Time Travel With NHL 94

NHL 94
Best hockey game of all time?

The year was 1993. Like any self-respecting overweight six-year-old with bad allergies, most of my time was split up between not being good at sports and playing Sega Genesis. But what the hell does that have to do with hockey?

As a kid, I loved sports. But, because I grew up a lower-middle class Middle Tennessean, I barely knew what hockey was, let alone was I fan of it. Luckily, however, my older brother had a game called “NHL 94” that introduced me to the world of hockey, and it was something special. I played that game for hundreds of hours, learning the intricacies of the rules, as well as all of the glitches to get cheap goals.

NHL 94 was one of the early editions of the EA Sports “NHL” franchise, a franchise that still exists today with last year’s NHL 11, and NHL 12 due out this fall. It was initially a controversial game, because it had minimal graphical upgrades over NHL 93, and it took out one of the most beloved features of the previous game: fighting. However, it did bring every NHL team (at the time, obviously) and it improved many of the control mechanics to make it easier to pick up and play. Also, you had the ability to check players after a goal, which is always hilarious and fun; there’s nothing like dropping a sick goal on someone and then slamming their players into the glass as you talk trash.

One of the best parts of this game was the addition of the newly founded Anaheim “Mighty” Ducks. They were an expansion team, and so they sucked horribly. However, because of the Disney movie with the same name, you could always sucker a newbie into picking the Ducks and just destroying them. This was before there were player ratings and intricate ways to represent each individual hockey player’s strengths and weaknesses. Rather, the only differentiation between good teams and bad teams was the speed of the players and how good they were at checking; this was universal for the entire team, so on bad teams, even the good players were slow and couldn’t check worth a damn. For this reason, it made beating anyone with the Ducks a hell of a challenge, and that was one of the most fun parts of the game.

In a strange bit of foreshadowing, I grew to hate the Red Wings because they were godly in this game. The right player with this team could destroy most of the other teams in the game (although I’m not sure if they were “technically” the best team in the game, because the Blackhawks were beasts in that game). I never really had a favorite team in this game; I just sort of floated around and went with different teams depending on the team my opponent picked (which is vastly different from my epic, unbeatable NBA Jam team of Vlade Divac and Nick Van Exel on the Lakers).

 

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Time went on, and I played many more hockey games afterward, (although I never got into watching hockey until the Predators came around) but

GOAL!
Who needs HD? This is perfect.

NHL 94 stood out above the rest for some reason. Sure, it has 16-bit graphics that look ridiculous now, the animations, which were ground-breaking at the time, are barely noticeable by today’s standards, and the game lacked all of the customization features of modern hockey games, but for some reason I’ve always found it to be more fun. I honestly have more fun playing NHL 94 with my brother than I do playing NHL 11 (gasp!).

I always assumed that I was the only one who felt this way, because most people enjoy graphical upgrades, improved controls, better music, more realistic simulations of actual hockey and individual skills matching those of the players’ actual abilities. Just for the hell of it, I searched for NHL 94 online to see if there was some other crazy person out there who just couldn’t let go of this old gem. I was fairly shocked with what I found.

Not only do other people still enjoy this game, many feel it is the consensus “best hockey game” ever made. Wait…what?

Well, it IS meant to be more of an “arcade” game, whereas most modern hockey games are made to mimic the sport, therefore it could seem inherently more fun to people who want a “pick-up-and-play” experience without needing to know much (if anything) about the sport. But there really haven’t been any better games since then? I’m not crazy? Okay, this is all subjective, and yes, I am crazy. But still.

Sweet childhood memories.

After discovering that there was a pretty solid cult following of this ancient Sega Genesis game, I found that many people play it much, much more than I do. In fact, there is a website dedicated entirely to people who play this game competitively. They (illegally, I would assume) put the game online for anyone to download, and have dedicated servers that support online league play through some hack they put in the game coding. There are leagues for traditionalists, those who play the game in its purist form, and then even leagues where the game that is played is an updated version, with fixes for some of the more notable glitches and updated rosters and teams, including the Nashville Predators.

So wait…I can play NHL 94, but with Alex Ovechkin? That’s crazy.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually sign up to play competitively, but it is cool that such a community exists. I’m perfectly satisfied with playing the game on my Sega with my brothers.

If you want to check out the website, head on over to http://nhl94.com.

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