Saturday, January 18, 2014

20 Years of "NHL 94"

I really can't fucking believe that this game is 20 years old now. It sure doesn't seem like it's been that long does it? 20 years of "NHL 94", and it still stands as one of the best video game hockey experiences you'll ever pick up and play.

I was admittedly a little late to the "NHL 94" celebration, by about a year or two if I remember correctly. Up until that point I had grown up a hockey fan, and in the video game world I had managed to wear out my copies of "Blades of Steel" on the NES, along with "Mario Lemieux Hockey" and "NHLPA 93" on the Genesis. Once I got my hands on "NHL 94", none of those games seemed to matter much to me anymore.

"NHL 94" was a revelation in terms of gameplay and authenticity to the sport at the time. The introduction of the classic staple of the series, the one-timer was one new addition, along with added features like goalie controls, penalty shots, and board checks; all of which helped make "NHL 94" the most realistic hockey game to hit the market at that point. Not to mention the fact that even without half those features I just listed, this game would still be an absolute blast.

One thing I remember fondly was playing as the Blackhawks, solely for the fact that Jeremy Roenick was on the team. For some reason, Roenick was like the second coming of Jesus Christ right off the fucking cross in this game. He could score off wicked one-timers and wrist shots alike, and he could hit probably better than almost any other player in the game too. If you ever played as or against the Blackhawks, you knew that there was going to be some kind of carnage on the ice, whether it be reflected on the scoreboard or the penalty box. On another note, Cliff Ronning, then of the Vancouver Canucks, was pretty godlike himself in this game as well...and no, I don't know why either.

As the years would come and go, EA would release subsequent "NHL" games like they do all their sports franchises. While "NHL 95", "NHL 96", and "NHL 97" were all solid games in their own rights, they were never as groundbreaking or balls-out enjoyable as "NHL 94" was. "NHL 98", the last 16-bit EA hockey game, came pretty close to "NHL 94"s level, but the reality was that nothing would ever match, let alone top, what "NHL 94" managed to deliver.

The game's legacy can be felt even to this day, with various websites dedicated to online leagues using emulated versions of the Genesis and Super NES versions of the game updated with modern teams and players. The game has been re-released once as an extra on the PS2 version of "NHL 06" for some reason, and the recent "NHL 14" has an anniversary mode that is done in the "NHL 94" style (but it sucks) and various other game franchises have attempted to emulate what "NHL 94" did, whether it be Sega's old "NHL All-Star Hockey" franchise or 2K's recently retired "NHL 2K" series.

Bottom line, I'm really not telling you anything you probably don't already know anyway. "NHL 94" is a fucking masterpiece that every now and then I'll pop in today for old time's sake, and the fact that this is a sports game we're still worshipping 20 years later is truly something special. If you never played "NHL 94", you should. And if you don't like hockey for some reason, you deserve an ice skate kick to the groin. Repeatedly.

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