Retro Sports Gaming: NHLPA 93 & NHL 94
Systems: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Park Place Productions
Systems: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega CD/Mega CD, Super Nintendo, PC DOS
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada & High Score Productions (the DOS version was developed by Park Place Productions)
History of Franchise
The "NHL" series is Electronic Arts' annual hockey video game franchise, still going after nearly 25 years. The original game, the Genesis-only NHL Hockey, was followed up by NHLPA 93, making it the second game in the series, and NHL 94 the third. The series would have 2D installments on the Genesis and SNES until NHL 98, when the series moved to the PlayStation full time as a 3D game. The last 2D NHL game was NHL 2002 for the Game Boy Advance, not counting NHL 94 callbacks seen in NHL 06.
The original NHL Hockey featured the NHL license, but not a license from the NHLPA, meaning that while the game could use the names of NHL teams, it couldn't use player names or likenesses.
Conversely, NHLPA 93 featured the NHLPA license, but not the NHL license, so while the game could use player names, likenesses and rosters, it could not use official NHL team names, forcing the game to refer to certain team in some unique manners ("Long Island", for instance).
NHL 94 has licenses from both the NHL and NHLPA and thus features real NHL team and player names.
The two games are mostly simulation-type hockey games. They feature 5 on 5 hockey with goaltenders, penalties (if enabled) and line changes (if enabled). Following the face-off, players in possession of the puck could pass, shoot, or "dump" the puck, while defenders could hook, poke, or body check the opponent to prevent the opponent from slowing. If penalties are enabled, any of those actions could result in a penalty if used excessively.
NHLPA 93 also featured fighting, something which NHL 94 lacks. Usually a fight would break out if two players with high "Fighting" ratings bumped into one another, though that isn't the only condition. Once a fight has started, players could either punch high, punch low, or attempt to grab the opponent. Once a victor was decided, both players received a 5 minute penalty for fighting (regardless of whether penalties were turned on or not). NHLPA 93 also featured blood when a player was injured, something which NHL 94 again lacked (though injuries were still present in 94).
NHL 94, in lacking these rather violent features, made up for it by adding the one-timer shot. The shot, which involves shooting the puck the instant a pass reached a player, was a very successful method of scoring if set up correctly. NHL 94 also added a Shootout mode, which featured five penalty shots to a side. NHL 94 also included several more organ songs to the game, including team-specific songs such as Hartford's Brass Bonanza.
Neither game featured a season mode (it first appeared in the series in NHL 95), but both games do feature a Playoff mode, in best of seven and best of one formats. These modes, in which you must play as one and only one team, will keep track of that team's player stats until the end of your playoff run. The game also keeps track of scores in the other playoff games; cutting to highlights of games that are close late during intermissions (the two games also do this in exhibition games).
Playing NHLPA 93 & NHL 94 Now
The website nhl94.com has many resources available for those who wish to play NHL 94 (or possibly NHLPA 93) either online or with updated rosters. Just be aware of the legal gray area that is involved with the emulation of the games and any subsequent "updated roster" modifications before booting up a game on your Genesis or SNES emulator.
Aside from the features each game claims as its own, the two games also share various features. Both have the ability to field three lines worth of players along with two power play and two penalty kill units. Players can then change lines before face-offs or during gameplay if the player has possession of the puck. If one line stays out there too long, it will become fatigued and will play more poorly than usual. If the feature is turned off, each team uses only one line, which can not fatigue, comprising of the team's best forwards and defenseman, and the other players are unused unless a starting player is injured or a player besides the right winger commits a penalty (each game removes the right wing for penalty kills so if a different position is in the box the game will sub in someone new instead of replacing the player with the right wing). NHL 94 also allows "Auto" line changes, which as the word implies allows the game to make substitutions automatically and also disables fatigue.
Penalties are also included though there is an option to turn them off. A wide range of penalties can be committed, from roughing to tripping to interference and holding. In NHLPA 93, the "off" option is actually "Off, except Fighting", as fighting can not be turned off. Offsides is included with penalties, though there is also an option to play with penalties on except offsides.
NHL 94 also introduced manual goaltending, which allowed players to gain control of the goaltender while not in possession of the puck, as well as User Records which kept track of a player's individual records while playing the game.
The Sega CD version of NHL 94 was enhanced in a variety of ways though all of the enhancements were cosmetic. The soundtrack was revamped and boosted to CD quality sound, there were short and grainy video clips that could be accessed for each team, and Ron Barr would audibly go through a preview of the two teams about to play in a game, along with quick summaries of each team's top three forwards, two defensemen and the goalie. The core gameplay was mostly unchanged from its Genesis and SNES counterparts, however.
NHLPA 93 and NHL 94 were the standard for 16-bit hockey gaming. Even today NHL 94 is held in high regard amongst hockey gamers while NHLPA 93 is still preferred among some for the fighting and different methods of scoring. Neither is absolutely better than the other, it comes down to preference, but the two games are among the best hockey games of the 1990s, and to some, even today.
Games to come in the Retro Sports Gaming Series: RBI Baseball, NBA Jam. Links to those hubs will be included when they are made.
Have a favorite sports game from the 80s or 90s? Let me know and I may include it in a future RSG hub.
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