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The Video Review: NHL 94

The essential classic hockey title.

EA Sports NHL ‘94 is the king of hockey games. It might be one of the top 5 sports games of all time.
By Source, Fair use,

It’s Video Game Week at SB Nation, so dust off your Intellivision.

Or, you know, maybe not.

This week we’ll take a look back at some of our favourite video games, some you’ll surely recognize. Today, a banger. It’s NHL ‘94, preferably for the Sega Genesis. There were a few incarnations of this game. One was on the Sega. Another similar version was on the Super Nintendo, and if you had a friend with a SegaCD System, you could find it there. There was a version released on the PC, but the Genesis version was my jam.

As far as hockey games go, this 1993 release from EA Sports is my favourite. That’s not against today’s EA incarnations - I routinely enjoy getting tuned up by an unknown in Victoria at 2 AM while I’m trying to defend the likes of Elias Petterson’s slap shot from the blue (slide, Russell!).

NHL 94 was a groundbreaker. EA Sports spared no expense in getting it right in a game that was like none other at the time.

What made ‘94 so great? Many things, some of which included

  • Full NHL rosters - while we were a year away from roster moves and trades (and full season mode), you had an officially licensed product with actual NHL players. Three lines could be rolled out if you turned on line changes. Feeding a pass to Jason Arnott from Igor Kravchuk to beat Tim Cheveldae and those tricky Winnipeg Jets. There’s a lot lost when it’s Number 7 Assisted From Number 26.
  • The one-timer - Arguably the greatest selling point of the game. Two buttons unleashed absolute fury on goaltenders everywhere.
  • Manual goaltending - This was the first game I can remember where the player could mash the B key and take control. Bill Ranford, blocker. Felix Potvin, kick save. Tommy Soderstrom, pad stack. You could even lunge for the puck if you got caught out of place. Good times.
  • Full playoff mode - If you were really good, you could take the 93-94 Oilers (captained by Craig MacTavish) on a run for the Cup. The game’s save mode let you pick up where you left off, so you didn’t have to play sixteen straight games en route to Lord Stanley. But you could.
  • Home rink advantage - In Hartford, you hear the Brass Bonanza at the beginning of every period. In Buffalo, you’d hear the Sabre Dance. Chicago was home to “Here Come The Hawks,” and on Long Island, you’d hear Nassau Coliseum’s “Let’s Go Islanders” chorus. Current Kings organist Dieter Ruehle put together dozens of musical pieces to give the game that much more authenticity.
  • Replay value - The NHL ‘94 community is strong as ever. I don’t know too many games that have held such an audience over the last 27 years, but online players have been modding the game for at least the last fifteen years to include current rosters and teams. Tournaments are held every year in both Canada and the USA to see who’s game is supreme.

There are probably over 100 different hockey titles to have passed through the market place from the late 70s to present day. NHL ‘94 is one of the best, if not the best of them all.