Top 100 Retro Game List: NHL ’94

NHL ’94
Sega Genesis
Electronic Arts

NHL’94 seems to be the consensus choice for best game in this series. It had real player names, and more advanced play control.

My history with the NHL series goes back to the first game in the series. The 1992 version came out right at the heights of my childhood obsession with hockey. I would watch Rangers games on MSG every night. Kelly Kisio was my favorite player. I also watched many Devils and Islanders games on Sportschannel NY, but Rangers were my chosen team.

I watched every game that ESPN showed as well, so I could memorize the players and their uniform numbers because the game did not have player names. By the end of the season, I knew just about every player by heart and could recite it back to people. This did not win me friends.

Two other big factors in my love of the NHL series: The rise of Rotisserie, what is now called fantasy, sports had me obsessed with statistics. I ran a Rotisserie baseball league in my middle school that some kids in my homeroom reluctantly took part in. I also tried to do one for hockey as well. I created a 20 game league for Micro League Baseball. I used to do fantasy drafts of all of my hockey cards on the weekend and then play a game with a team using a coin as a puck. I tried to mix it up and create a narrative out of these games. This did not exactly win me friends either, but it is funny now how “Ultimate Team” stuff reminds me so much of this.

The other thing that happened was the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. 54 years in the making, that Rangers’ victory was one of the greatest nights of my life. I stayed home from school for the victory parade and sobbed from excitement.

No one remembers that victory parade though because the OJ Simpson “Bronco Chase” was a few hours later.

NHL92 was a solid hockey game, albeit a bit raw like many previous games. Ice Hockey had been the first I played. At the time Ice Hockey was as good as it could get. I loved playing with the skinny players, except when I got smashed by one of the large goon defenders. The code that let you ricochet the puck around the rink was so fun and led to some really fun and high scoring games as you tried to help your goalie keep up with the puck.

What about that story in an early issue of Nintendo Power about the family going on a multi state trek to find the game? I wonder what they are doing now.

Blades of Steel was another game from around that time I played a lot, but in retrospect I do not think it was that good. The play control is terrible and the reaction time from when you push a button is very slow. I think the coolest part of the game was definitely when you could play Contra between periods on the scoreboard and the ads for other Konami games. This game’s aesthetic probably influenced later games like NBA Jam for sure.

I’m pretty sure I played NHL92 at someone else’s house before we bought it. There was one kid in our neighborhood whose family was really into SEGA games before everyone else caught up. I think his father might have known someone who worked there? I probably played the game at their house. We rented it a few times before my mother bought it for me.

Since it would be a few more years before the NHL series had a season mode, I made my own league. We talked about this, generally, a bit in our episode about childhood gaming narratives. I laid out a 25 game season for each team in a notebook and figured out a system to get each team to play as many other teams in the league as possible. I played one 10 minute period for each match and kept up the league table. Every few weeks I would rewrite it as it became quite messy over time.

The first year, Islanders won the cup and then in NHLPA Hockey ’93, Blues won. I don’t remember what happened to my Rangers in 92, but in 93 they lost to the Blues in, I believe, the semifinals.

All of this led to NHL’94. Back then, unless you paid very close attention to release dates, which were still not definitive like they are now, it was hard to tell when a game came out. All Wikipedia says is “October 1993.” I found out NHL’94 had come out from a friend at school who had seen it in a rental store. That day, my mother took me to the local Caldor (long gone…if I recall correctly it is now a Lowes…the record store next door many kids I knew in high school worked at is also gone too…it is now one of the numerous bagel shops in my hometown) to buy the game. Most of my gaming around this time was on much longer role playing games, so when I wanted a game my mother was happy to get it for me.

I dove into the game with my Rangers…who would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year, so they had a pretty strong line up. Most days after school, I would come home and play NHL94 for a match, then do some grinding in whatever RPG I was playing at the time, and then watch Star Trek The Next Generation at 5pm on one of the local syndicated stations that I am pretty sure is now the CW station (Editor’s Note: Soon to not be a CW station apparently!).

Hockey was my favorite sport during most of the nineties. Looking back at that era, it is easy to see that a sports proximity to good games like NHL’94 definitely pushed up my interest in it. I drifted away from American football mostly by the mid-nineties due to the less than stellar offerings for football games during that era. I got back into it during the “2K” era on the Dreamcast.

For a number of years, the NHL series just seemed to get better. By the time the series transitioned from the Genesis to the Playstation, it was a pretty well-oiled machine. Each year I would play a season with Rangers and normally wrap up right around the time the playoffs began in real life. I would keep up with daily transactions so I could keep rosters current, so many years before online updates, and tried my best to play each match the same day as its real life equivalent.

The decline in the series, for me, came rapidly. I remember buying the 2001 edition in October of 2000. I remember very specifically skipping a study session with a classmate to drive to FuncoLand to pick it up so I did not have to stop on the way home. The problem with the NHL series became the same one that harms Madden…if you play on, say, an average level of difficulty, you end up winning every match 5-0. If you go up one level, you end up losing 5-0. Sure there are sliders, but it is quite annoying to be expected, after already paying $60 for a game, to tinker even further with it. I tried the next years game too and same the same problem. Quickly my interest faded as it did with Madden. I have gotten back into the series in recent years via GamePass, but it is not the same anymore.

The SNES version of this series never interested me. I found the play control and general gameplay to be fairly dreadful. The soundtrack and music in general was poor. EA never seemed to put in the same quality they did for the Genesis versions of these games.


The cover of this game is the best in the series. I love how the Bruins and Kings players look with the white background and black logo for the cover.

The organ music in this game is fantastic and replicates some of the real music played at games during this era. It is very subtle and fits into the game effortlessly. Newer games in this series are very, very, loud, and I find them to be very stressful to play. The organ before a faceoff is wonderful, blissful, noise that filters into the background nicely.

The theme for this game is the most memorable in the series. My eyes light up just hearing it.

Going back to NHL’94 was really delightful and led me to revisit other games in the series as well. I spent some time with 92, 93, and also 95 as well. 92 is a bit clunky for sure, but brings back so many memories of that era.

I think I like 93 the best. It has this certain sort of looseness that I really love. Scoring is very frenetic, and I find it to be so much funner than sterile modern sports games. Despite being an official release, I find that the early games in the NHL series have more in common with more lighthearted games like Baseball Stars, which we have an episode about in the archives, and Tecmo Bowl, which is also carried on in the modern era by games like Super Mega Baseball.

Overall, NHL’94 is clearly the best. The addition of one timers is quite a game changer that adds an authenticity to the game which was not seen much in that era. There is a big rom community around this game that create updated rosters each year. The investment people have in updating these amazing old games is really cool.

I do wish 94 had a season mode like 95 does. If 94 had a season mode, it would be, perhaps, the best sports game ever. I understand there are licensing, and legal, issues with re-releasing games like this, but I wish there was a way.

The rom community around this game keeps it alive, and so do our memories. I am amazed by how many people, even casual, gamers, whose eyes light up when NHL’94 is mentioned. I have seen references to it on ESPN and in other media. Gamers who have only ever played the hyper-realistic, sterile, and mostly not fun newer sports games on modern consoles will probably never understand what those days were like.

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