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A Guide to Hockey Video Games from Retro to Next Gen

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NHL video games

In these shelter-in-place times, I thought it might be fun to list some of the history of hockey video games, to where they are today. As a guy who grew up playing the original Atari Pong games, they’ve come quite a ways technologically.

So, let’s get started with a look at that original Atari Pong game. You kids out there have NO IDEA how space-age this was at the time of the early 1970s. Here’s a great article on it all.

Pong was likely a loosely simulated soccer title. It emerged in 1972 and developers have tried to deliver realistic simulations or over-the-top romps to an eager public ever since. Gradually, it evolved into a “hockey” version that was actually very entertaining to play. Well, to a kid in the early ’70s anyway.

The adaptability for sports games is vast. Whilst some developers have strived for the perfect simulation, others have looked to incorporate sport on other platforms via slightly different methods. The Fishin’ Frenzy title on Foxy Bingo shows how even the most basic premise of a sport makes for an entertaining game that appeals to both sports fans and online gamers alike. Mobile devices are a current popular method of delivering sports games, with many top titles getting slightly condensed handheld releases.

Hockey has not been missed in the evolution of gaming, with several titles standing out as benchmarks through history. Right through to today’s official NHL releases, hockey has been given the home entertainment treatment, with the following titles breaking new ground each time:

BLADES OF STEEL

Blades of Steel initially hit American arcades in the late ’80s, but later ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as well as home computers such as the Amiga and Commodore 64.

It had a voice sample when you first inserted the NES cartridge, which was unusual at the time and marked this out as a benchmark title. It is also known as being the first game to introduce a fighting mechanism, which thrilled hockey fans.

WAYNE GRETZKY HOCKEY

Today, linkups with popular athletes are not uncommon, with big-name stars looking to become involved in games. Starting in the ’90s, through motion capture and to increase their brand. In the nineties, Wayne Gretzky was a huge name in the sport, and by endorsing this game, and the later series, he helped bring ice hockey to the video game masses starting in the ’90s.

This is also the title that is credited with rocketing developer Bethesda to international acclaim. They are still a behemoth of video gaming on the back of the success, most notably with their Fallout series of games.

NHL ’94

NHL ’94 broke the mold when it came to ice hockey video games and it still stands as one of the most beloved versions of the sport available on a home console. It featured a vertical pitch, like the popular Sensible Soccer, as well as personalized touches such as some team’s entrance music.

It was the gameplay which stood out from its peers, though, the free-flowing feel of being on ice was finally captured perfectly for the Super Nintendo. Some still rank this as one of the greatest sport simulations of all time, with exceptionally good reason.

NHL HITZ 2002

NHL Hitz 2002 was not as much a simulation as an arcade take on ice hockey, but the fun factor it introduced still holds strong today. From players on fire to players with horse’s head, the fun never stopped in this instantly addictive title from 2002.

Winning games earned in-game currency which allowed you to personalize the experience and made this a long-lasting game. It is a feature we see commonly in games today, but something that seemed unique back at the turn of the century and spawned a couple of sequels.

NHL ’14

EA Sports started to dominate the sports simulation genre on consoles, and it is easy to see with their 2014 NHL release, which stands out from the rest. Graphically, it is one of the best-looking games out there, with a comprehensive roster of teams and players to choose from.

Using the Enforcer Engine meant that timing, grapples, and strikes were far more precise than previous years, making this a benchmark for the EA Sports series. It had five different game modes for longevity and set a precedent in terms of game physics that subsequent titles have developed.

We hope that maybe some of you out there discover one of these hockey video games, while the real games continue to be sidelined.

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Rich Solomon

Get the newest one every year. EA really need to spend some time on player art for the NHL series. Players hardly look themselves, when compared to their other sports games.

jensen

This is amazing, Adrian. “Blades of steal” was my first hockey game ever. I never want to miss that time.

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