There are two things that you have to know about me before you read this: 1. I am an NHL gaming freak. I have been ever since NHLPA '93 for the Super Nintendo, and 2. I am a die hard Leafs fan (OUCH, I know, believe me I know). Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I feel like writing about what is probably my favourite series (aside from say, Zelda games).
I figured that since NHL '11 is only a week away, I'd write something on the evolution and impact this series has had on my life.
NHLPA '93 - SNES and GEN. This was my first NHL game. Well, actually it was the NHLPA game because EA hadn't secured the rights to the NHL and all the team names, logos and such. Though it had actually player names and reasonable attributes, which was good enough. I played it on the Super Nintendo and have many fond memories of breaking glass, faces, and this wrap around goal that the goalie just couldn't do a damn thing about. It's not that he couldn't, he just DIDN'T. If you held the puck behind the net at one side of the net for a few seconds, just skate out in front and the goalie will be stuck to the post. Ahh, cheapest move, but when you were desperately trying to get that tying goal in the last minute, it seemed that even for the most honourable player, anything went.
NHL '94 - SNES, GEN, and PC.
This game was just, the best thing I ever played. I played this game so darn much, I would hit anything that moved and was once told by a friend that I could "score at will". The additiong of One-Timers to the game made it that much more exciting, and what was especially good (for me) is it had the best Leafs team I've seen in my lifetime. Many people still think of NHL 94 as the best in the entire series, even to the point where you can play against others online using emulators in leagues. I must've played this game for thousands of hours, easily. The only drawback, was there was no fighting. Other than that it was the perfect NHL game (for the time).
I played '95, '96 and '97 for the SNES and while they weren't bad games, they weren't what NHL '94 was. '96 and '97 were essentially clones of one another anyway.
NHL '98 - SNES, PSX, PC.
This was the next true step in the evolution of this series. The presentation and commentary were so good that it really felt like you were watching a game on TV, but you could control it! It was a truly fun game that looked and played great. I hold a special place in my heart for how you could body check a ref and watch him flip into the air, and land on the cold ice flat on his back. Then you'd have to save the replay and laugh about it daily. Ahh man, good times. NHL '99 was also another good step in the right direction with vastly improved gameplay (the computer could actually beat you in this one!) and better presentation (replay camera angles and such). A bonus to this game was that you could actually run the goalie and knock 'em over, which was always a fun thing to do.
NHL 2000 to 2003 were all fun, arcadey like games but were unfortunately, far too easy. The CPU didn't provide much of a challenge.
Which brings us to NHL 2004 (PS2, XBOX, GC, PC) This was another very strong point in the NHL series. The graphics were great, the body checking was brutal and the fighting was fantastic. I mean incredibly fantastic, the engine was so solid that NHL used it for years afterward. I'd take it when compared to the first person fighting we found in NHL '10. The Dynasty mode was so deep, allowing you to assess attributes to staff, set ticket prices and team practices, go through auto generated drafts and decorate your own office room with many things. I played this game until NHL '07 for 360, and I'll tell you why. NHL 2005 - the CPU defense was absurd and knock you on your butt everytime you crossed the blue-line. NHL 2006 - A hyper arcade like game which tried to highlight the new faster, higher scoring post lockout NHL. It resulted in terrible goaltending which took the fun out of the game.
NHL '07, '08, '09 '10 - (360 and mostly on PS3) One of the greatest revolutions in sport gaming took place in NHL '07, aside from the great HD graphics, the gameplay had been revamped with allowing you to control your players hockey stick with the right analog, and his skating with the left. It was really neat, to be able to so intuitively deke defenders out of their jock straps. The AI wasn't great and the goaltending had a major issue where pucks would tend to land on goalies backs, and the goalie would just sit there letting the puck slowly roll into the net. But you could tell something great was coming.
NHL '08 - This game was, well, one of the smartest games I'd ever played. The AI was so smart, and actually learned your tendencies and blocked against repeteadly attempted plays. The game was a solid upgrade on '07 which featured the graphics, but not the gameplay.
NHL '09 - This game was huge. I mean, the EASHL added to an improved version of NHL '08. You could play on teams with every single hockey player in being controlled by someone else online. What an experience that was. I played it for months, until people started cheesing all over the place. Don't get me wrong, I love my double cheese pizza, but I get really frustrated with people who utilize what would be percieved as "cheap" strategies. I just like to play the game as though it were real hockey. Another great addition was the "Be a Pro" mode, where you created yourself and got to play through your career. You would get drafted, and have to work your way up the rnks to become a regular NHLer. This mode was available in the Madden series for years before, so I'm not sure why it took them so long to adapt it to the NHL series. It wasn't that much fun for me being a normal positional player, I must say, as the AI on your team seemed to be a little on the slow side. I did however really enjoy playing as a goaltender.
NHL '10 - More of the same yet with a very beefed up Dynasty mode which is now called "Be a GM" mode.
I'm not sure how much of an upgrade NHL '11 will be, but we fill find out soon enough. The demo played really well, and the new trading card online Dynasty mode looks intriguing.
I love this series, and will be picking this one up as soon as I can.