While NHL 98 was great, NHL 99 is everything that last year's title should have been. Overall, this year's NHL title is a refinement of last year's game with new features, improved AI, better graphics, and stronger gameplay. But the changes and additions are more than enough reason to pick it up.
One of the biggest improvements over last year's NHL title is the control. The Dual Shock analog support really gives you the feel of gliding down the ice. In addition, now when you collide with a player on the ice or smash into the glass, the controller vibrates. You can still use the digital pad of course, but the smooth nature of the analog controller really does lend itself perfectly to skating.
Graphically, NHL 99 isn't leaps and bounds better, but it is a little cleaner. The frame rate is still pretty bad, but it doesn't hinder the game too much. EA wanted the animation of the players on the ice to be as true to life as possible, so it went and got real NHL players to provide the motion for the skating and goalie animations in the game. The result is a smoother, more accurate look to the players' movements than has been seen previously.
The play-by-play calls and commentary from NHL broadcasters Daryl Reaugh and Jim Hughson really add some flavor to the game, as does the stadium announcer, who calls out over the PA every once in a while to tell you how tasty the food is at the snack bar. The best one we've heard thus far went something like, "Would the person that left the brown paper bag next to the concession stand filled with nonsequential one hundred dollar bills, a ski mask, and a gun please come to the security office."
AI has always been one of the key points of the NHL series, and this year is no exception. The computer players are always working, either for a shot opportunity or just for an opportunity to knock you into the stands.
Above all, NHL 99 is a better version of last year's game. It may still be a bit sluggish on the frame rate side, but if you're a fan of previous NHL titles, you won't be disappointed.