Ice hockey is a unique sport with incredible popularity in one country, yet utterly foreign in many others. Due to the required facilities, it is expected for countries with warmer climates to not feature such a sport, while nations with lower temperatures often further develop ice hockey.
The sport’s popularity within one country also impacts the video games that follow. For instance, since ice hockey is Canada’s national sport, it was only expected that video games surrounding this sport would be top-rated among Canadians. Additionally, although the first-ever ice hockey game was released for the Magnavox Odyssey 2, a second-generation home video game console, nowadays, the games offer some of the best graphics and gameplay in the industry. Furthermore, with the sudden surge of eSports competitions, the popularity of video games within countries with a particular focus on ice hockey, as Canada’s case, has further developed due to the possibility of wagering bets on the competitions through Canadian betting apps.
However, for those not die-hard fans of ice hockey, you may be unaware of the long list of games that have been built surrounding this sport over the years. Since the late ’70s, game studios have released more than one hundred ice hockey games, so let’s look at some of the most popular throughout the decades.
Hockey games through the years
The first ever ice hockey game was launched in 1979 for Magnavox Odyssey 2. The game was uniquely named Hockey!. During the following decade, several more video games surrounding this sport appeared on multiple platforms. Between Arcade games and options for Intellivision, Atari, and Commodore, the gaming experience was as simple as the technology at the time permitted.
In 1988, a new era of ice hockey games began. With the release of the first Wayne Gretzky game by Bethesda Softworks for DOS and Amiga, ice hockey games would enter one of the most exciting seasons since they first appeared.
Consoles and video games became an unprecedented phenomenon in the 1990s. As more people had access to the technology, game studios and publishers had to improve their offerings to remain competitive and cater to the masses. Dozens of hockey games were released during the 1990s, including the first EA Sports video game for this sport. The range of gaming consoles also improved during this decade, with options such as Sega Genesis, Super NES, Game Boy, and Nintendo Entertainment System becoming available. As you can imagine, the quality of the graphics and gaming experience went through one of the industry’s most significant revolutions and evolutions.
EA Sports Takes On The Competition
Since first entering the ice hockey video games competition, EA Sports quickly took the lead and became one of the most sought-after publishers. Releasing a game per year, the game studio published multiple NHL video games that went on to become the basis of what is the leading gaming option nowadays.
In 2000, Sega Sports became one of EA Sports’ main competitors. By releasing NHL 2K for Dreamcast, the company quickly showcased it had the skills and motivation to take on one of the biggest sports games publishers in the market.
During the 2000s, EA Sports and Sega Sports released several hockey games with similar success rates among players. However, in 2011, Sega Sports released its final 2K edition while EA Sports would go on to continue production.
The Pinnacle Of Modern Hockey Games
The EA Sports NHL series has been the leading option for ice hockey fans. Even those that worked behind the scenes and built these games, such as Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of the NHL series, describe the evolution of these games as an impressive feat.
Ramjagsingh described the first Nintendo games as “very basic game mechanics”. He says, “The fat guy was strong and the skinny guy was quick and fast. That’s how it started. Back then it was figuring out the easiest way – the consoles weren’t anywhere close to what they are now – to get something that looked like hockey.” The main challenge was making players moving on ice look as authentic as possible, unlike other sports where players run.
However, EA Sports succeeded in this challenging feat. Nowadays, hockey games continue to change the world of those who are enthusiastic about this sport.
In 2020, Alex Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky, two of the biggest hockey stars in the world, went head to head on a charity event on Twitch. The hockey legends faced each other in a best-of-three NHL 20 matches.
The event, “The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase”, allowed hockey fans to see the two goal-scoring legends compete in a video game demonstrating how far technology has come.
Looking to the future
The evolution of ice hockey games is outstanding, especially since the first ever game appeared in 1979. The graphics, gameplay, and possibilities have developed so much that many wonders if there’s still something else that can be improved upon. Some might also wonder if other leagues will become the center of attention for video games. With EA Sports’ library of sports games as large as it, will the NHL series see a decline in quality in the coming years?
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