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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Plater of Games, #54: NHL '94

Let's get this out of the way right now. NHL '94 by EA Sports is easily one of the greatest sports video games ever made. This is not open to debate.

Why? Why is this thirty-year-old game featuring number four among America's Big Four sports still so beloved? Nostalgia? Perhaps. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

This game landed at a time when game designers were still figuring out how to translate professional sports from the fields and courts and rinks to the Nintendo or SEGA or home computer. There were so many trade-offs to be made between authenticity and playability, often rendering baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, and other sports into clunky digital renditions. NHL '94 cut through all of that with a game that was incredibly fun. The players were fluid and easily switched between. (The innovation of the colored star beneath the player with the puck was a great leap forward equivalent to the first-down line on televised NFL broadcasts.) And how brilliant was the vertical presentation of the ice? Oh, and licensing! All the teams were there, and all the players, the first time a hockey game had achieved that. You could play Ray Bourque on the Bruins or Wayne Gretzky on the Kings or Jeremy Roenick on the Blackhawks. (By the way, Roenick has cited his lofty rankings among this game's players as a catalyst for his real-life fame. That's how impactful NHL '94 was). And how brilliant

This game was so enjoyable that it became a mainstay for college dorms, where consoles allowing several guys to get in on the action, and so even those with no particular attachment to hockey were eager and able to participate. Sometimes, the right game lands at the right moment, and transcends time and space to become a cultural phenomenon. NHL '94 is in that pantheon. This is not open to debate.

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