Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at hockey video games on the Nintendo 64.
When people think back to the Nintendo 64, plenty of images come up. Maybe Mario 64 or “The Ocarina of Time” come to mind. Perhaps it conjures memories of Goldeneye, or really good pro wrestling titles, or “Mario Party” wounds.
I’d wager that there aren’t many people who immediately think of hockey video games for that console. Heck, I’d assume that most hockey fans who also play games probably think of SNES/Genesis titles, go back to “Ice Hockey” and “Blades of Steel,” or merely lean toward EA’s modern NHL series.
Even so, there were quite a few Nintendo 64 hockey video games, including ones so obscure they might not make it in this post. (If so, share away.) Let’s look back at the 64-bit console’s most noteworthy hockey video games, then.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (and ’98)
Arcade-style sports games tend to age the best because they’re less ambitious about looking like the real thing, and also about simulating it. So, it’s no surprise that “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” seems like it would be pretty fun to play, even today.
Midway churned this one out, which helps to explain the “NBA Jam”-y ness of it all. Goalies could turn into brick walls. Nets caught on fire. You know, the good stuff.
You could see a lot of the DNA of “NHL Hitz” here, which is a series we’ll delve into down the line.
Here are some fun tidbits about the series (which included a sequel):
- The title’s Wikipedia page alleges that it was the first-ever four-player Nintendo 64 game. As you may recall, the console shipped with four ports for controllers, making it the sleepover machine for
- The series of three Gretzky-helmed titles began on the SNES.
- Could there have been “Mortal Kombat”-style fatalies during fights? Allegedly.
- Critics weren’t exactly enthused about the ’98 version getting repackaged as “Olympic Hockey ’98.” IGN even gave it a “zero.” Honestly, I do admire the lazy brashness of just changing trades to “defections,” though.
- “Olympic Hockey ’98” represented the debut of video game developer Treyarch.
In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Treyarch currently develops some of the titles for the “Call of Duty” franchise, and also churned out the well-regarded PS2 “Spider-man 2” game, ports for the “Tony Hawk” series, and more. Humble beginnings, indeed.
EA sports eventually brings a hockey title to Nintendo 64 with NHL ’99
As far as I can tell, the Nintendo 64 began a stretch where EA Sports titles were by no means guaranteed to appear on Nintendo consoles. (Or, in some cases, Nintendo fans would get warmed-over rehashes, or only one or two titles in a given series. The Nintendo Switch hasn’t received a modern title in the NHL series, for instance.)
While the Nintendo 64 ranked as a success by some measures, it also didn’t receive the same waves of titles as Sony’s Playstation. While Sony went with CDs, Nintendo stuck with cartridges. Such a decision made it tougher to pirate games for the Nintendo 64, yet it also made it far more expensive to manufacture games.
“Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey” released in 1996, while EA Sports’ first foray into hockey games for the Nintendo 64 didn’t happen until “NHL ’99” dropped in 1998.
“NHL ’99” featured Eric Lindros on the cover, and was generally well-received. That said, IGN’s Craig Harris noted that the game was farmed out to MBL Research, and was mostly based off of “NHL ’98” for the Playstation and PC.
So it seems like it was better than nothing, but Nintendo fans still got the short end of the (hockey) stick.
Other hockey video games on Nintendo 64
When it comes to two other series on the N64, I’d argue their greatest impacts came in entertaining covers.
Frankly, there’s a charm in Keith Tkachuk being on the cover of “NHL Breakaway ’98,” which I assume will be a precursor to Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk teaming up on the latest “Bratz.”
The “Breakaway” series seemed … fine. Really, any hockey game that included icon passing gets bumped up a half-letter grade. But it’s not shocking that the series eventually fizzled out.
While plenty of people at least vaguely recall one of the “Breakaway” titles (the second one featured Steve Yzerman), I’d guess few knew that “Blades of Steel” made a comeback. Jaromir Jagr served as the cover star for both the ’99 and 2000 versions:
There seems to be some charm to the “Blades of Steel” reboot, but the slow framerate and weird angle likely limit it to being a mere curiosity.
Overall, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nintendo 64 isn’t remembered for hockey video games. Even so, I can’t deny an urge to refresh my memories about “Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey,” — defections optional.
PHT remembers other hockey video games:
- NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
- NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
- EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).
- An ode to the NHL 2K series, which challenged and sometimes surpassed EA’s popular entries.
- Who needs Tecmo Super Bowl when you can have Tecmo Super Hockey? (You might want to stick with Tecmo Super Bowl.)
- “Ice Hockey” makes a fat, skinny, normal impact on the Nintendo NES.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.