Let me take you back the magical age I like to call October 1993. In Canada, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal party swept into power, crushing the incumbent Progressive Conservative Party. The death of President Melchior Ndadaye sparked the Burundi Civil War, which would wage on for twelve years. And… uh… the fat kid from Two and a Half Men was born?
…Okay, I’ve got nothing. Apparently, October 1993 was a pretty boring month. But, fatefully, it was also the month that saw the release of one of the greatest sports games of all time, NHL ’94. The third game in the NHL’s official videogame franchise (following NHL Hockey and NHLPA Hockey ’93), NHL ’94 provided gamers a hockey experience that was every bit as revolutionary as it was just plain old fun.
The key to NHL ‘94’s success was how its wealth of options and play-styles allowed it to appeal to nearly any type of gamer. Those who were looking for a casual or arcade-style experience could turn on the console and get to the first drop of the puck within seconds. For others seeking a more in-depth experience, the game also provided the option of setting up entire seasons, complete with customizable rosters, and tracked team and player stats.
Building on the tried-and-true game engine established in the series’ previous two games, NHL ’94 introduced a ton of new features, including penalty shots, shoot outs, automatic line changes, and the ability to use either a player- or computer-controlled goalie. Better yet, all of these new features were completely optional to use, and easy to toggle on or off before each game, allowing gamers to set up exactly the type of game they wanted to play. NHL ’94 also greatly improved what you could do on the ice, thanks to the addition of flip-passes, one-timer quick shots, and all-around more polished controls. Fitting the new focus on technical skills, one element that was taken out from previous games was the ability to get into fights – thankfully though, you retain the ability to crush your opponents with brutal body checks, so your inner Tie Domi will still be satisfied.
Apart from game-play, one of the most satisfying things about NHL ’94 has to be the sound. The swish of your skates as your team flies down the ice, the sharp crack of a slap-shot, the bone-crunching impact of a blatant cross check – I play with penalties turned off, my rink is like the Thunder Dome – it’s all just so wonderfully satisfying. Each team even has its own organ music accurate to their actual, real-life themes, in just another example of the exceptional attention to detail that made this game so great.
Long before the NHL-Year-Goes-Here video game franchise had overstayed its welcome, before publisher/co-developer Electronic Arts was considered the corporate equivalent of the Antichrist, and at a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs somehow didn’t completely suck, NHL ’94 blew gamers away – and it only takes a few minutes of play to see that it completely holds up in 2015, as one of the best sports games of all time, an absolute must-have for SNES-loving hockey fans.
FINAL SCORE – 9.5/10