Who Took The Fun Out Of My NHL Videogames?

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Videogames and hockey: two things that I love. And the intersection of those two is something that I’ve spent way, way too much time on. Over the years, the time I’ve spent playing various NHL videogames could’ve been spent doing something productive, like, oh, say earning a masters degree, curing cancer or repainting the Sistine Chapel. Not that I’d be great at actually DOING those things, but I just don’t even want to know how much time I’ve spent playing hockey on the Sega, Super Nintendo, Playstation, PS2 or XBOX 360 over the years. Thank goodness there’s no “/played” command for that.

 Who Took The Fun Out Of My NHL Videogames?

Here’s your Grumpy Old Man Warning – I.E. Things are different now and I don’t like it! (Click the picture for a link to the original Dana Carvey skit)

Recent versions of EA’s NHL series have left me wanting. I mean, I SHOULD like them; they have everything a hockey videogame fan should like. They look real, have a crazy amount of different controls you can do, very in-depth features and an a ton of different modes like online league play, Be a GM and Be A Pro Mode. Hell, you even control your hockey stick with the right analog stick.

This is all designed to make you feel like you’re really playing hockey. EA wants to simulate a real game – that’s what they’ve always been working towards. This works for the Madden franchise; I’ve always found that game fun and seems to never get old. But for hockey, this doesn’t work for me.

Sure, you can do tons of different stuff but it’s all about strategy and “realness” and … well, work. It is hard goshdarn work to win a game. That’s all well and good for people wanting to re-enact a game, but where has the fun gone? 

This’ll sound like I’m Old Man Grumpypants McGee to the younger readers, but I remember a time, the glory days of NHL videogames, when they were just a blast to play. For me it began with NHLPA Hockey ’93 for the Sega Genesis. It was a revelation, something never before experienced, and tons of fun! As most of you probably know NHL ’94 surpassed ’93 to be one of the best-known NHL games ever and still have online leagues to this day (as talked about in this BSN post). It’s cool to think that someone, somewhere is playing a game of NHL ’94 RIGHT NOW.

A slight digression, but I believe NHL ’94 took fighting out of the game, then NHL ’95 put it back in. NHL ’95 even had BLOOD, man! (A big deal and a controversial one at the time.) The blood in ’95 even inspired the famous line from Swingers below…

nhl 94 design Who Took The Fun Out Of My NHL Videogames?

There’s some serious schadenfreude taking place in this picture. (Also, clickie the image for a link to a t-shirt of this pic.)

Right around the time of NHL ’95, Sega came out with multi-taps. You could only use two controllers back then and the multi-tap let you use a whole four! Whoa, mindblow! To play NHL hockey with three of your best friends was an insanely novel concept at the time – and tons of fun. (A recurring theme here, fun.) And sure, you can do that online today , but not having an Internet connection forced you to get together in the same place – and there’s something extra special about that.

I played lots of different versions of NHL from ’96 on and they were all fun to different extents. The one that really sticks out in my mind though is NHL 2002. My wife and I played several seasons of that game (lucky me, right?). Looking back on it now, the game was played at a freakishly fast pace, very much videogame-like and not realistic at all. Also, the announcers (Jim Hughson and Don Taylor) were incredibly funny – the first and only time I recall the annoucers cracking wise during games.

Some samples for your edification:

Play-by-Play Announcer: The Oilers are making a change in the net, Don!
Colour Analyst: Cool! The new guy has a better mask!

Play-by-Play Announcer: Atlanta has taken the lead!
Colour Analyst: Their fans are going nuts! I just saw a guy do a back-flip in the crowd! Or was that just a rendering bug?

Colour Analyst: Ow, I spilled hot coffee on my legs!
Play-by-Play Announcer: THOSE ARE MY LEGS!
Colour Analyst: Oh yeah, sorry.

Colour Analyst: Impressive, Jim! He now has one goal for every Kevin Costner baseball movie!

You can check out the full list of (mostly) witty NHL 2002 quotes at IMDB.

Here’s a clip of some gameplay of NHL 2002.

The next year, EA interestingly took most of the funny lines out of the game. Maybe they got a lot of negative feedback, I don’t know, but I sure missed the fun vibe that NHL 2002 had, and EA has never gone back to it. Their focus has been on realism instead.

That’s my point, folks. In NHL 2012 you can do amazing things. During the faceoff you can adjust to a forehand or backhand grip,  even try to push the puck forward and skate around the other faceoff guy to grab the puck. You can do incredible dekes. You can lift the stick, do a poke check, bend a knee to block a pass, fully lay out on the ice to block a shot, dump the puck, bank it off the boards and even more! You can celebrate in a number of ways, even go down on a knee and do a fist pump.

But where’s the fun?

Where are the mascots like Sabretooth? I should be able to hit him with a puck and knock him out. And he’d get back up and dance and pump up the crowd the next period that way the politically correct crowd wouldn’t get their knickers in a bunch. (It’s a GAME. You should be able to get away with things you can’t necessarily do in real life.)

Where is the fun color analyst cracking jokes? Hell, where is the team-specific announcing teams? People (at least Sabres fans) would pay through the nose for downloadable content featuring their hometown announcers. At the very least we need to get Rick Jeanneret to record a ton of voice work and say a bunch of players last names before he is unable to so it can be used for something like this. How much fun would it be to play a game with him announcing it!?

And it takes forever to navigate a menu and load everything jsut to be able to play a game. When I sit down to play I want to be able to jump into the action. But no, I have to wait to sign in to XBOX Live, navigate a clunky menu system, and then wait for eons to load things. How hard would it be to have a setting to “Play next season game” or something right in the main menu?

Argh.

Anyway, there you have it – the, “it was better back in my day” rant about NHL videogames. It was bound to happen sooner or later. You durned whippersnappers can have your upcoming NHL 2013. I’ll be just fine and dandy with playing NHL ’94 or 2002. Tweet me when they make a fun game.

nhl94 celebrations Who Took The Fun Out Of My NHL Videogames?

Our celebrations were pixelated, 16-bit graphics that looked horrible. AND WE LIKED IT!

Am I wrong?

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Posted in: NHL, Videogames
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