Ice Hockey. The forgotten sport. Like the lost city of Atlantis, ice hockey is ostensibly fading into obscurity. Sports like basketball, baseball, and football are ruling the world. In 2006, even the PBA (Pro Bowling Association) got better TV ratings than hockey. Does that mean an ice hockey video game is not going to be enjoyable? Especially from 1993? NO WAY!
Sure, this game is from the golden 90s. Ice hockey was preeminent in this period. Luminaries like the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Jeremy Roenick were in their prime. People watched the sport just to see the trio play. They also made this game such a huge success. NHLPA ’93 also brought about MDI organ music which was tailored made for ice hockey.
The other factor which elevated this game as a crowd favorite, was the fact that it was really fun and accessible. You don’t need to be a pro gamer to get the hang of it. Also, the game has multiple modes, such as playoff, season, and shootouts. It also boasts a polished textured style that made navigating your players on the ice almost faultless. Fast breaks were abundant, as were the goals. This high tempo action immortalised the game long after the Genesis died. I have friends who still plug their Genesis systems into CRT TVs just to have a tournament or two every so often.
Now, as with all sports games, NHLPA Hockey isn’t perfect. This game does have a few quirks that needed to be rectified. The most apparent was the ease of scoring. I’m not joking when I say, if you disable penalties, do not even bother to shoot. All you need to do is run straight into the goalie and you will score 90% of the time!
The other peculiar nuance in this game is the utter disregard of proper player balance There is one player, although a legend in his day, that will guarantee your victory. Jeremy Roenick of the Chicago Blackhawks can out-score, out-shoot, out-skate and out-hit any player in the game. His proficiency in this game reminds me of Billy Idol’s power over women. It is relentless! It is unstoppable! In fact, in an interview, Roenick was quoted candidly, “I would like to thank the programmers of that game for being a fan of mine and creating a legend that will never die.”
Indeed, you can even pick a fight, and if you clobbered your opponent senseless, you might even get to see a pool of blood on the ice. I remember making bets with my peeps on how many stars we can knock out of a game in the first minute. Good times, man.
I know, he’s Ron Barr from EASN?!? Long before EA Sports became a household name in the video game industry, why did a video game company have a sports network? It perplexed me greatly. How would I tune in to it? It even had a phone number for me to order the package. How does that work? Were they going to send a special device to receive its broadcasts? Little did I realise such gimmicks were a sign of greater things to come. Oh, big Ron knew his stuff well. The visual of Barr behind the virtual desk is an enduring memory for many sports gamers.
Over 20 years since its release, NHLPA ’93 is more than just a footnote in sports video games. It transcends generations.The series has improved over time and inspired other similar games to shine as well. Despite its flaws, the game is worth buying. If you ever find it in the bargain bin for five bucks, get it! You’ll have a jolly good time scoring and fighting with your friends.