Throwback Thursday Top 10: hockey video games
With the release of NHL 15 just around the corner, this week’s Throwback Thursday Top 10 takes a look at the best hockey games of all time. Some of the games that made the list are a little more modern, but you won’t be disappointed with the classics installed on this list.
Without further adieu, here are the top 10 hockey video games.
#10 NHL 95
Following up on a classic the year before (NHL 94) is no easy task, but EA Sports did a pretty good job with NHL 95.
Many of the features from NHL 94 were included for the next season. But there was one new addition to the game that goes overlooked today: trading.
Now, in this day and age, you’d expect transactions to be a part of any franchise gaming mode in sports video gaming. For it’s time, it was an innovative feature on the second generation gaming consoles (Super Nintendo and Sega Genisis).
Wayne Gretzky a member of the Bruins? You can make that trade. How about Mario Lemieux? That could also happen. Of course you had to have the stamp of approval from the virtual “commissioner”, but the pipedream of seeing some of the greatest players on your favorite team(s) became a possibility starting with NHL 95.
#9 NHL Breakaway 98
The first game on the third generation console list, NHL Breakaway 98 – specifically the Nintendo 64 version – offered a good alternative to EA’s booming NHL franchise, as well as 989 Sports’ NHL FaceOff and the Wayne Gretzky hockey series.
NHL Breakaway 98 had the traditional game modes for its time, exhibition, regular season and playoffs. It’s main feature was a momentum based checking mode where players can outmuscle and outskate one another based on their speed and strength ratings. Another nice caveat was the ability to edit players from their ratings to their jersey numbers.
#8 NHL Faceoff
My biggest memory of this game was playing the demo version upon purchasing the very first Playstation. Being a diehard video game and hockey addict, I just had to purchase this.
While waiting for EA to make the transformation from the second to third generation consoles, NHL Faceoff was a good way to enjoy a hockey game in the short term. From the 3D arena with rotating advertisements, to real life jerseys (for its time) and solid gameplay, NHL Faceoff proved to be a solid title during year one of the Playstation.
#7 NHL 2K2
With the success of the NFL 2K and NBA 2K franchises, it would seem the NHL 2K franchise would fit with the two juggernauts in their quest to surpass EA as the top sports video game company. Unfortunately for the NHL 2K series, some of the mishaps in several titles prevented them from making that leap, but they did come up with a very solid hockey version in the last year of the Sega Dreamcast.
2K Sports took a year off after the release of NHL 2K to focus on NHL 2K2. That proved to be a good decision as NHL 2K2 provided a nice swan song on the Dreamcast. With improved Artificial Intelligence (AI), gameplay, player traits and realistic team systems (example, the Bruins playing a dump and chase and the Red Wings being high-tempo), NHL 2K2 added a good depth of realism in every facet.
Compared to NHL 2K, 2K2 was a major step up and gave the series plenty of momentum when they moved to the Playstation 2 and the first XBox. It’s really a shame they couldn’t capitalize on the momentum in the long run, because the 2K series could’ve really given EA’s NHL dynasty a run for its money in the virtual world.
#6 NHL Hitz Pro
As the popular NFL Blitz and NBA Jam franchises taking the sports gaming world to new extremes, it was only a matter of time before the NHL jumped in. Enter, the NHL Hitz series.
With 5-on-5 gameplay and an expanded ice surface from its previous versions (NHL Hitz 2002 and 2003), NHL Hitz Pro added a little more realism from the first two years. Oh, and that arcade style of play that was full of mayhem, goals and fun, that was all there too.
With a traditional franchise mode, and the underrated pick-up hockey mode that included teams of mechanics, bar league players and kids playing the game after school, there was something for everyone with NHL Hitz Pro.
#5 NHL 12
Like several of its predecessors, NHL 12 capitalized on the momentum from the previous version while also adding a few notable additions.
For the first time, goalies were considered “fair game” meaning they could be run over and sprayed on. Oh, and they were able to drop the gloves with other players as well, including the opposing netminder. The gameplay also focused on improved puck and player physics.
Also for the first time, the Winter Classic was a playable mode. In this version, the 2011 New Years Day game between the Penguins and Capitals were featured. Improvements to Be a Pro and Be a GM mode were also included.
In an era where hockey gaming hit its peak, NHL 12 was arguably the best hockey games for the XBox 360 and Playstation 3.
#4 NHL 2004
Aside from the cover athlete dilemma, which was originally given to Dany Heatley before being involved in a car crash that killed his former Thrashers teammate Dan Snyder (and replaced with Joe Sakic), NHL 2004 was a major turning point for the EA hockey series.
In this version, the EA NHL franchise revamped its dynasty mode, added three new European leagues and introduced new checking, fighting and deking engines. Every goal, check and win was hard to come by, but it made the taste of victory that much sweeter. For hardcore hockey fans and hardcore gamers, it was a match made in heaven.
#3 Blades of Steel
Blades of Steel started out as an arcade classic, and it transferred over nicely to the NES.
For its time, Blades of Steel proved to be a fast paced hockey game with some physicality and fighting mixed in. All of that was displayed in the games two modes: exhibition and tournament.
Fighting occurred when two players bump into each other three times during the course of the game. The loser of the fight would sit in the penalty box, while the winner would go unpunished and see his team go on a power play.
Other features unique for its time were shootouts, penalty shots and voice samples from “Blades of Steel” at the games opening signature to “Faceoff”, “Fight”, “Penalty Shot” and more.
Gamers can choose one of eight teams: Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota (why Boston and Detroit weren’t included beats me and is one of my only gripes).
Like the next two games on this list, the Blades of Steel legacy lives on as one of the classic hockey games.
#2 NES Ice Hockey
Sure, this game lacked in game modes and realism compared to some of the other titles on the list, but NES Ice Hockey was, in one word, fun.
NES Ice Hockey featured six teams: the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, Poland, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. Once gamers select their team in one or two player mode, they can modify their lineup made of five players, instead of the real life six. That lineup of hockey players included a skinny (fast and good at faceoffs, but weak), average (in all qualities) and big (slow and weak at faceoffs, but powerful in hitting and shooting).
The goal celebrations were pretty cool, as was the in-game music, the zamboni ride after the first and second periods and puck battles that resulted in fights where the losing team would be sent to the penalty box.
For its time, NES Ice Hockey fit the bill.
#1 NHL 94
The accolades for NHL 94 speak for itself. It is on many people’s lists of the greatest sports video games of all time, and was also featured in NHL 14, where gamers can relive this glorious title in the 20th anniversary of the title. NHL 94 mode, however, was not up to par with the hype – even for nostalgics like myself – but that did not tarnish the legacy of the top hockey video game.
NHL 94 was the first to include the one-timer and gave gamers better control of their players. It also included four game modes – regular season (in this case exhibition mode), shootout and single game series and best of seven playoff modes. Oh and the organ is just an added bonus, especially when it cues up the Brass Bonanza.
Moreover, NHL 94 was featured in two successful films during the 1990’s: Mallrats and Swingers. That is just the icing on the cake for the greatest hockey game of all time.
(And a bonus of Brass Bonanza, of course)