As the dog days of summer trudge along, we pause and look back to a time where sixteen bit gaming was all the rage.
Oh, I know all about you kids and your sixty-four bits, your megabites, and your 1.21 gigawatt flux capacitors with your Teflon red rings of death, so hold up.
Let’s turn back the clock to a time when there were 26 teams, sixteen bits, and more organ music than you can shake a stick at.
NHL ’94 (especially for the Sega Genesis) was THE best sports video game to have, and it still is. I could still lose many an afternoon on this game with players like Kelly Kisio in San Jose, Louie Debrusk in Edmonton and Gino Cavallini avec les Nordiques.
What made NHL 94 such a groundbreaking game? Back to the time machine!
- The one-timer. NHL 94 was the first game to add this integral part of our game to video games. NHLPA ’93 hockey didn’t yet have the use of the one-timer, and because of this was plagued by way too many wrap around goals. If you’ve got Dave Andreychuk huffing it back in Gretzky’s Office, your buddy eventually made sure that Darren Rumble was playing far back in the zone enough to catch him. Bringing the one-timer to games brought a whole new facet to putting the biscuit in the basket.
- Goaltender animations. Felix Potvin, Don Beaupre, Bill Ranford and Andy Moog had some smooth moves in this game. Stacking the pads, playing the butterfly, the lunging glove, as well as your routine stick saves – yes, they were crude in 1994, but they were all here. Up until this point, you had a bunch of pixels that would stand around and get hit with a puck. Now those pixels moved!
- Penalty shots, and a shootout mode -Oh, Bettman. Thought you were pretty clever when you installed that shootout rule back in 2005? EA Sports thought about it more than ten years before you. Plus, when you played in the NHL ’94 shootout mode, it had the obvious benefit of not screwing up the standings with your frivolous OTL pity points. It was a friendly. Nothing more. The addition of penalty shots was also a nice touch – there’s nothing like burning Patrick Roy one-on-one after JJ Daigneault brought you down on a clean break.
- Local organ music – I’m a bells and whistles kind of guy, and this totally hit my soft spot. Playing in Buffalo? Bring on the Sabre Dance. Score a goal in Montreal? Les Canadiens Sont La! blares out of your TV speakers. Brass Bonanza in Hartford? You bet your ass. That’s a really great idea that someone had to do some homework on. Things like that are a precursor to today’s MLB – The Show video games in where you have all the little nuances of the ballparks you play in – like the Green Monster in left field when playing in Boston. It really was ahead of its time.
- Oh, and the Ottawa Senators were really, really bad, just like in real life. Peter Sidorkiewicz was in net, and there were tough goings in the Capitol with David Archibald and Laurie Boschman riding with Brad Marsh and Mark Freer. It was great.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but this game is an invaluable marker in the history of NHL video games. It’s generated enough interest that there’s an NHL94 website that comes complete with options to download the original game. There’s also an option to download the same game that’s been updated to include current teams, players, and logos. There are NHL 94 online leagues that are formed from the gamers that visit the online forum.
And the next time we meet, bring your control pad. I’ll even take out Hextall and replace him with Fiset. Turn the line changes on, and keep a lookout for Mats Sundin down the middle.