Most people are aware of the NHL series as far as 16-bit systems go. It is one I love on the Genesis and there are a few on the SNES I’ve gotten great enjoyment out of; especially the ’96 edition during my senior year of high school back in 2009. When uou talk NHL ’94, and you generally hear the Genesis and to a much lesser extent, the Sega CD version. And rightfully so, as it took things to the next level. Owners of the SNES had to stomach the dreadful NHLPA ’93, where it played okay, but it was slow and choppy. To say EA needed to get acquainted with the hardware was an understatement. This is where they finally understood it and made those sports games that year a great experience.
It does seem hard to believe, but a number of games struggled on this system early on. The first few Maddens were not exactly smooth compared to their Genesis counterparts. With hockey, it’s difficult because compared to most sports, it’s very fast paced with slap shots, turnovers, and rebounds. NHL ’94 may come off as a copy and paste game, but it is far from choppy. It’s on par with the Genesis NHL games. Along with the same features as the Sega version, it is one of the must haves for sports games.
This is not only a smoother game to play. The controls are a lot more responsive. Like the early games, you pass and shoot on offense. New is the ability to dump the puck and perform one timers. Defensively, nothing changed. You can switch between players on the fly. Body checking into players and hooking them are back. One of the new features is the ability to control the goalie. You guide them towards the puck to make that last second save or dive when the opponent thinks he has a wide open net. Other than that, he can still shoot the puck. And if the feature is on, changing lines is a breeze.
At first glance, the graphics might look the same. The crowd is at least. However, it’s not a copy and paste scenario like ’93. Regarding the rink, it’s a darker shade of light blue. Players on the ice are given a little overhaul. They sport new animations and movements, making it feel more suited for the SNES. There are a few new animations here and there on the bench and also in the crowd when things get hectic and exciting. While nothing groundbreaking, some of those minor details make it strong enough to say this is a great game for the system.
The audio is given a big overhaul in NHL ’94. This is where they took full advantage of the audio chips. First off, the music does its best with trying to replicate organ music. Compared to ’93, it is a huge improvement. It sounds like something I would hear at an actual hockey game with home team goals. In the menus, it’s excellent and is the kind of thing that could be used in a pre-game show or game intro. What is nailed down effectively is the sounds and voices being re-done completely. It takes advantage of the SNES’ capabilities and gives players cleaner sound with the crowd and hits. Those grunts sound a lot more real. Patience with the hardware can lead to great efforts.
Like the Genesis and Sega CD editions, you got all 24 NHL teams, including the new expansions at the time. There is also the All-Star teams. Also seen are all the players that were
on the rosters for the 1993-94 season. Being able to be guys like Jaromir Jagr on the Pittsburgh Penguins was very nice. One advantage over the Sega versions for just this edition is how they handled multiplayer. It allows between one to five players, pending if you have the Multitap. However, you can choose which team you want instead of wondering which team you are on. You could actually play as an entire scoring line.
There isn’t much to what modes can be played. Exhibition games are still here. The same is also for the playoffs. You can continue to play one game elimination rounds or be like the actual NHL and have seven game series rounds to get to the Stanley Cup. New to the game is shootouts. It is you against the opponent’s goalie with your scoring line and vice versa. Have more goals and that’s it. These are also in the form of penalty shots during games. Cause a problem with a guy who has a clear line to shoot and score, and you might suffer the consequences of them going one on one with your goalie. One negative is a password system, which was rather lengthy, something the original on Genesis and ’93 on SNES had. It’s annoying, but its not too complicated.
The options are minimal like the other versions. One flaw is getting rid of the fighting. That is one thing I never understood with ’94 and ’95. I’m guessing because of the blood in ’93 on the Genesis, which can happen in actual hockey games. More than likely, that got the NHL to force EA to remove fighting and little details of injuries, the former coming back in ’96. It wouldn’t be the last time they were forced by sports leagues to remove certain features. Anyway, you can still follow the rules and have penalties and/or offsides. Or you can not and just body check and charge any way you can. You can still have line changes and switch to different players before faceoffs and in play. New is allowing the goalie to play on his own or you controlling him.
There are quite a bit of in game options. A number of them return from ’93 and the original. As usual, you can watch instant replays and switch goalies. A new feature is the ability to edit lines to have certain players on scoring lines and power play lines. There are also summaries on scoring plays and penalties that occur. As with the earlier games, you can view scores and see a highlight on certain games. You can also view player cards, the crowd noise, and also exit the game even if it didn’t end. Either way, it’s a step up.
I don’t think there’s anything else to discuss regarding NHL ’94 that hasn’t been said already. The difficulty is rather decent. Scoring can be a hassle, but a hurdle you can get past quickly. My only complaint is the fighting being removed, but it doesn’t bother me that much. The password system is a nitpick, but you’re not forced to spend hours playing the playoffs. Speaking of which, games can fly by rather quick. Regardless, NHL ’94 is a worthy recommendation. This game proved the hardware can go a long way with hockey games and it would be something the series achieved every year until it finished up on the SNES in 1997.
Four stars out of five