NHL ’91/EA Hockey (1991, Electronic Arts, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
This was the game that for the most part started it all for Electronic Arts’ foray into making high quality console games based on the sport of Ice Hockey.
I will be breaking this review down as I go and will focus a little bit on the virtues of the game, and the problems that it had as well. So let’s begin.
Graphics: EA Hockey/NHL ’91 is where the classic NHL graphics engine for EA really started. Featuring a ¾ overhead perspective with the home team defending the bottom net (as in the bottom of the screen) during the first and third periods, the detail of the arenas are all the same with the exception of the logo at center ice.
A rather smooth frame work for skating animations is present and it needs to be noted that the players while they all look the same, (considering that this was 1991, that should be expected), the player sprites are really well rendered here, and would prove to be the arc-type for every EA Hockey game (aside from Mutant League, but we will get into that later) for pretty much the entire lifespan of the 16 bit era.
Lights reflect from overhead, the boards move a little when heavy checks are done along them, and the fighting animations are the best up to that time. Only Blades of Steel from the NES and Game Boy would be a close second, and that game was a few years older.
Graphics Score 4/5 Tossed Octopi, this game is not really all that great looking compared to some of the other games that would follow, it was all about how it all came together, other games had better looking players, but sacrificed elsewhere, this game was going for balance.
Controls: The controls of this version are rather smooth, and still hold up after 23 years. This is really important to note as the controls are a mere 3 button system that works on offence and defense, with offensive controls being pass, shoot, flip the puck down ice, and defensive controls being check/speed up, poke check, and select next player.
The real difference maker with the controls is that it is really easy to move the puck around, shoot it, and body check the person that takes the puck so you can get it back.
Fighting in this game is little more that mashing buttons, and that is OK for this game, as quite frankly, you are only working with 3 buttons to begin with, and the fights are so quick, and frequent, there is no need to complicate the controls for them.
Control Score: 5/5 Tossed Octopi
Details: From players celebrating after a goal, to them skating to the penalty box, to realistic penalties being called. The level of detail on this game is pretty good for its time.
Where it suffers in any way is simply put, the refs are a little too eager to call penalties. I can honestly say, that when I was playing this game, I spent the majority of it shorthanded.
This can be rather infuriating when taken into account that penalties in the real NHL do not happen as often as they were happening in this game.
Before each game, you will get a rundown between the 2 teams showing which team has the advantage when it comes to each position. Another nice detail is that the puck can take odd bounces just like the in real game.
Detail Score: 3/5 Tossed Octopi
Features: Not very many, you have regular season and playoffs (new playoffs which are single game, or best of 7). You can save your progress and play where you left off
Now, above under details, I complained about getting called for penalties constantly, One of the features is that you can turn off the penalties, and if you really want to have penalties, but don’t want the pace to be too broken up, you can also have penalties on, and simply turn off the off-side rule.
Nice amount of features considering that, again, this was 1991. So the features were still leaps and bounds ahead of the other games out there.
Features Score: 4/5 Tossed Octopi
Rosters/Characters: This category was a little hard for me to rate for this game, as the version of the game that I have is not the NHL version. All of the teams that I have are international teams, so I did my review game as the Soviet Union vs Canada, BUT, the teams appeared to be pretty well represented in their skill categories based on the tale of the tape before the game.
I did some research, and it is pretty much acknowledged that while NHL ’91 came out in the midst of the 1991 Hockey season, it was using the rosters from the 1990 season. So players that were traded in the off season were still assigned to the teams that they had finished up with the year before. This would become less and less of an issue in future games.
Rosters Score: 4/5 Tossed Octopi
Speed of Play: Fast.
The periods can fly by rather quickly as the timer ticks down at a rate that is much faster than it does in reality. A 20 minute period of play can pass by in half of that time if you are not using penalties, and if there aren’t goals being scored, the clock just runs at a lightning pace.
This gives the game more of an arcade feel, which is perfectly fine for the time when it was made, as arcades were going through a 2nd golden age with games like Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter 2 having to yet hit the arcades, and gaming systems still not being super commonplace as of yet.
This would keep the game on a fast pace, and keep you on the edge of your seat
Speed Score: 5/5 Tossed Octopi
Learning Curve: The learning curve on this game is ultra-sharp, and you will have it down in no time. The controls are simplistic enough that you really don’t have a whole lot to learn so jumping into the game is pretty easy.
Learning Curve Score: 5/5 Tossed Octopi
Legacy/Importance to Franchise: This really is the game that started it all. For the most part, the game series would not change for the next 7 years. The further legacy of the NHL Franchise will be explored later on.
How well has it aged: After more than 20 years, this game is still fun. The controls and gameplay are still crisp, and it has me wanting to play the rest of the franchise just to see the differences as I go.
Overall Game Play: 4.5/5 Tossed Octopi
This was a fantastic game for it’s time, and it holds up pretty well.
Next review will be Mario Lemieux Hockey (1991), until then… “Keep your stick on the ice”