PHT remembers hockey video games: How not to settle Gretzky vs. Lemieux

Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of, ones you fondly recall, and ones we’d all like to forget. This time, we ponder the worst way to settle the Mario Lemieux vs. Wayne Gretzky debate: by playing their shaky video games around 1991 (or 1992).

For years — and probably in some cases, to this day — hockey fans debated Gretzky vs. Lemieux. Both sides certainly had ammo, too.

Gretzky doesn’t just lead the NHL in all-time goals (894) and points (2,857). It’s possible no one will ever generate as many points as Gretzky had assists (1,963 assists; Jaromir Jagr currently sits second all-time in points with 1,921). With four Stanley Cup trophies to go with all of those numbers, it’s pretty tough to make an argument against number 99 being the GOAT.

But, again, Lemieux fans boasted some ammo. “The Magnificent One” boasted stunning talent, and owned highlight reels with beautiful goals. Lemieux stood as the greatest player in the NHL while undergoing chemotherapy.

Most of us learned to enjoy all the greats, but if you want to have that barroom debate, you can probably find out.

Just don’t settle it based on which player’s likeness adorned the superior video game in 1991 (or 1992, really). Let’s look back at “Mario Lemieux Hockey” for the Sega Genesis, and what turned out to be a few versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” ranging from PC to the NES.

Mario Lemieux Hockey, 1991, Sega Genesis

Mario Lemieux Hockey title screen Gretzky video games
via Sega/YouTube

Beginning with the start screen, you can see a pretty solid likeness of Lemieux. Now, the Stanley Cup? Not nearly as spot-on, although that might have also boiled down to Sega not wanting to get sued.

After watching gameplay footage, I see some similarities between “Mario Lemieux Hockey” and “Tecmo Super Hockey.” Both made some similar choices with perspective, player switching, and quasi-cutscenes.

That said, “Tecmo Super Hockey” came out years after “Mario Lemieux Hockey,” yet number 66’s game arguably still looked better. It seemed like a game that was friendly on the eyes, relative to its time period.

But judging from makeshift reviews I’ve found, there wasn’t much substance to back up the sizzle. This “Classic Game Room” review lacked much in positivity, and someone at Gamefaqs called it the worst hockey game they ever played.

Still, you have to at least give the fight graphics some love:

video game fight MLH
Lol, and ow. (via Sega/YouTube)

Lemieux’s game sometimes included a puck?

Ultimately, the most remarkable things about “Mario Lemieux” and various versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” probably boil down to side notes.

In the case of Lemieux’s game, Sega shipped some copies with a freaking puck.

 

I’m sure retailers loved it when they tried to sell this absolute unit, via Sega Retro:

Mario Lemieux Hockey box Sega Genesis puck Gretzky video games
via Sega/Sega Retro

OK, this is all actually pretty tremendous. That said, I can imagine a snarky review reading “You’ll have more fun with the puck than the cartridge in the box.”

Wayne Gretzky Hockey: several versions, mixed results?

Grading “Wayne Gretzky” is more elusive, much like it was difficult to consistently land checks on “The Great One.”

There are multiple similar-looking versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey,” including the 1988 NES version that made these fellows quite miserable:

It seems like the PC version looked quite a bit better in 1988. Either that, or I’m merely entranced by the “MS Paint” vibes of the fight video:

Fight in Wayne Gretzky Hockey video game Lemieux
via Bethesda Softworks (Game Studios)/YouTube

If you insisted on playing “Mario Lemieux Hockey” vs. a “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” video game of the time, it might be fairest to choose “Wayne Gretzky Hockey 3,” a PC release from 1992.

But, uh, again … that seems like a shaky exercise in curiosity.

Another shaky game precludes a video game titan

Fans of video games would probably do a double take at “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” titles when they realize that “Bethesda Softworks” made it.

Bethesda Softworks on boards Wayne Gretzky Hockey
via Bethesda Softworks (Game Studios)/YouTube

If that doesn’t ring a bell, consider that Bethesda is the studio behind mega-popular title such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” which sold untold millions of copies (one report indicated 30 million by November 2016).

Indeed, Bethesda pumped out sports video games stretching back to 1986, but then they really hit their stride once the company focused more on “nerds” than “jocks.”

With all of that in mind, it’s still surprising that the company that pumped out “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” eventually developed … this.

(That said, I can definitely see some of the roots of “Gridiron!” in “Wayne Gretzky Hockey.”)

Interestingly, “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” and Bethesda don’t represent the only example of a game company going from humble, hockey game beginnings to huge hits. As mentioned in this look back at Nintendo 64 hockey video games, Treyarch went from making the ill-received “Olympic Hockey ’98” to working on the “Call of Duty” titles.

Luckily for hockey fans, there would be several other video games starring Wayne Gretzky, and they were generally much better.

You could probably wedge Michael Scott’s favorite Gretzky quote about missing 100 percent of the shots you don’t take in there somewhere. Ultimately, though, playing “Mario Lemieux Hockey” or a version of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” might be only slightly more enjoyable than waking up to a grilled foot.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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