Retro Review: NHL ’94 (Sega Genesis)

I’ve spent (or wasted, depending on your viewpoint) a significant percentage of my life playing videogames. And while there’s always some newly purchased game serving as the flavor of the week, most of my gaming time has been spent on a relatively small number of games. And with the NHL playoffs in full swing, it’s the perfect time to give you five good reasons to play one of them: NHL ’94.

Reason 1: Simple and effective controls. There’s only three face buttons on the normal Genesis controller: A, B, and C. And this particular game can really be played with just B (pass) and C (shoot/check) if you don’t feel like the dumping the puck in or changing lines. Sure, there’s a little bit of depth with one timers and wrist shots vs slapshots but in the end it’s just a couple of buttons. Fast forward to 2008 and sports games are pretty much dead to me.  I don’t want to play a simulation (unless the name is a hilarious misnomer) and that’s what the sports genre has inevitably pushed towards.  Now if you want to play sports game, you have to deal with a control scheme that’s more complex than Splinter Cell.  Do I need a button dedicated to blocking the puck during a shot?  Not particularly.  Apparently the EA team responsible for Madden thinks I need a “pump up the crowd” button.  They are wrong.  The only remaining hope is that Nintendo’s lust for leveraging the Mario brand (read: milking) by combining it with any and all activities will result in Mario Hockey and provide us with quality and simple arcade controls.

Reason 2: Quality animations. For its time, NHL ’94 had some excellent animations. Goalies dive and slide to make kicks. The players skate pretty well. But it’s not the normal stuff that makes this one of the five reasons to get this game. It’s the unique animations that show you somebody working on this game cared. If you check a guy near the bench, he’ll fold up over the wall and then fall back onto the ice. If you stop really fast, ice will actually spray up. There’s the elusive “shattered glass” scenario where the puck breaks the glass behind the goal. I’ve only had this happen to me once in my ridiculous number of hours playing the game. But my personal favorite (and the reason why I made this it’s own category) is that if you look closely, players will take one hand off their stick and swat at a puck that’s in the air near them. I don’t even know if the game is programmed so that they can make contact with the puck in that scenario but someone drew the sprites and somebody coded the animation anyway. Sweet deal.

Reason 3: Organ music. Organ music is dying out at most sporting venues. The Flyers have a great organist in David May and he gets to solo sometimes during the intermissions. Still, he’s not use nearly enough during the actual game and the replacement music is usually mediocre pop-rock. So for all of the people who’ve had their Mexican Hat Dance and Hava Nagila taken from them, this game has your back.

Reason 4: Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After playing this game for so long, you pick up lots of cheap ways to score that exploit the game design. You can loop around behind the goal, cause a defenseman to run his own goalie and grab an easy wraparound. Or on breakaways you can just drift to the side while shooting to the opposite post. The goalies never figure it out (probably because their AI is just slightly more advanced than the standard Goomba). Eventually crushing the computer becomes boring and you have to handicap yourself to bring the challenge back to a reasonable level. Enter the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. This was the year that Disney came up with the second greatest marketing idea ever (here’s the best): buy a major sports team and use that to promote movies about a fake sports team. As an expansion team, the Ducks completely got the shaft in NHL ’94. See, back in 1994 it was hard to distinguish player qualities like “puck handling” and “checking” because the games were so simplistic. So the easiest way to separate good and bad teams was to make the bad teams slower…everyone on the bad teams…even the fast players. The result is a Ducks team that looks like they’re wading through quicksand while the Red Wings of the world make a line change and still have enough time to stop your breakaway. The ability to handicap yourself (aka choosing a different difficulty level) gives this game added replay value (albeit in one of the goofiest ways possible).

Reason 5: Unsportsmanlike Conduct. In contact sports, hitting someone after the play is over is generally considered a bad thing. The primary reason is that the person assumes the play is over (he’s correct in this assumption) and then he gets blind sided. Well video games have always been about escapism and being able to do things you can’t do in real life. And NHL ’94 wasn’t programmed to punish extracurricular activities. Give up a goal? Check that lucky jerk into the boards. Score a game winner? See if you can knock down all five players from the opposing team before the game switches to the box score. You should buy this game just for the ability to duel with a friend after every goal scored.

Note from Mike:Check out this review of the NHL ’94 Manual from 10 Cent Freeze Pops.

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2 thoughts on “Retro Review: NHL ’94 (Sega Genesis)

  1. Never been a big sports game guy myself but of all sports game (discounting Mario Tennis for the N64) hockey games are my favorite.

    I have a particular soft spot for the “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” games from the early days of the N64. I like a little fighting game with my hockey, plus checking was ridiculously entertaining. I was kind of like the NBA Jam of hockey games from back in the day.

    Also, some added trivia. Kevin Smith was a huge fan of the NHL series of games but because of licensing issues and promotional considerations was forced to use “NHL All Star Hockey” in Mallrats. I believe “Chasing Amy” saw a return to Smith’s beloved series.

  2. This game is great. You’re right about hitting after the whistle, it’s a lot of fun. The animations when the guys get checked are hilarious, too, especially when they’re checked into the boards/glass and their bodies and necks bend in horrible, horrible ways.

    The game is pretty simple, yet somehow I see new things every few times I play it (I’ll never forget the time I scored a goal off Larry Murphy’s face).

    There is actually a community of people who play this game online using emulators at forum.nhl94.com

    Someone figured out how to save the online games and extract all the statistics, so there are online leagues with websites that automatically track the league standings, player scoring, etc (for example, Teemu Selanne has 42 goals and 11 assists in 17 games in the “Gens Draft League”, currently, including the 4G 1A he scored in his most recent game vs the Phoenix Coyotes).

    People also have hacked the game to allow updated rosters, teams, and graphics, so you can play with Sidney Crosby, or the Colorado Avalanche, or the Nashville Predators, etc

    The only downsides of this game were no fighting and no Season mode.

    Also there was a bug in the game that made the light players better checkers than the heavy players, which made Jeremy Roenick into a god and heavy guys like Mario Lemieux and Eric Lindros into weaklings. There is a hack to fix that bug, too, so the heavy guys are good now (the “Blitz 94 League” uses that particular hack — Lindros leads the league with over 12 checks per game, and Roenick is still one of the top scorers due to his other skills).

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