Over the years, fans have been treated with hockey games that have introduced timeless features to even some that, while not revolutionary, were too much fun to put down.
I’m Mike Straw from Sports Gamers Online, and these are my Top 10 NHL Video Games of all-time!
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey
The game wasn’t the greatest and it wasn’t the best in terms of gameplay, but there’s no denying how much fun Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey was. It just looked fun to play, and was one of the few NHL games that you could just pick up and play without knowing how to play a hockey video game. From the blinking puck to the glowing ice, the game looked great.
When you scored a goal, the net started on fire. That alone should deem a game eligible for a top 10 list like this!
NHL Breakaway 98
For a game released in 1997, it played well and looked damn good. NHL Breakaway 98 makes this list for one major feature that was ahead of it’s time: the ability to fully edit players. From jersey number to position to team, NHL Breakaway 98 finally allowed fans to customize teams and players as they see fit.
Everyone remembers the PlayStation version of this game for the awesome intro and it being the first game with Jim Hughson on play-by-play, but it’s the N64 version that stands out the most. The game had Bill Clement on play-by-play delivering one liners that are both memorable and fun to say when you’re playing any type of video game with friends…even something like Mario.
When you have lines like, “He stops him, and drops him!”, you definitely deserve a spot on the list. It also didn’t hurt that the gameplay was fast and exciting, and the game offered a variety of modes ranging from a deep franchise mode to a quick shootout option.
For everything that NHL 94 did right, NHL 96 did it that much better. The ability to edit lines anyway you saw fit, multiple seasons in franchise mode, and making trades that could be saved outside of franchise mode, NHL 96 took everything about the great gameplay from 94 and improved on it in the form of off-ice features that fans had been clamoring for.
There was even the option to create your own player, giving you the ability to spend hours customizing your teams how you wanted. NHL 96, to some, might be better than 94, but because of what the latter introduced to the franchise, we can’t put it above that classic. That being said, the game did reintroduce fighting back to the series after it had gone missing, much to the chagrin of fans.
NHL 3-on-3 Arcade
As the NHL series began to get a bit complicated for casual players after the introduction of the skill stick, EA Sports decided to release a fun and simple big head arcade version for everyone to be able to pick up and play, and the result was phenomenal.
From the various power-ups that included the ability to make miniature goalies or get two goals for the price of one to the back and forth gameplay, 3-on-3 arcade offered endless fun with your drafted teams. And though the game is nearly 10 years old, it’s still as fun today as it ever was.
ESPN NHL 2k5
It wasn’t often that the 2k series beat out the EA Sports franchise in terms of hockey, but NHL 2k5 was the one year that it wiped the floor with EA competition. 2K5 provided in-depth offline and online features, and detailed and realistic gameplay that made it the most fun on the ice.
And it was the best way hockey fans could get their NHL fix that year as the league lost that season due to a lockout. The skating was fluid, stick handling spot on, and the presentation was stellar in this all-around great game.
Unfortunately for 2k, EA Sports would have the final knockout on this one as 2k would cease operations of their hockey franchise on consoles. Nevertheless, ESPN NHL 2k5 will go down as the best offering from the 2k Hockey franchise. Hopefully, we can see a return in the future.
NHL 07 was a major turning point in the franchise for EA Sports as not only did they introduce Gary Thorne and Bill Clement as the new broadcast for the next generation of NHL, but they also unveiled the revolutionary skill stick that has become a staple of the NHL franchise to this day.
The ability to use the right stick on your controller as your hockey stick made NHL 07 feel like a brand new experience for fans of the series both longtime and new. There’s no denying the impact it had on the franchise, helping the game land inside the top 5.
NHL Hitz 20-02
Fresh off the success of the widely popular NFL Blitz franchise, Midway decided to dip its feet in the NHL market with the release of this arcade classic. Hitz 20-02 provided fans with a style of gameplay they had never seen before in a hockey game in the form of fast-paced, high-scoring and hard-hitting action.
It changed the scene in hockey gaming, and gave fans a brand new alternative from the sim offerings of 2k Sports and EA Sports. Two more versions of the game were released in the form of Hitz 20-03 and Hitz Pro, but nothing grabbed fans attention more than the first offering back in 2001.
It may be the number one game of all-time to many, but NHL 94 lands just shy at number two on this list. The game features beautiful visuals, great gameplay, and the introduction of the slapshot -one timer, which was exploited more times than I care to remember.
Over 20 years since its release, NHL 94 remains a fan-favorite and even was inspiration for an anniversary mode in EA Sports hockey titles on Xbox 360 and PS3.
A limited number of features and the removal of fighting from the game, however, was enough to keep it from hitting the number one spot.
It may not be the most popular opinion, but the long-lasting popularity of NHL 04 warrants its spot at the top of this list.
With incredible gameplay and amazing visuals for its time, NHL 04 proved to be one of the best looking and playing hockey video games of all time. What made it more special were the features you had off the ice.
Its franchise mode was the most in-depth and fun the series has ever offered. Improving GM offices, upgrading your scouting and training departments and even customizing your arena made for hours of fun. The game’s legacy still lives on thanks to a fan-made rebuilt version of the game, that sees yearly updates including teams, rosters and overall graphics and presentation.