"This game is so fun, they should make it a real sport!"
Oh you mean Hockey is already a sport? Funny, Iíve never seen it. Hmmm.... Can you tell that Iím a HUGE sports fan? Oh yeah, there is nothing I like better than sitting around, drinking copious amounts of ale and living vicariously through someone in much better shape than me. Whoís got time for that? Oh, only 98% of the male population, you say? Okay. I guess Iím not a man. Iím a nerd, but not a man. But I enjoy video game hockey. Does that count? No? Well then Iím screwed.
I personally feel that it is better to play video game sports than to watch the real thing on television. At least youíre actually doing something and exercising those thumbs rather than your ass muscles. In the history of pathetic arguments that one has to win. Even I recognize how lame it sounds. Anyway, if you are going to play video game hockey, then you had better get NHL 98.
Letís face it, Madden Football and NHL Hockey on the Genesis changed the face of video games forever. See my upcoming editorial "Does SEGA Deserve Another Chance?" for a little more info on that. It brought video games into the hands of adults and the companies began to see that it wasnít just kids buying these "toys" anymore. Now in 1998, the race is on to get great sports titles on the next generation machines, because companies know that great sports games play an important role in the success of a system.
NHL 98 which started it all, is the best hockey sim ever. I can say that without hyperbole (hi-per-bull-ee) and I can make that statement even though that I have no outside interest in real sports. Now just imagine, how youíll love this game if you are into Hockey! The gameplay is tight and the speed is perfect. All of the NHL players are featured, all of the teams and even some specialty teams are thrown in for good measure.
The players are all polygonal and the animationís are true to life. The skating, checking, slap shots, passing etc. all look realistic. No cheesy sprites at work here. The different arenas are recognized by the home teams logoís on the ice. This game may not look as good as itís PC cousin, but Iíll take the ease of the PlayStationís two player mode any day.
Playing head to head is the real fun in any sports game and adds replayability far beyond the times when you are so good at the game you are scoring 102 goals by the end of the third period. Well, NHL tries to remedy the phenomenon of scoring what would seem like basketball points in a hockey game. Itís upped the ante on itís AI, and offers up some difficulty levels to choose from. Once you find that little trick that fakes out the goalie though, you are pretty much sitting in the winnerís circle every game. That is why two player mode is so important to the lifespan of a sports game. Play against your friends who can really offer up a challenge.
If you are familiar with the mechanics of hockey, you can play the game exactly as it should be played with all penalties in tact, line changes etc. There are options to turn off penalties, fights and line changes to make your game play at a more arcade pace, if thatís what you are into. This might be good for a beginner or someone who isnít sure of all the rules of hockey. (like Rule #1. Hit puck hard. Well, thatís all of the rules.) As you get more comfortable with the game, then start adding penalties and line changes. It will begin to make sense after awhile. If you are trying to get your girlfriend or boyfriend into watching the sport of hockey, this game might be a good place to start to get them interested. It all harkens back to my theory on thumb vs ass. If they play it, theyíll understand it.
In NHL you can play a whole season which will lead to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can save your progress after each game and come back to it later. Or you can play exhibition games or two player games that donít require a boatload of commitment on your part. If you are a hockey purist, you can trade players who have been traded in real life so that your game will be more authentic. You can even create players, so that you can be the star of the show! Hey why not?
The next best thing about NHL 98, has to be the announcers. It is really amazing to hear the announcers call your game as you play. It may sound a little contrived after awhile, but it certainly is better than having your jerk-off cousin Leonard sitting beside you, trying to do it with that slobbery lisp of his. This feature made the game for me. Iím sure it will be featured in every new NHL game, which will make me happy until Don Cherry shows up.
The one problem (oh here it comes...) I had with NHL 98 is that I didnít really find one camera angle that worked for me. Some were better than others, but I never found "the one." I would have at least thought Iíd find one, you know. The ones that worked the best, pulled back too far which caused my hockey guys, I mean players, ahem, to appear too tiny. At that size I had a hard time deciphering which team was mine. My friend commented many times "that I was going the wrong way". Hell, I didnít even know I had the puck. When he finally called me "slow", I broke down and admitted I couldnít see what the hell I was doing half the time. I eventually got used to it, but I strained my eyes so hard concentrating on where the little bastard with the puck was, that I m sure I will go blind within the next 3 weeks, if not minutes. If youíre wondering, he kicked my ass using his little fake trick to confuse my goalie.
As it stands, though I doubt youíd be at all disappointed with this game. If you are planning a purchase, be very careful when buying used, because I have heard a few complaints about audio scratches which cause the announcer to repeat things over and over again, like cousin Leonard. NHL 98 is the party game to have. If you are into Hockey in a big way than youíve already got this game. If you are unsure because you dislike sports, you might be pleasantly surprised. I donít play this game everyday, but when Iím sick of all the other games in my collection, I can always turn on NHL 98 and play something entirely different. If it can make ME a fan of hockey, then it HAS to be good.