Genre: Sports Developer: Time Warner Int. Publisher: Time Warner Int. Players: 1-4 Released: 1995
This is another game, like Mario Lemieux Hockey, that I have owned virtually all of the time I have had a Sega Genesis throughout my life. I originally thought it was the bees knees, then it became a dust collector, then I forgot to tell people about it, and I just found it while unloading my Genesis stuff when I got home from college a month ago. Once I popped it in and used my “Sega-16 sense,” I saw a lot of similarities with Mario Lemieux Hockey, as well as some positive differences. But, this is a review of the game, not a Side-by-Side! Quick, let’s go grab a cold beer and some roasted almonds (my favorite treat at Muskegon Lumberjacks games.) before the anthem!
Bringing up the name Wayne Gretzky and video games in the same sentence is a fairly volatile mixture. The N64 Wayne Gretzky game got a decent rating on IGN (7.1 out of 10), and I remember a few of my friends having it, and their moms didn’t want me to play it because they had this irrational fear of me saving over their games. This was back in the day of heavy NHL ’95ing, circa 1997, I believe. The other Wayne Gretzky game was for NES, and all I ever heard about it was that it was downright terrible and was starting to seep into some poor Angry Video Game Nerd rip off’s videos on YouTube. I think it’s ninety-five cents at my local haunt.
But, how’s this game, you ask? Well, there are a few things I want to discuss before I go in-depth into the gameplay. First off the graphics look a little amateurish, like someone took some sort of 1994 version of Photoshop and copied and pasted a photo of Wayne on the cover and in the main menu (and pretty much every menu in the game), got his signature and rushed it out. 96% of the time, that’s a recipe for disaster. This time, however, the game is at least decent. It violates a commandment of mine too, as Time Warner Interactive wasn’t (or still is, if memory serves) a major sports game developer.
Okay, so you turn it on and get a decent intro screen that just screams to you that they went way out of their way to tell you that they don’t have a NHL license (a recurring theme throughout), That was what I liked about Sports Talk Baseball, that the fun wasn’t dependent on a league license to have fun or influence gameplay. You get to the main menu, and there are a thousand options. One thing of note is the tournament/all-star open tournament. You can play world teams vs. the NHL, which is cool but mostly worthless because the world teams are so much better than the NHL teams.
The graphics are very run of the mill and kind of bland, not really a selling point of this game. The menus have a picture of Gretzky copied and pasted on the screen, and it’s a generic feel. Everything about the look and feel of this game is very blasé, except for one thing. That one thing? Every time that there’s a penalty or a goal, there’s a Sega CD quality video clip showing players committing that penalty (by textbook) and the type of goal (also kind of textbook). How did they put a video on a Genesis cart? I’ll let you techies tell me how that worked.
Choosing your teams is very original and worthy of some props as well, as you skate your guy along the top or bottom of the screen to choose your team. Each one has its own song, which is a LOT of songs. Sometimes, I get a kick out of skating the guy all the way across the teams available just to giggle at the garbled mess. It might be my most favorite of the sound abuses of these sports games for Genesis. They have all of the NHL city teams and even a few national teams, but I don’t understand why Ottawa has a frog for their logo, and why is Detroit’s song oriental? Meh, small change.
Okay, we’ve chosen our teams. The Zamboni’s cleared the ice, Detroit’s own Karen Newman is warmed up and is singing “Oh Canada,” and we have enough beer and popcorn for the first period. Let’s rock and roll! Okay, first thing I notice is the close up face off, and it’s pretty good. There’s no bouncy puck and two idiots swiping at it like in Mario Lemieux Hockey. However, the referee’s arm wiggles like a zombie who has his arm dislocated at the shoulder before he drops the puck. The next thing I notice is that the rink feels a bit too small for five on five. Another thing that gets on my nerves is that it’s too high scoring for my tastes. There’s little defense, mainly because the players skate too fast, and the puck doesn’t have enough friction.
The goalies really never freeze the puck, so the action flows pretty fast, ala bubble hockey (aka table hockey). Penalties are pretty consistent, and with the way I play at least, it really doesn’t have the effect on the game it would in real life. The play is lightning fast and really cramped. It’s really hard to play wide open hockey, and it’s a lot easier to have one player take it down the ice instead of two line open hockey. I believe the game could have benefited from a larger rink as well. It sometimes leads to a bunch of hits, a few of which are ridiculous, like doing a triple lutz while decking a guy, and the “flipping head over heels when making contact with the goalie” invincible goalie trick. The sounds when hitting don’t quite work too well, either. Fighting is like Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em robots on a track. Just keep pushing buttons and the guy will fall over.
One thing Wayne Gretzky excels at is the pause menu. Clear and to the point, this game includes menu options that you’ll never see in most titles. Weird options include a play style mode including “aggressive mode,” “roughest play” and “defensive play.” You can play in arcade mode or simulation mode. I can’t find any differences between the two, but if you have a manual, feel free to look it up. You can change your line, even though it says, lines, there’s only one line to change. You can also turn on “real skate” (though I think it is just a choice to have momentum or not) and intimidate the other team (you can do this only once and it seems to fuel a few fights). Pretty in-depth if you ask me. You don’t get that from a lot of other video games.
What do I personally think of this game? Eh, it’s not bad. Not great, and has a lot, and I mean a lot of thanks owed to Mario Lemieux Hockey. There are some things that get on my nerves, and a lot of it just doesn’t appear top notch. It’s like that midweek minor league game that you won tickets to, and it’s not that interesting, but it’s still hockey and there are some interesting parts. It’s not that Friday night dollar beer game where you bring the guy who’s underage and have him drive you and your buddies around when your sloshed either. But it’s hockey, and hockey is better than almost anything I know.
SCORE: 6 out of 10