Genre: Sports Developer: Alpine Studios Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Let’s take a look in our video game history books for a few moments here and think about the impact made by that the game our friends from the great white north gave us – ice hockey. From its virtual inception, much to the dearly departed comedian Phil Hartman’s chagrin (ICE HOCKEY BY ACTIVISION!!!), to the new-fangled control systems of NHL ’09 and the ilk, ice hockey has certainly made its mark on the gaming frontier. The game in question today, my loyal readers, is one of the first entries on the Genesis, Mario Lemieux Hockey. Will it hold up to the standard set by others such as NHL ‘94, ‘95, or ‘96 , or will it crash and burn like failed attempts like Microsoft’s NHL Rivals series? Let’s drop the puck and begin the game!
After turning the game on and sitting through some interesting music and a decent title screen, you’ll find that the main menu bears the usual garb of a hockey game: Exhibition, Tournament, Shootout, Fight, Options, etc. The teams are scored on a numeric system from one to five, with the five being best. Each team is judged on its scoring, power, passing, speed, defense and goaltending skills. Pittsburgh is the best team with Washington, New Jersey and Hartford duking it out for the right to be at the basement of this game. Similar to Sports Talk Baseball , they break the teams apart into the Western and Eastern conferences and one of two divisions, called division one and division two. Inane, I know.
MLH actually has a great amount of statistical differences and items, perhaps more than any other hockey game I have played for Genesis. I don’t actually know if that’s a good thing, though. There are fourteen pages of information available ranging from the basics (shots on goal, penalty time, etc.) to the ridiculous stats of how each goal was scored and reasons why play was stopped. Sheesh. I’m a sports nut, and even I am a bit overwhelmed by it. It’s all presented on a nice little notebook every time you pause the game. I think that’s cool, but there’s no way that anyone is going to pay attention to all that or let alone even care. I mean, I don’t even care. To quote NFL coach Herman Edwards, “You play to win the game.” not to get upset because your game winning goal with two seconds left was a trickle in goal. Anyway, the basic gist of it is that there are a ton of stats available if you want to go crazy for stat keeping.
When you pick your teams, you go into a somewhat cool intro screen with Bob Sega (really, its Bob Smith, but I always call him Bob Sega) going “blah blah blah, Pittsburgh, blah blah blah Washington blah blah,” and then you see the teams skate from the lower left corner on the screen towards the bench and towards center ice. The graphics here, really for the most part, are pretty good for the time. Also, the line changing system is very easy to understand and control.
What gets me is the sound. It’s not that it’s bad in quality. In fact, it’s on par with the visuals. The problem is that it doesn’t make any sense. Your team skates out and you hear something like someone rolling their fist along a few keys of an organ and then a random “lets get started” lick. That is just a snippet of what could be questionable and forgettable music and sound here. Once your teams are ready for the face-off the game goes into a close up mode featuring the referee, the opposing players, the bouncing puck and a little indicator that’ll tell you when you’ll win the faceoff if you press the button. Once the faceoff is decided, you’ll get to the rink view again. I don’t really like the look of the center ice logo, but I am not going to hold it against the game. I mean, a regular old circle with “Sega” in it would have been good enough for me.
I guess the most accurate way to describe the controls in Mario Lemieux is to say that they are slippery. Once your player gets hit (and it happens a lot), he will slide around on his bum for a few seconds, and I have had a few circumstances where your skating around six guys who are sliding around like they never knew how to skate. It can really grind my gears when one of my guys is just loafing there when there is a loose puck in front of the net Anyway, the passing system is pretty spot on, but sometimes it is difficult to “get the pass” (Blades of Steel pun intended) when you are on defense. Just hit the guy. You can hit all day and most of the time you won’t get called for something. Sometimes the penalties feel really arbitrary, because the “animation” looks the same for every hit. Its not you can really see the animation anyways.
The presentation on screen is very clear and easy to understand. There is no attempted play-by-play, just a message box that comes up whenever something happens. Of all of the things I like about this game, the best is the presentation. The AI can be pretty ruthless at times and can capitalize on your mistakes big time, though. The key to winning games is to not make any stupid passes with your goalie. I don’t like how the goalie always automatically passes it to the player you have selected, because sometimes he’ll be far away from the play.
Another thing I do not like is the fighting system. It uses a close up view like the the faceoff, but for some reason the players look like two Weebles or those kiddie punching bags that always bounce right back up after you punch them. The controls are somewhat confusing and I always seem to lose. And only the loser gets the penalty, which is only three minutes. That’s another flaw in this game – the way penalties are called. They are called right as the penalty is committed rather than being a bit delayed like they do in real life and other hockey games.
Perhaps the absolutely most irritating thing about Mario Lemieux is its shootout mode. This might get my vote for most irritating thing in any sports video game I have ever played. You have to both time and aim your shot at the right time and hope the other goalie doesn’t stop it. And you have to control your own goalie too, and I just have never gotten the hang of playing on either side of the puck. I have never won a shootout and many expletives are spewed during playings of this part of the game.
In spite of all of these flaws I have stated, MLH is a title where the true fun lies in the playing. It’s a fun game to get away from the EA hockey franchise, and it’s just not a bad game overall. The problem is that Sega essentially released a pretty forgettable title with very little about it that rubs me the wrong way. It’s basically a game that is fun but forgettable with a few things that make you mad, which equal out to a pretty mediocre experience. But, then again you know me. This game is worth every dime that you are going to pay for it, which should be around two bucks.
SCORE: 5 out of 10