Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why We Still Love NHL 94

Video game technology has come a long way since EA Sports released NHL 94 in March, 1993. But the nostalgic death grip that NHL 94 holds over a generation of fans won't subside.

That's why EA Sports intends to recreate the classic game in its latest version of the NHL series, and not by simply slapping on an emulator like in NHL 06. In addition to NHL 14, the game's creators have made a completely updated version of NHL 94 that might just get more game play than the main product.

Greg Wyshynski took it for a test drive and came back with glowing reviews.

The best compliment I can pay EA Sports’ new ‘NHL 94’ anniversary edition: I wanted to bring it home, call my friends, get some six packs and play until dawn.

And by the looks of the trailer, he's not lying.

It's amazing the cultural relevance NHL 94 still has 20 years later. Fans unconditionally love everything about the game, to the point that ran highlights with an NHL 94 twist this season and I was sad it wasn't a permanent switch. There is even an online community for the game, with links to emulators and online leagues.

And it's not difficult to see why the love persists. It was a great game to have friends over for a tournament and its easy-to-pick-up, hard-to-put-down quality might have even helped you first fall in love with hockey.

Puck Daddy, with the help of Scotty Wazz, counted down the 10 greatest things about NHL 94 earlier this year, and I wanted to add my own fond recollections to get pumped for the game's modern update.

- Obviously, shattering the glass was one of the coolest aspects of the game, and was a real shocker the first time you did it. It may not have been as cool as the first time you shattered the glass on a spinning 360 dunk in NBA Jam, but it served noticed that your shot was a weapon of mass destruction.

- Although totally trumped by the ability to save multiple full-length seasons on more modern systems, there was something charming about having to save your playoff series by a password. I used to have reams of paper filled with various passwords to different series.

- In one such series, I can still remember getting stonewalled by Curtis Joseph as a kid in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and contemplating "forgetting" to write down the password for the series. I must have fired 70 shots at Cujo but he didn't budge. How was I ever going to beat him! Well, taking a page out of real life and Doug Gilmour-ing him to death in Game 7 worked out nicely. The wrap around was king. One of the first money moves that every NHL game had.

- EA took out the wrap around as a viable scoring chance for a number of years after it became so easy to score, until they inexplicably made it another money move in an early 2000s version of the series. Although that move may have been a glitch as goalies seemed to actively jump away from the puck.

- Now that I bring up the early 2000s, as an aside, I'd like to take a moment to recognize the contributions of mid-season trade acquisition Keith Tkachuk who solidified the 2C position and helped me win a Stanley Cup. A decade later and you're still remembered (which says something about the Leafs' deadline deals in the real world). Don't even act like I'm the only one who has a soft spot in his heart for certain players because of their video game contributions...

- There really wasn't anything more demoralizing than inflicting a goal song on your opponent. There are probably some people who hear Brass Bonanza and rock back and forth uncontrollably like Roberto Luongo at a Frattelis' concert.

- At the same time, cutting your opponent's goal music short with a quick reply was a great way to kill the crowd and rally the troops. This may be your barn, but the Saints ain't marching tonight.

- The music in general was top notch. I want to find the MIDI organist and hire him to follow me around playing that soundtrack.

- Dave Barr was a wealth of information before puck drop (although I don't remember him having this much to say), and he didn't condition a generation of fans to twitch whenever he called a game in real life. Watch closely to your video-game-playing friends the next time you hear a "Great save Luongo" from Jim Hughson.

- Having the players on hot streaks and cold streaks was a nice touch. Knowing that Felix Potvin was experiencing a rare off-night meant Todd Gill could be stapled to the bench.

- Anyone else check the decibel readings mid-game to see how the crowd was reacting? I made it a personal mission to have those things cranked all game because the fans are paying customers and they deserve a good show. 

- Maybe I was so invested in making sure the crowd was having fun because one of the fans in the crowd looked like my Grandma. I have no idea why I thought that but it made it fun. It's okay if you didn't realize my Grandma was in the crowd.

- While you couldn't make anyone bleed like in NHLPA 93, you could definitely lay a hurting. Lining up a thundering hit that stopped an unsuspecting forward in his tracks, the crowd silent as the play stopped to respectfully allow his lifeform to ascend from his body to the afterlife. It may be 1994, but not even these video game coaches are putting Eric Lindros back in after that head shot.

- Hitting players after the whistle, especially after a goal, was a battle in itself and one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. When EA Sports started making those penalties in later versions it went too far, man. Too. Far.

- Jeremy Roenick was still a beast in NHL 94, although not quite as dominant as his legend-making NHLPA 93 character, and was one of only a handful of dominant players in the game. For a few years after NHL 94 EA Sports went out of their way to make practically everyone rated 100 (like Craig Janney and Joe Juneau in NHL 95).

- NHL 94 was so good that it didn't even matter that they took fighting out of the game, people still loved it. Don Cherry probably had a conniption, however.

- NHL 94 is still a great way to pass the time with friends. If you still have an SNES or Genesis somewhere, shake off the cobwebs, blow the dust out of the cartridge, and host a tournament.


Sal said...

The game did not come out in March 1993. It came out in the Fall, as it had the complete rosters for the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Matt Horner said...

I have been duped by Wikipedia... How embarrassing.

Sal said...

Yeah, a lot of people have been duped by Wikipedia. The NHL expansion draft was in June 1993, so the game had to come out later than June 1993, which is why the March 1993 release date doesn't jive.

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