The 2019 Stanley Cup final is just around the corner, and the Bruins are cruising in with an upper hand in the odds over the Blues. But fans in Boston and St. Louis aren’t the only ones getting excited. The grand finale of the NHL season is a cherished time of year for all hockey fans.
As gamers, this got us thinking about the classic console hockey games from years gone by. More than 90 hockey video games have been produced since the debut of Hockey! for the Magnavox Odyssey system in 1979. That’s 40 years of good, bad, and whacky puck action captured on cartridge or disc! Here are six of our favourites.
6 Classic Hockey Console Games
Blades of Steel
Arguably the first classic, a multiformat hockey game, 1987’s Blades of Steel from Konami was originally released in arcades. It later found a home on NES and Game Boy.
Blades of Steel was a pivotal game for the genre in many ways. The players were fictional, but the teams were based on real NHL cities. There was bizarre voiceover—half play-by-play and half onomatopoeia and garbled crowd noise. There were fights and penalty shots. It was the perfect hockey video game for the ‘80s.
NHL Hitz 2003
While it’s over 16 years old now, NHL Hitz 2003 from Midway holds up against the test of time, thanks to its quirkiness.
Released for Xbox, PS2, GameCube, and Nintendo Game Boy Advance, NHL Hitz 2003 is eccentric. Players must suspend disbelief from the reality of pro hockey to truly appreciate the alternate universe this game presents. A wild choice of venues, unique three on three competition, the ability to assemble a rag-tag team of buddies, and custom fight sequences make NHL Hitz 2003 a fun play to this day.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey
Unveiled in 1996 for arcade play as well as the Nintendo 64, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, is still the stand-alone favorite for many. Developed by Williams Entertainment and published by Midway, the game allowed for radical flexibility in play—like goaltenders turning into brick walls (power saves), blazing shots that set the net on fire (power shots), and rough contact resulting in an ambulance driving across the top of the screen (power checks).
We also appreciate how forgiving Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey is. The game adjusted itself, making it easier for the losing player to score goals.
Arguably, no other game ushered in the modern era of hockey games like NHL ‘11 from EA Sports for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The graphics were next-level, thanks to a redesigned physics engine that replaced older animation technology. For the first time, players could score from any point on the ice. The new physics engine also enhanced small in-game details like a player breaking his stick or winding up for a slapshot.
No detail was spared, as true-to-life features mimicked aspects of the NHL. NHL ‘11 incorporated restricted free agency, a GM mode, and the then-new playoff system.
This one transcends the hockey genre. Boston.com crowned NHL ‘94 as the “All-Time Greatest Sports Video Game.” EA Sports knocked this release out of the park with realistic touches like one-timer passes, dekes, and squeaky ice rink organ music. Nothing else at the time better represented the look and feel of an actual NHL game.
Released for Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD, NHL ‘94 also boasted game modes reflecting the NHL season. Players could take a team through the regular season, playoffs, and Stanley Cup final.
Mutant League Hockey
The mission of every other hockey video game we’ve discussed thus far was to capture a realistic sense of the game. They each did the best they could for their time and the tech of the era.
Mutant League Hockey is a weird departure. Released in 1994 by EA Sports (just like NHL ‘94) as a Sega Genesis exclusive, this game boasts robots, zombie skeletons, and trolls battling it out on what could be called post-apocalyptic ice. The crowd tosses weapons on the ice, demon heads explode when goals are scored, and players die, littering the ice with corpses—all in good fun, of course!