Electronic Arts’ NHL Hockey series is one of the longest running sports video game franchises. While the original 1991 release, NHL Hockey, was a Genesis exclusive, its sequel saw a release for both of the mainstream 16-bit consoles. Oddly enough, EA lost the NHL license for this one but gained the Players’ Association license. This allowed gamers to play as real-life stars of the era like the “Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky. So how does the series debut on the SNES fare? Read on to find out!
NHLPA Hockey ’93 was one of the earliest attempts to simulate NHL hockey in a video game. Despite not having the NHL license, the game features all of the NHL teams simply named after their respective cities. The colours for the player’s jerseys are also the same as their respective teams from that era. Complete player rosters are included for every team and gamers have the option to use line changes, adding to the game’s strategy.
The game modes are pretty barebones by today’s standards, though they were considered in-depth at the time. The game features both a regular season game mode (one game), a best of 7 mode and a full fledged playoff mode. The playoff mode allows players to continue their progress through the use of passwords, unlike the Genesis version which has a save feature. Players can also adjust the length of each period and which penalties, if any, will apply when playing. The game supports up to two players, with the option of having players compete head to head or play as teammates.
The core gameplay is solid and fun, with simple pick up and play style controls. The game features a three-button control scheme, modeled after the Genesis version. When on
offense, players can either pass, or shoot a wrist shot or slap shot. Sadly, there are no one-timers as that feature was not added until NHL ’94(often hailed as the pinnacle of the series). On defense, players can use a poke check or body check to try and win the puck back. Players can also get into fights, something that was removed in the game’s sequels, though this is fairly rare and doesn’t add much. The game is played from an overhead, vertical perspective.
Part of what makes the game fun is that it’s quite easy to score, making for some exciting matches. Wrap-around shots in particular have a very high success rate, which can turn some games into very high scoring affairs.
Unfortunately, the solid core gameplay is marred by an abysmal frame rate. The game is very slow and choppy, especially compared to the smooth and generally superior Genesis version. Given the three-button control scheme, it’s pretty apparent that this was meant to be a simple port of the Genesis version. The end product shows that EA’s programmers at the time just weren’t familiar enough with the SNES hardware.
Unlike later SNES releases in the NHL series, this one looks almost exactly like the Genesis version, blue ice and all. The on-ice graphics get the job done, with everything looking like it should, but they certainly won’t wow anyone. The game has a “TV broadcast” style to it that was novel for the time, but feels pretty basic today. The 16-bit NHL games were always about gameplay over graphics, so you won’t find any fancy graphical effects like Mode 7 here. The menus, like the in-game graphics, are serviceable, but really nothing special. On the plus side, pre-game commentary is provided by the one and only Ron Barr!
The title screen / main menu music sounds like a typical EA Genesis game (think Road Rash). While it’s not bad per se, the SNES is certainly capable of much better and it comes off feeling rather cheesy. The in-game music fares much better, with decent sounding organ music popping in from time to time. The sound effects are pretty silly, particularly the various “oofs” the players make, though they have a certain charm to them. Overall, the in-game audio adds to the appeal of the game.
The SNES is often viewed as being vastly inferior to the Genesis when it comes to sports titles and it’s games like NHLPA ’93 that helped cement that reputation. While the NHL series would eventually come into its own on the SNES, with later versions taking advantage of the console’s strengths, this game plays like a shoddy port of the Genesis version. While the core gameplay is still solid, the slow frame rate makes the game awkward to play. Since the game’s far superior SNES sequels can be had for next to nothing these days, there’s really no reason to pick this one up.
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