Sunday, March 29, 2009

CK's Video Game Hockey Hall of Fame

As much as Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin are parts of hockey lore, so are the video games that the sport has inspired. Countless puckheads spend lazy weekends playing as their favorite teams in virtual ice rinks around the world on their Xbox 360s and Playstation 3s.

It's not surprising that hockey games are popular amongst sports gamers, in fact the two go hand-in-hand. Hockey games don't require much knowledge of the actual sport, have simple control schemes, are often high-scoring and hard-hitting affairs.

In some ways, the NHL's best form of advertising the sport is the video games for the sport.

So in honor of those great past and current ice hockey games, here's our Video Game Hockey Hall of Fame. Enjoy your Sunday, and break out the old NES or Genesis and enjoy!

Ice Hockey
Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom)
Available on Nintendo's Virtual Console and via Emulation

Ice Hockey was an innovator in sports gaming and to this day still retains the charm it possessed in 1988. The game is famous for being the first hockey game that allowed a user to choose his players and introduced a two-button control scheme that would be copied by most hockey games until the late '90s.

The game also had a degree of depth thanks to the player selection. The combinations of Fat Man, Skinny Man and Middle Man created various strategies a player could employ. The game did not feature NHL cities but used countries instead, leading to many "Miracle on NES Ice" games between the USA and USSR.

Believe it or not, despite the friendly nature of the game, Ice Hockey featured fighting. After consecutive body checks, the teams would meet in a cartoon-style dust cloud with one player being sent to the penalty box.

Honors: Was ranked 142nd in Nintendo Power's "Top 200 Nintendo games list"

Blades of Steel
Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom)


Available on Nintendo's Virtual Console and via Emulators

While Nintendo's Ice Hockey embraced the wholesomeness of pond hockey, Blades of Steel brought a more "realistic" look to gamers. Using the same two-button control scheme as Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel made its mark in the hockey gaming world by making fighting a prevalent part of the game.
In fact, what most gamers remember about Blades of Steel is that if you lost a fight, you had to serve a penalty, which turned games into constant fistfights. It also was the first hockey game to include NHL cities, although only seven cities were used and the teams used the local football team's colors instead of NHL colors.

The little-known innovation that this game made is the use of voice samples. Sound effects such as "FIGHT!" and "With the pass..." would play during the game. This was a rarity for the 8-bit gaming era, as most games just used basic sound effects, not actual voices.

SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, PC

Available via Emulation

NHLPA '93, simply put, is the reason hockey games in the '90s are so fondly remembered. With more powerful systems came better, faster and better-looking hockey games, and NHLPA '93 ushered in a new era of hockey gaming.

The new gaming engine that NHLPA '03 introduced would be tweaked and used by countless games until the dawn of the Playstation and Nintendo 64.

The game used the same two-button control scheme as Ice Hockey and featured numerous game modes, where previous hockey games just had simple playoff and single-game modes. The Sega Genesis version of the game also included the ability to save a player's progress. Previously (and on the SNES version), a player would need to write an unnecessarily long password down if they wanted to resume a playoff series.

The game is remembered by most for features that would be removed in the next season's game.
NHLPA '93 featured NHL players, but not NHL teams. This led to a bit of controversy when the NHL decided to get in on the video game craze. The key issues the NHL had with the game? Violence. NHLPA '93 famously encouraged players to injure stars in the manual, claiming "its part of the game." After running a player, the injured would lie in a pool of blood, twitching. A favorite target of this game play feature was Wayne Gretzky.

The game's legacy still lives on today. Thanks to emulation software, the game still has a following and some have even hacked the game so they canupdate the rosters (see photo above and injury photo).

NHL '94
SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, PC


Available via Emulators

Until NHL '09 released in 2008, many considered NHL '94 to be the greatest hockey game ever made. Built upon the same engine as NHLPA '93, it featured graphical tweaks and the introduction of the one-timer shot.

NHL '94 did not feature the violence of NHLPA '93, but it improved on virtually every other aspect of NHLPA '93. The inclusion of the one-timer shot changed the game drastically, and the improvements to the game engine created a more fluid experience. The atmosphere became more authentic, and the players were easier to control. The game also supported four players at one time, allowing friends to play as a team or against each other.

NHL '94 still has a cult following that organizes online tournaments and roster updates at, and the two-button control scheme would be included in next-gen NHL games to appease older fans of the series.

Fun Fact: The game released in 1993, the same year Gary Bettman became NHL commissioner, and was the first EA NHL game to feature the shootout. Did we just blow your mind or what?

Honors: #47 on IGN's Top 100 Games List

Mutant League Hockey
SEGA Genesis

Available via Emulators

If "The Monster Mash" and "Slap Shot" had a video game baby, it would be Mutant League Hockey.

After NHLPA '93, Electronic Art's NHL games were considerably less violent due to the NHL's objection to the bloody Gretzky incident in NHLPA '93. In NHL '95, fighting was removed completely (but blood returned). So EA knew they needed to quench the blood lust of hockey fans that the NHL wouldn't let them include in their games.

Mutant League Hockey embraced and showcased hockey violence like no other game in hockey gaming history. It is the only hockey game to be rated 16+, an equivalent to the "Teen" rating today. MLH deviated from the two-button control scheme, introducing a third button that was devoted to violence (a major step forward in sports gaming). It allowed you to punch players on the ice and wield weapons that were thrown on the ice, such as chainsaws.

Breaking from traditional hockey games, the road to victory in MLH was paved in blood. You could either play the game as you would any NHL hockey game, with the introduction of a two-goal shot from behind the blue line, or you could kill every player on the opposing team, resulting in a forfeit.

Many chose the latter.

MLH was a parody of the NHL, poking fun at team names such as the Mighty Ducks (Mighty Weenies in MLH) and Montreal Canadiens (Montroyale Cadavers). It allowed players to bribe the refs, sneak weapons on the ice and kill the referee if they were on the opposite side of a bribe.

What made MLH hockey an important game wasn't its violent content, but that it inspired many arcade-style hockey games in future gaming generations. The NHL Hitz series embraced violence much like MLH, and the turn-of-the-century NHL series was a more comedic affair than today's ultrarealistic hockey games.

MLH also was the best-looking hockey game on the market at its time, and the significant graphical upgrades in MLH would be applied to future EA sports titles such as Madden and the NHL series.

That's our first-ballot admissions to the VGHHOF (Video Game Hockey Hall of Fame). If your favorite wasn't listed, let us know about it in the comments!


  1. Hilarious! Love the image of kids foregoing scoring in favor of leaving Gretsky lying in blood on the ice. And winning by simply killing off every member of the opposing team. I remember YOU, CK, beating me to a pulp while I was trying to score a goal! I like the fact that you can play NHL 09 for days now without having to fight.

  2. Nothing beats NHL 94! Mallrats formally enshrined that game in the Hall of Fame. Great piece and very thorough!


Technorati Profile