hockey video games

via Sony/989 Studios/Wikipedia

PHT remembers video games: Sony made a surprisingly long series of hockey/NHL games

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 around, we’ll look back at the surprisingly sprawling run of hockey video games from Sony.

When it comes to lamenting old hockey video games, we look back fondly on arcade-style games or honest attempts at sims, and often wish for more. Even with a game like “Hit the Ice,” which was ported in many different ways, there wasn’t really a sequel. But from “ESPN National Hockey Night” to the “NHL FaceOff” games down to “Gretzky NHL” titles, you can’t say that Sony didn’t take enough kicks at the can to make hockey video games.

Zooming out, Sony pumped out a really staggering legacy of … well, largely hockey forgettable video games.

The sheer volume of those titles means we won’t go into too much depth on any given title. Instead, let’s ponder the twists and turns, from different consoles, to brands, to killing 99 time.

Sony’s hockey video games begin before Sony consoles with “ESPN National Hockey Night.”

Released on 16-bit consoles (Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo), Sega CD, and computers in late 1994, Sony Imagesoft put out what would be far from the last hockey video game with ESPN branding. It seemed like a pretty ambitious title for its era. Though maybe I’m an easy mark because of that sweet ESPN hockey theme kicking this video off:

And also FMV Bill Clement!

Bill Clement in "ESPN National Hockey Night" Sega Genesis
via Sony/YouTube

Alas, this title began a trend. While Sony hockey video games sometimes experienced big changes and displayed varying levels of ambition, they rarely made much of a mark. Most of these titles were either met with a shoulder shrug, or during bad times, a grimace.

Sony transitions to “NHL FaceOff” series on Playstation, then Playstation 2

If you grumble at there only being one “Mutant League Hockey” game, or only a few “NHL Hitz” titles, then you might furrow your brow at just how long-lasting “NHL FaceOff” existed — even ignoring the pivots from Sony before and after “NHL FaceOff.”

Beginning in 1995, Sony pumped out the “NHL FaceOff” titles alongside other sports series. Frankly, one of my lasting memories of Sony’s sports titles was the “NFL GameDay” intro song, which for some reason is etched into my brain:

Early on in the “NHL FaceOff” series, you could see some pretty significant jumps in graphics. This came at a time when video game developers were still wrestling with the jump from 2D to 3D, and sports video games were not immune to such challenges. Consider the leaps from the first title in 1995 to the 1998 edition (“NHL FaceOff ’99”):

Top Left: “NHL FaceOff”; Bottom Left: ’97 edition; Top Right: ’98 edition; Bottom Right: ’99 Edition (via Sony/989 Studios/YouTube screens)

It turns out that EA Sports’ “NHL” series isn’t the first instance where a hockey video game presentation went from featuring ESPN and/or Bill Clement to NBC’s own Mike “Doc” Emrick. Emrick ended up being a fixture for the series, alongside Darren Pang, even once the “FaceOff” games transitioned to their next bit of packaging.

Again, the various studios that worked on the series definitely tried things. Enjoy, for instance, 989 Sports “made by the pros, played by the pros” video featuring 1) Warren Sapp, 2) Vin Scully(!), and 3) Scotty Bowman (!!).

There were even foot-in-the-crease reviews in “NHL FaceOff 2000.”

NHL FaceOff screen, Sony hockey video games NHL
via Sony/989 Studios/YouTube

… And this beautiful visage of Mike Modano.

Modano NHL FaceOff Sony hockey video games
via Sony/989 Studios/YouTube

The series truly loses its way

While the first “NHL FaceOff” celebrated hockey on the Playstation’s first iteration, the next console jump might explain why an OK-to-good series went sideways. Starting with “NHL FaceOff 2001,” the series transitioned to the Playstation 2. (That 2001 edition appeared on both Playstation 1 and 2.) Things were bumpy enough that the 2002 edition ended up being canceled. (According to the series’ Wikipedia page, Luc Robitaille was supposed to be the cover star.)

The last in the series was “NHL FaceOff 2003,” initially published in 2002. (NHL seasons spanning parts of two years often makes these titles feel a little confusing, right?)

The 2003 version didn’t get the series back on track. That said, the little in-game “previews” were a mix of pretty nifty and so-bad-it’s-good.

Overall, the “NHL FaceOff” series enjoyed a long run even if you ignore the other Sony-related hockey video game titles, releasing from 1995-2002 (with one year off, which really feels true to the sport’s era of lockouts).

Just like “ESPN National Hockey Night” made way for “NHL FaceOff,” Sony’s titles would get new life once more in a different wrapper.

Sony puts out a couple hockey video games with Wayne Gretzky involved

Sony pivoted from “NHL FaceOff” titles to “Gretzky NHL 2005” and a 2006 version on Playstation 2.  As Alex Navarro noted at Gamespot, the Sony Gretzky titles mainly distinguished themselves as Sony hockey video games that weren’t terrible.

Navarro also pointed out that Sony revived the series under that Gretzky NHL title during a lockout. If that didn’t set the table for a letdown, both EA’s “NHL” titles and the “NHL 2K” series attracted far more attention from sim-minded hockey gamers. It’s not particularly surprising that the titles were met with a general “meh.”

That said, the Gretzky titles were also ported to Sony’s handheld PSP system, and seemed to fare reasonably well.

Being that EA largely ignores handhelds such as the Nintendo Switch — aside from maybe one release of a “FIFA” — it’s a bummer that the Gretzky/”NHL FaceOff” series couldn’t have pivoted to that format. Being able to play a pretty good, NHL-licensed hockey game on a plane would have been cool right up until the mere thought of air travel became deeply terrifying.

I also wonder if “Gretzky NHL 2005/2006” should have gone full-arcade. Beyond evoking the pretty fun Nintendo 64-era Gretzky games, you’d lean into something that could make it stand out. The 2006 edition of the game had a feature where you could basically … summon Gretzky to help you win? Bonkers, sure, but what if it was the focus of development rather than a feature?

Wayne Gretzky representing a hockey video game series’ answer to the obnoxious blue shell in Mario Kart? I don’t hate it.

Again, a rather startling series of Sony hockey video games

OK, so let’s consider the timeline of Sony hockey video games one more time. Do note that it’s possible something will be left out because there really were so many of them. (Share in the comments if you notice something. Maybe there was an off-shoot inside an off-shoot wrapped in bacon and enigmas?)

  • “ESPN National Hockey Night” (Various 16-bit consoles/PC, released in 1994)
  • “NHL FaceOff through NHL FaceOff 2000” (Playstation, released  each year from 1995-1999)
  • Consider “NHL FaceOff 2001” a break in the trend because it was released on two consoles. (Playstation 1 and 2, released in 2000)
  • … The process of making one on each console might explain why “NHL FaceOff 2002” got canceled for PS2.
  • “NHL FaceOff 2003” (Playstation 2, released in 2002.)
  • “Gretzky NHL 2005” (Playstation 2, released in 2004; PSP version released in 2005)
  • “Gretzky NHL 2006” (Playstation 2, released in September 2005; PSP version released in October 2005)

Sony produced one heck of a run of … bad or OK hockey video games. They might have challenged the limits of Michael Scott’s favorite Gretzky quote in doing so. Today, they mainly focus on baseball with the generally well-received “MLB The Show” series.

As enticing as variety can be, Sony was probably smart in moving away from hockey/NHL video games.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Time to make changes to NHL Draft Lottery?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Changes for NHL Draft Lottery, CBA, return to play links

• Travis Yost goes deep on possible structural changes to the NHL Draft Lottery after the controversial placeholder results. Could there be some big changes, either weighing odds differently, or something like “The Gold Plan” for the NHL Draft Lottery in the future. I wouldn’t hate the idea of, say, a team only being able to win the top pick every X number of years, or something of that nature. Here’s one thing I’m sure of: people will always complain. Death, taxes, griping. [TSN]

• Depending upon whom you ask, the NHL Draft Lottery is part of the league’s larger “pursuit of mediocrity.” In all honesty, it’s tough to argue with that stance after seeing 24 of 31 teams involved in the potential return-to-play plan. [Faceoff Circle]

As noted recently on PHT, reports indicate that a CBA extension could be brewing. Lyle Richardson breaks down how that might end up looking. [Full Press Coverage]

Other hockey links, including something on EA Sports’ “NHL 95”

• While many players choose jersey numbers for trivial reasons, Canucks forward Zack McEwen has a legit reason to fight for number 71. [Sportsnet]

• The PHWA announced that Tony Gallagher won the 2020 Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism. PHWA president Frank Seravalli said Gallagher “was never afraid to break a few eggs in writing his daily omelette” while covering the Vancouver hockey market. [PHWA]

• We often focus on how many goals a player scores, but it can be fascinating to dig deeper. It turns out that Max Pacioretty wasn’t just one of three players with 300+ SOG this season. He also topped all players with 192 wrist shots. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• Did the Lightning pay too big of a price in the Blake Coleman trade? The pandemic pause certainly heightens the chances of the answer being “Yes.” [Raw Charge]

• To be clear, it’s been a bumpy first Stars season for Joe Pavelski. In the grand scheme of things, Pavelski ultimately got what he was looking for when he signed with Dallas. [The Hockey News]

• Dan Saraceni provides some wonderful memories of “NHL 95” on Sega Genesis. Saraceni goes into the greatest detail on the game’s GM mode, a truly rare feature for the era.

EA Sports NHL 95 GM PHT Morning Skate Draft Lottery changes
via EA Sports/Lighthouse Hockey

The post is a lot of fun to read, especially if you enjoy PHT’s video game series. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• In case you missed it, Chris Thorburn retired from the NHL after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues. What’s next? He’d like to mentor other players. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL won’t restrict coaches if play resumes (even older ones)

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

NHL not restricting coaches and other matters relating to COVID-19/return to play

• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reports that the NHL will place no restrictions on coaches that would entail “prohibiting them from doing their jobs” if play resumes. Coaches with certain at-risk factors (including advanced age) won’t be restricted from coaching teams. Some of this might boil down to the wishes of the NHL Coaches’ Association. I can’t say I’m pumped that masks aren’t an instant requirement, but I’m also not thrilled that players won’t be wearing full face shields. Why not take the precautions that make the most sense, even in a process that might be risky overall?

Anyway, read on for more from Kaplan. [ESPN]

• Speaking of throwing a debatable amount of caution to the wind, the Rangers stated that Kaapo Kakko looks likely to return to play. This is notable, as Kakko is a Type 1 Diabetic. Rangers president John Davidson claims that the team’s doctors are giving Kakko the green light. I don’t know, gang. Perhaps we’ll just have to get used to players “choosing” to roll the dice? [NHL.com]

• For the first time ever, the Hockey Hall of Fame will induct a class without in-person debates. Instead, there will be a “virtual conference call.” TSN’s Frank Seravalli provides details on this rare process. [TSN]

• Adam Gretz breaks down why the Canadiens could be a tough matchup for the Penguins. And, no, Carey Price isn’t the main reason. [Pensburgh]

Darcy Kuemper explains that, after being off the ice for months, “you kind of have to re-teach yourself how to play goalie.” If nothing else, Kuemper faces one of the bigger challenges to regain his past form, simply because he’s been legitimately elite since January 2019, basically. [Arizona Republic]

Departures, Sabres firing fallout, and other hockey links

• Now-former Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor spoke to Bill Hoppe about getting fired. When word surfaced that the Sabres were firing Jason Botterill, Taylor believed that it would be limited to that. Instead, it was a purge where a stunning 22 people were fired. Taylor admits he didn’t see it coming. That’s pretty understandable, being that the Americans finished second in their division for two seasons in a row, and third during Taylor’s first campaign as head coach. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Lyle “Spector” Richardson notes that Botterill ranks among assistant GMs who couldn’t find big success as GMs. Interesting stuff, although I’d argue that Ron Hextall did a mostly good job with the Flyers, particularly cleaning up their cap nightmares. He just* made the classic mistake of … um, hiring someone with almost the same last name? [Featurd]

* — OK, there were multiple errors, but I’d still give Hextall a “B” or “B+” overall.

• Why a Connor McDavid rookie card auction already surpassed $70K. It’s on its way to becoming the most expensive modern hockey card. [Edmonton Journal]

• EA Sports downplayed rumblings about “NHL 21” being left out of a video hyping future games. [U.S. Gamer]

• Pondering how Reid Cashman’s departure might affect the Capitals. Check this one out if you want to dive into the pool-o-analytics. [Japers’ Rink]

• Nikolay Goldobin bolting from the Canucks to the KHL represents one last departure for this post. There had been high hopes at times for Goldobin, but it didn’t work out. You could probably argue with Canucks fans on Twitter about Goldobin still, though. [Offside Vancouver]

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.

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.

PHT reviews hockey video games: ‘Super Blood Hockey,’ a gory good time

Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of. Previously, that meant looking back at games that are now largely inaccessible. This week’s edition, on the other hand, can be found in many spots: “Super Blood Hockey.”

As we look back at old and very old arcade-style hockey games, it’s almost inevitable to wallow in the sadder elements of nostalgia. Why can’t current games capture those good old days?

Well, games like “Super Blood Hockey” aim to do just that. After spending some time with the Switch version of the game, I think solo developer Loren Lemcke’s aim ended up being mostly on.

“Super Blood Hockey” is an evolution (and devolution) of NES “Ice Hockey”

Earlier in this series, we looked at the NES classic “Ice Hockey,” which originally released around 1988. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s SNES emulator (available with Switch Online), you can toggle between “Ice Hockey” and “Super Blood Hockey” on the same device.

Of course, it really might come down to letting your kids play “Ice Hockey,” but not “Super Blood Hockey.”

On one hand, SBH carries a lot of the same spirit of that Nintendo classic. There are “fat, skinny, normal” players, with the skinnier being more elusive, and the “fat” being tougher to knock off the puck than vintage Eric Lindros. Much like “Ice Hockey,” “Super Blood Hockey” only involves four skaters and a goalie, rather than the NHL standard.

Fights definitely play a role in the game, as much like in classic titles, the team that wins a fight — actually a wild line brawl — goes up one player. In fact, as I learned earlier today in researching the game a bit more, you can also go up four skaters to one.

A meaty and gory franchise mode

The not-so-family friendly stuff boils down to the gore, and the dark gallows humor of the franchise mode.

Rather than a dry GM mode setup such as games like “NHL 20,” you begin the “Super Blood Hockey” version by … giving up a kidney to afford your team?

Super Blood Hockey screen kidney
via Super Blood Hockey

When you lose a fight, you don’t just essentially go on the penalty kill. You also risk being “down a man” in a dark way. Like, say, losing your best player “Ryan Bretzel.”

Super Blood Hockey poor Bretzel
via Super Blood Hockey

The game’s lack of an NHL or NHLPA license means that you get some fun names (Adam “Pates,” huh?) and the game can go down some literal dark alleys with drug use.

 

When it comes to the humor, your results will vary. As someone who worries that players might be put at risk to return to play, there’s some catharsis in the satire of “Super Blood Hockey,” though. The tone generally works for me, possibly thanks to the throwback pixel art.

Super Blood Hockey discard
Players are inmates in this dark franchise mode. (via Super Blood Hockey)

In a May 2019 interview with Nintendojo, “Super Blood Hockey” developer Loren Lemcke explained the tone of the game:

The omnipresent evil of profit-motive haunts the US Healthcare system and poisons our compassion by injecting into us the necessary machinery to dehumanize others. One doesn’t have to dig very deep to discover a terrifying crypt of nightmarish and surreal ordeals inflicted upon the sick and dying in the name of profit. Super Blood Hockey is a mere cartoonish effigy of the very real kafkaesque horrors levied upon the poor.

(How many other sports video game franchise modes inspire use of the term “kafkaesque?” OK, beyond the microtransactions in the NBA2K series.)

Ultimately, “Super Blood Hockey” follows its retro roots as being a fairly stripped-down game. You won’t play 20+ seasons in this franchise mode, seeing Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes retire along the way.

Yet there’s a lot to like. I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes when I tell my little pixely players to rest vs. hit the gym, but it’s fun to tweak their stats.

An impressive effort could be just a bit better with more resources

If you follow indie video games, you realize that small teams, sometimes basically one person, can sometimes will a game into existence. Sometimes that comes down to making the types of games that don’t get made any longer.

People craved another “Harvest Moon” game, so largely solo developer Eric Barone accomplished his own take on the series with “Stardew Valley.” That game became a smash hit, and Lemcke’s enjoyed his own success while making “Super Blood Hockey” an evolution and devolution of NES “Ice Hockey.”

Now, sure, there are beefs.

Above all else, it would be wonderful to be able to play games online. What better way to keep in touch with friends than to take advantage of their teams being down 4-on-2 thanks to lost fights?

And, while I’d argue that the game plays well, there can be some maddening moments. Sometimes it’s just flat-out frustrating trying to score against Pong-inspired goalies.

SBH stats
Bretzel’s sacrifice? Yeah, kind of in vain. (via Super Blood Hockey)

But with a fantastic retro soundtrack and look, and some fun gameplay, “Super Blood Hockey” could be a nice fit for those wanting an old-school hockey game. It’s often pretty cheap and on many platforms, from the Nintendo Switch to PC, to XBox One and Playstation 4.

As far as what’s next for Lemcke, well, I might need to check out his other project. If you’re of a certain age, you also have fond memories of the “Rampage” arcade games. It looks like Lemcke shared such memories, because check out “Terror of Hemasaurus.”

That looks like it might be worthy of its own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to be honest.

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.