-game pause, between periods, penalty situation” screen, which was included as standard up until the revamped NHL ‘95 pause menu. It was always fun when there was a player from the opposite team was on the ice when you could see them, because you could then line them up and hit them as hard and as far as you could. When it comes to skating, things are fairly fluid, but it’s sometimes irritating to stop and change directions, as it takes too much time to change direction of momentum, and then gathering speed is an issue is irritating as well but difficult to explain. They fixed this problem as they went along with the games on the Genesis.
Another irritating thing about the skating is that you have no shot at getting back on the breakaway unless you do the inadvertently built-in “press the check button repeatedly to act as a turbo booster to bail you out of bad defense.” That’s kind of cool and kind of lame at the same time. The hitting, however, is pretty top notch. If you’re moving fast at a guy and hit him, he’s going down. It’s pretty hard hitting, and I like it a lot. Sometimes you can get away with hitting the goalie if there is a lot of action around the crease, but most times you will get called for interference.
This leads me to my next quibble. This game calls too many penalties too fast. It even calls penalties on actions that aren’t even on the screen. Also, the way it counts down the time of your penalties is kind of kooky too. Say you have three men in the penalty box, all with two minute minor penalties such as this:
Now, you normally would still be down a man after the first two are back on the ice. But no, even if you have your entire team in the box, you are back to even strength after two come back on. Another bad thing is that the gameplay gets rather repetitive, and you can get some ridiculous dump-in goals or go on four consecutive breakaways and not score at all due to some pretty limited parameters. There is no decking involved what so ever, so your basically limited to slapshots from good angles or straight out beating the goalie (which can happen on breakaways, but is seemingly random). There are only a few goalie save animations, so sometimes it can look like the goalie is a god-like figure when there’s a lot of action in front of the net and the puck just keeps bouncing off of him. That’s another thing that EA perfected as the years passed.
There are only two songs in this entire game, so their constant looping will elicit much turning down and putting on music while you play. The in-game sounds are decent, but I think that they could have been a bit better, especially when the puck hits the boards and when a player gets hit. That’s another thing that got better as the series went on, but it’s pretty uninteresting in this game. At least there isn’t the canned “boo when something bad happens and cheer when something good happens,” but they do boo and cheer at big hits and goals. Good enough.
One big thing that isn’t par on NHL Hockey is the ice. It’s the blue ice with streaks of white to simulate light bouncing off of it with each team logo at the center, and there are no player names yet either. It also has one of those super irritating long password systems and no battery saves. I believe that came in the next year’s game. Believe it or not, there are some good things to be found here. You can get highlights from games around the league during the playoff mode, usually during a pivotal part of that game, you get a cool team comparison mode before each game begins, and there is actually a fairly decent fighting system. But even fighting leads to ridiculous fight instigator penalties that involve players that aren’t even on the ice sometimes.
Overall, this is a pretty decent game that was probably the best hockey titles available at the time. However, it has “aged” pretty badly and there are many hockey games that are better than this one today. It’s a good pilot episode that is worth what you are probably going to pay for it at most retro gaming stores. So, pop this game in and check it out for a while, it’s good for a play or two or as part of your collection.
SCORE: 7 out of 10