By Scotty Wazz, Faceoff Hockey Show
On March 15, 1993, Electronic Arts released NHL ’94 for the Sega Genesis. It was the third game in their NHL series and two decades later, it is still fondly remembered by many as the hockey game that set a standard for what hockey games were to become in the future. Luckily for EA, it was a golden age for hockey players in the ‘90s, many of the players being known beyond the hockey fans themselves.
Unlike its cousin Tecmo Bowl, who had their last remaining player retire 19 years after the game’s initial release; there are a handful of players who were in NHL ’94 that continue playing to this day. Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, and Roman Hamrlik are the few players in NHL ’94 to still be around in the NHL today. There are even a small few in Europe who are still active (Sandis Ozolinsh, Mike Craig, Petr Nedved), but the numbers dwindle down each off-season, killing a small part of our childhoods in the process.
Even after 20 years, why does NHL '94 get remembered more fondly than other NHL titles that EA has put out after that?
1. The Partnership of the NHL and the NHLPA
When the first in the NHL series came out in 1991, the NHLPA did not sign off on it, thus you couldn’t play with your favorite players getting the recognition. In NHLPA '93, the NHL didn’t sign off on it—thus you don’t get the team logos and had the Islanders only recognized as Long Island. However, with NHL '94, it was the first time that you could get the best of both worlds playing as your favorite player on your favorite team.
2. Super Fan #99
Though it may not be completely accurate with the game itself, the scene in “Swingers” where Trent Walker (Vince Vaughn) makes 16-bit Wayne Gretzky’s head-bleed is attributed to the NHL '94 game, when it actually was the NHLPA '93 version, seen by the lack of logo at center ice. That mistake is due to the talk of taking the fighting out of the release, but in doing that EA also took out the blood spilling from little Gretzky’s head.
It was a lasting moment for the game and seemed to stick with the actors, as Vaughn then went on to become that annoying glass-banging fan during the 2011 playoffs, sans the big yellow cowboy hat.
3. It’s Not So Much Me…
Whether or not virtual Mike Keenan was the driving force for the Roenick avatar is debatable, and while his rating dropped from the NHLPA '93 to NHL '94 and was no longer the top rated player on his team (belonging to Ed Belfour)—Roenick’s near perfect intangibles in a video game made him one of the most well-rounded players.
Many players recollect having a rule of no one picking the Blackhawks due to Roenick’s dominance, which really hurt the feelings of the avatar Belfour; then avatar Belfour was pulled by virtual Keenan for cyber Jimmy Waite.
4. Team Specific Themes
While the NHLPA '93 release did bring about MIDI organ music, EA had a little more in store for the NHL '94 release when it came to the music. Songs like “Brass Bonanza” for the Hartford Whalers, “The Sabre Dance” for Buffalo, and “Here Comes the Hawks” for Chicago were added for those teams to give a personal touch to those teams when you played in their home arenas.
Sadly, the exclusion of “Rock and Roll Part 2” was the start of the many snubs Gary Glitter would experience in the next 20 years.
5. One-Timer Mania
Many of us know the trick to the scoring in the NHL series in the early days was to pretty much run the goalie and let the puck trickle in after the hit. With the better goalie artificial intelligence, running the goalie wasn’t always the best case.
Therefore, the developers put in the one-timer aspect, allowing players to get off a quick slapper to catch the goalie off-guard, often having the goalie barely move after the pass attempt.
Thanks to that, it became a go-to move for most gamers when playing against their friends. It creates a great visual if the pass is behind the shooter, making the skater look silly as they are left in the cocked position as they continue to glide into the end boards.
6. Cracking the Glass
With the modern NHL series of games including broken sticks and other real-life redirection technologies you would find in the actual game, EA started up their real-game feel by adding the glass-shattering effect in NHL '94. Whether it be a high-rising slapper or trying to hit that annoying glass-banging Vince Vaughn in the big yellow hat, to see the glass shatter from the first time made you do a double take at first and made the crowd gasp every time.
Upon purchase of the NHL '94 game, you had the booklet, cartridge, and a nice little poster for yourself as a reward. On the poster, however, was an offer for NHL '94 “Tip Cards.” For the price of $19.95 plus $4.00 shipping, this set of 225 cards could be yours. In this set, you would get the starting line-up of every team (with the exception of Esa Tikkanen) and some inserts with the new features and some tips on how to get a leg up on the competition.
8. Extra for Modern Time
In NHL 06, EA gave those who had a PlayStation 2 a little bonus: the option to play NHL '94. With all the original teams intact (including the Jets, Whalers, and Nordiques), gamers got a little bit of old school with their new school game. Sure, the rosters were akin to NHL '91 with no players names, the revitalization of the aqua colored ice gave many PS2 players that warm tingly feeling they may have lost due to the cancelled season the year prior.
Even though this game is two decades old and many Sega Genesis’s and Super Nintendo’s are long gone, many still continue to play the game through emulators. The top NHL ’94 community-- NHL94.com—provides links to download emulators and games, to which they put together leagues and tournaments throughout the year for those who want to connect with other NHL ’94 followers, as well as maybe relive the old times they used to have with their neighborhood friends, but make new ones in the process.
How influential was NHL '94 to hockey gamers?
Starting with the NHL 09 title, EA put the option in the controls that allowed the gamer who didn’t care to tool around with the analog sticks to use the face-buttons on the controller. This is something that allowed the non-hardcore gamer to actually be able to pick up a controller and play as they did decades prior and not be turned off by the pizzazz of the analog sticks.
Trying to put the “fun” back in “We need a fun game,” the 2K Sports contingency tried to bring some kind of NHL '94 elements into their later releases, especially when bringing the Nintendo Wii into the fold with the first licensed NHL game for Wii being NHL 2K9. Even with the Wii-motion being put into a more realistic feel to it, the games couldn’t really recapture the glory of NHL '94.
After 2K put the kibosh on their hockey side in 2011, EA tried to pick up the Wii pieces with NHL Slapshot by attaching Wayne Gretzky and a hockey stick shaped peripheral to it, but it still could match that aura of NHL '94.
Now, if they got the Great One’s daughter doing demos of the game…
10. The Wonder of Ron Barr
“Welcome to a sold out Chicago Stadium, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. Hi, I’m Ron Barr for EA Sports.”
This is the face and phrase that welcomed you when you started your game, as EA was able to get Emmy award-winning sports reporter Ron Barr as their face of commentary. Despite the script for the game previews being very close to the same thing of who’s hot and who’s not, the visual of Barr behind the virtual desk while the tale-of-the-tape scrolled down to his right (or underneath in the Genesis game) is a long-lasting memory for many, even having some blogs use him for their own nightly previews.
While NHL ’94 may be considered Ron Barr’s most memorable work, he did work on other EA properties like Bill Walsh College Football, FIFA Soccer, and PGA Tour games as well. The creator of the Sports Byline USA radio show and radio network has been to numerous Super Bowls, Olympic Games, as well as working for the Washington Post and several TV stations as sports anchor. Yet, those credentials pale in comparison to the lasting image he brought to NHL '94, which may also be due to leaving the game on too long and his image was burned into the tube TV set.
Honorable Mentions: Expansion Teams, Manual Goalie Controls, and Auto Line Changes.
• • •
This is a game that transcends generations, including players from the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League using the NHL ’94 celebration as their winning celebration, all the while with many of those players not being old enough to work a controller at the time.
Even 20 years after the initial release, the game is more than just a footnote in sports video games. The game has, of course, improved with time; but the basic elements of things started with NHL '94 and built up from there.
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