With the NHL Hockey season upon us let’s talk about the best of the best.
No, we aren’t going to talk about sports! I mean c’mon, can you imagine Jason on ice skates! No way!
Today we are going to give you a list of the best of all time when it comes to a genre of gaming that gave us countless hours of fun and all too often left us with severely blistered and aching thumbs. Classic hockey video gaming!
Breaking down our top 8 classic hockey video games of all time the rules are simple, any system is up for grabs. In fairness, however, we kept the newest hockey games off the list because really how can classic gaming from the Sega Genesis or SNES compete with the beauty that is the PS4 or XBOX offerings of today. With that let’s get started with…
#8 – ESPN National Hockey Night
Released on multiple platforms, including SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD and PC, ESPN National Hockey Night was known for it’s ability to switch views of the rink from vertical to side scrolling, had some fairly robust season options for the day and featured most of the NHL players of that year. However there were no names in the game, just the numbers and stats from the real world so this was really a game for super fans of the NHL. Gameplay was a bit sluggish however, but for the fan wanting to really geek out in season mode and get the ESPN production treatment, this was a treat.
#7 – NHL Stanley Cup
Much like ESPN National Hockey Night, NHL Stanley Cup for the SNES had the NHL Licensing but not the NHLPA licensing. That meant there were no names on the players but the stats/attributes matched the numbers. The big thing about this game is that it had a 3d gameplay look to it…kind of. Watch the video above and you’ll see what I mean, but it was pretty big for the time! The strange part was how you’d play entire seasons in what appeared to be a sketchy and dark arena in a back alley instead of in front of your home crowd so the games always felt more like skating in a practice rink somewhere. But being able to switch to the Mode 7 viewpoint in which the camera followed the puck was pretty amazing back in the day.
#6 – NHL Hitz Pro
Released on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube and trying to capture the arcade sports feel from the popular NFL Blitz and NBA Jam games, NHL Hitz Pro was the final game in the NHL Hitz series. While they are all fun and featured hard hitting arcade style 3 on 3 action including the ability to go “On FIRE!”, Hitz Pro brought that same fun and arcade style to 5 on 5 hockey and added some new features including the “Pick-Up Hockey” game mode that let you play either street, roller or pond hockey with 2 amateur teams in a quick exhibition match. NHL Hitz Pro also had the IIHF license which meant it could use the Olympic team jersey’s as well.
#5 – Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey
Published by Atari for the arcade and later released as port to the N64, this game was the first ever 4 player hockey game on the N64 system. If you want realistic hockey, look somewhere else because this is straight up arcade cheeseball hockey fun at it’s finest. From crazy moves like your goalie literally turning into a brick wall to power checks that send an ambulance across the screen this is one of those games made for trash talking with your friends!
#4 – 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge
While we are on the subject of arcade hockey, no list would be complete without the terrific quarter muncher, 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge! Published by Midway Games for the arcade and then later ported to the Playstation this game gave me so many hours of fun with my friends in our local arcade! Simple NBA Jam style fun on ice!
#3 – Blades of Steel
Things are getting serious now and with Blades of Steel there was plenty of serious opportunity to be had. Released by Konami as an arcade game originally, it found it’s home on the NES eventually. It’s fast paced hockey and was known for the ability to fight in the game! Yep, fight. Full on fisticuffs. One of the many reasons I spent countless hours with this game, even though it wasn’t licensed by the NHL so all the players and teams were fictional. The teams were set in real US and Canadian cities but no actual players or team names were used. No season mode, just a single game exhibition mode and a tournament mode which was similar to the playoffs, so you could play through things quickly. While it was a thumb blister creator for sure, it paled in comparison to the next two games!
#2 – Ice Hockey
Published by Nintendo with a very simplistic style this game devoured hours of many players lives with it’s fun and addictive gameplay. Only 6 teams to choose from, USA/Sweden/Czechoslovakia/Canada/Poland/Soviet Union, and 3 types of players making up your team, the skinny speedster, the average skater and the hefty bruiser, it really doesn’t get any simpler. But the challenge and fun is possibly unrivaled. Though be careful, your thumbs are at risk!
Which brings us finally to the number one spot. It was a real toss-up between number one and number two, but in the end the addition of full NHL licensing and seasons won out.
#1 – EA Sports NHL `94
This game…so many hours and so much fun. Released by EA Sports on the Genesis, Sega CD and SNES with the full NHL and NHLPA licensing it was the perfect classic hockey game. It introduced the gameplay concept of the “One Timer”, let you save records you set and had multiple game play modes including regular season, playoffs, best of seven playoffs and a shootout mode. It even featured the All Star teams, though sadly no International teams just yet. But they also got it right with the little touches, like using team specific organ music at the start of periods and after goals. When it comes to sports games I tend to go between Hockey and Football, leaning slightly more towards Football since I played through college as an offensive lineman, but NHL 94 might just be the best sports game of all time. Especially considering it’s impact on future games to come!
What are some of your favorites? We’d love to know so hit that Contact button above and send us a message, added bonus if you record and send in an audio clip! Let’s Play Hockey!