Genre: Sports Developer: High Score Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players:1-4 Released: 1993
I think NHL ’94 speaks for itself. It’s clearly one of the premier sports games ever released for the Genesis, and most of the sports gamers (and kids from my neighborhood) of the time will tell you that it’s the best sports game released at the time overall. Some will even tell you it’s the best game ever, but with graphical advances and deeper gameplay options made over the years, its clearly not. What isn’t subject to debate is how FREAKIN’ AWESOME this game is. There is even a website for it, and that is just the Genesis version! little to anyone in my childhood’s knowledge there was a Sega CD version too! Let’s check it out.
Nowadays, of course, there isn’t much information available on this version of NHL ’94, but luckily I found it for two bucks at my local retro gaming store. Boy, was this game worth it! The game begins with a very grainy video that builds you up for some intense hockey action and then introduces each team logo. The main theme of NHL ’94 plays, and then you are ready to go. Of course, you can skip it, but that video and main theme are so catchy that I could not just press C. The music is exactly what I am looking for in a game of this caliber, and it is really what shines the most here, as the menus and pregame show are nearly exactly the same as they are in the Genesis version. What is different, however, is that we actually get to hear our beloved Ron Barr’s voice perfectly describe the key players on each team that is going to play.
Ron Barr is terrific in this game, and he lets you know who is good at what, which players are speedy, and which ones are the guys who have to get the garbage goals in front of the net. I think that is really neat, but it can really drag on and on, so for as cool as it is to finally be able to hear Ron Barr’s voice rather than just seeing his picture describing the players, I just press C after a while and go on to the action. The game itself doesn’t actually take much time to load, comparatively, and once you get to the real gameplay, it is pretty much what we know and love from NHL ’94 and the two previous games in the series. The in-game sounds are clearly taken from both the Genesis version (or versions, as most of the hit sounds and crowd reactions are taken from the Genesis version and the two earlier games). They seem to have recorded a basic crowd track to play over the gameplay, which is fun and certainly adds to the experience.
Wow, I’m typing this right now while Ron Barr is describing the L.A Kings versus my beloved Detroit Red Wings, and he has been going on for four minutes now, spending up to and above thirty seconds on each player. That’s cool, but who is really going to sit through that for so long? I’m not. The loading time to get to the main game is actually less than thirty seconds, which is pretty nice considering other titles on the system. The loading screen just has a picture of a goalie in a hideous looking EA Sports jersey taking a drink from the Gatorade bottle. That jersey looks miserable.
But, all of this stuff so far is just fluff, so let’s get to the actual game. What’s the same, and what’s different? Let’s find out. Well, so far, the pregame menu looks okay, with its nifty little doodads such as a crowd meter, player cards, lineups, other scores, stats, yadda yadda yadda. It’s pretty neat, because you can check the stats of every player on each team that is playing for their entire major and minor league careers up to that point. The crowd meter is also neat, but it should actually get loud when the meter says it gets loud. That’s one thing that bothers me a little bit, even when the game is tense late in the third period, things never really gets loud and the crowd never really gets in your way.
So, with no real home-ice advantage (and to be fair, none of the other hockey games for Genesis had one either), the only problem to be found is in the play mechanics, which are spot-on for the most part. The only thing I noticed about NHL ’94 is that when it is loading an organ song during play, it skips a teeny bit. Other than that, it’s just as fast, if not faster than any previous version. What cool is that they also keep the speed relative to each player. So, you can have guys like Sergei Federov, who could make it all the way down the ice in a flash, and big hitters who better excel at smashing the other guy a mile down the rink taking days to get across the ice.
What makes the controls excel here isn’t necessarily what they have, but often what they don’t have. And what the controls don’t have is anything that makes playing the game annoying like Mario Lemieux Hockey’s players when they get hit or in the shootout mode, or NHL Hockey’s insane “check-turbo” system (they’ve toned it down a bit). That just shows that EA took the time to care about the players, which is sometimes more than what can be said nowadays.
That’s not to say that NHL ’94 is perfect by any means. Detractors have always said (you know, all three of them) that the Sega CD rendition is exactly the same as the Genesis version. They wouldn’t be exactly right, but this game is realistically the same thing. Smart gamers will be able to tell what is from the Genesis version and what was added. Certainly, what EA added for the CD release didn’t hurt it any and certainly helped round out the gaming experience for gamers, past and present. To give you the gist of what I took a page and a half to describe: this game is NHL ’94 for the Genesis with a lot of fluff to help flesh the experience out.
You didn’t have to know me to know that I would love this game regardless. For me, this is one of three of the best hockey titles for the Genesis and one of my ten favorite sports games ever made. NHL ’94 is totally a great experience, and even though it suffers a bit for being virtually the same as the Genesis cartridge, it’s a near perfect experience. Pick it up. It’s not going to cost you very much, and it’s certainly a good break from getting yelled at all the time in Ground Zero: Texas or Surgical Strike. So, pop this one in and enjoy sipping from Lord Stanley’s Cup, eh?
SCORE: 9 out of 10