Ice hockey is an extremely popular sport in Canada and many European countries. The NHL crosses North American boarders into the USA, but it doesn’t generally attract the same crowd numbers as basketball, baseball or football. EA Sports is an equal opportunity developer, though, giving a fair chance to all sports. EA taking a sport on the rise and developing with trademark quality adds up to a hugely successful gaming experience. The NHL series is becoming well recognized; and good hockey games started with EA’s NHL ’94 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
In a sports game of any kind, graphically the most important aspect is to have realistic players in terms of physical appearance and movement. And, of course, the venues where the sport takes place, and the crowds that attend these venues are equally as important. If you do those three aspects well, then the game will be believable. NHL ’94 attracts attention due to the well-detailed player models and their fluid movement – not seen before in other hockey games. The rink actually looks like a real one, not just a white space with red and blue lines; the surrounding glass looks real, too (and breakable); the rink plays a part in the game’s strategy and gameplay – as it does in real hockey. Try checking someone near the penalty boxes and he will fall over, that’s an example of the detail level put into this game. You can now see the stick and the puck well enough to know what your player is doing; when you shoot on net, you can see the direction of the swing and get an idea where the puck will go. When you check a guy (or rather ?hit a poor bastard’), you can see the player pushing his shoulder towards the opponent, and then see the guy fall and lay on the ice for a while. Again, little details in the graphics make it a very realistic hockey experience.
If you’ve ever seen a live NHL hockey game, or even highlights of one, you will notice that the music played throughout (especially when a goal is scored) is varied and fun to hear; a bit like baseball or basketball. You can hear that same music in NHL ’94, too; you will feel as though you’re actually at a game?at least in terms to sound. Fun music aside, the sound effects are all present and accounted for: checking, shooting, crowd chanting, glass breaking, and the sound of skates gliding and carving over the ice. And don’t forget that sound when you score a goal. There are no announcers shouting out when you score, but there’s no need for them here really. It’s a rush enough just to hear the crowd screaming in awe when you slam the burnt biscuit home or crush an opponent with a killer check – you can almost feel the pain. All of these sounds are incredibly realistic and well realized for a 16bit game.
This is where the hearty part of the game is; NHL ’94 moves and plays like hockey. As many people know (or should know) hockey is played on ice, you need to have that in mind when playing NHL ?94 because you can use it to your favor, or it can work against you. Same thing goes here, you’ll find yourself thinking of that extra inertia slide to give your player advantage when gliding on the rink. Even if you are no hockey expert, you can still figure out that most hockey strategies lie in skating techniques and strategic formations based on venue, opponent, and location. Besides all that hockey strategy, the game is extremely fun to play and even more when you fully understand the tricks of the hockey trade. If you are no hockey expert, you may learn some rules and strategies playing simply through playing NHL ’94. You will learn about icing, offsides, faceoffs, line changes, shootouts, penalties, slap shots – and you may start liking, or loving, hockey more than you could imagine.
Historically, EA has always been big on extras and simulation. The only ?but’ the game has in simulation is that there’s no complete season option – only playoffs, or single games match ups. So the fun lasts while the game is running, no looking through endless season stats, season trades and awards. You can check all those stats, but just on a single game basis, the next game brings a blank stats page. Would it be too much to ask for a 16bit game to provide a full professional season option and an evolving statistical record? Maybe it is, even more so if you pay attention to the amount of detail put into all the other departments of NHL ?94
If you are new to hockey in general, this will make for a very entertaining sports game, if you like the sport a little, you will like it more, and if you love hockey, then this is the best option for the SNES. The NHL series has helped hockey in becoming more popular amongst young people and, thanks to the SNES sales figures, it has reached countries where most people have never even heard of ice hockey. Drop the puck, throw a shoulder, wrist one upstairs, make breath taking saves, rouse the crowd, pummel opponents?it’s not called ?The Coolest Game on Earth’ for nothing.