Gameplay, Story and Value:
In terms of essential game modes, NHL ’94 is pretty bare-bones, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Straight from the main menu you can choose between demo mode, exhibition, or a single elimination tournament mode, as well as two player options. Teams are also selected from the main menu, as well as any and all game options. Having all these settings here is a bit confusing at first, but makes sense given the content level of the game.
Once you’ve picked your settings and made your choice of one of only a handful of teams, you’re on the ice. One things that’s definitely nice is the ability to set your quarter length. This way you can have either a full length round of hockey, or a nice quick match to bust out in minutes. Controls are simple enough, with a button to shoot, a button to pass and a button to pass to your nearest teammate.
While everything in the game is fairly simple mechanically, the way it all comes together feels a bit messy. Passing, shooting and controls in general don’t always behave as expected. Players feel a bit too large in relation to the rink and things start to feel cramped at the goals. It can be fun, when everything comes together for that perfect shot, but the game lacks a good sense of speed and control, so those moments don’t come often.
I think what could have made this game better would have been a player control option. That is, the ability to limit player counts to 3v3 or 4v4. With more room to work with to set up shots, and less pass interference (as it is the puck can’t travel five yards without hitting a literal wall of players), this could have been a really fun arcade hockey game.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
While my issues with the game’s crowding in the rink is more of a gameplay issue, the visuals themselves aren’t really anything special either. Differentiating teams is easy enough, as is identifying active players and who is in possession of the puck. The puck itself tends to vanish in crowds though… Personally I find the blue hue of the ice to be somewhat distracting, and probably would have preferred something closer to white. Graphics aside, the interface itself is a bit awkward. I already mentioned the overstuffed main menu, and in addition to that is the fact that pausing actually takes you out of the game to another clunky submenu. Luckily, on screen information is displayed clearly enough.
Sound effects are fitting and informative. Menu music is forgettable and (as expected) there’s no music during games. However, stadium music cues do make for a surprisingly nice touch.
I actually had some high expectations coming into NHL ’94, but ultimately it was just another 16-bit sports title. I understand the nostalgia people feel towards games like this, as well as the upcoming and ill-fated John Madden Football. To be both a video game and sports fan in the early 90’s, this was it! These were the games you played, and these were the memories you generated. Coming in now, though, and they simply don’t hold up. Obviously, you can’t compare NHL ’94 to NHL 16, which I assume is a good game, but even old sports games are capable of having a lasting appeal. Just look at Tecmo Super Bowl and NBA Jam.