This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
It’s surprisingly easy for me to dislike a hockey game. If a game is cheap, has money plays, or is too hard to score goals, I want nothing to do with it. I happen to notice the flaws in hockey games faster because of my background. There’s a reason I won’t coach my future children: because I know that I’ll be much rougher on the one sport I know than the ones I don’t. I was pretty rough on NHL Stanley Cup when it came out because it wasn’t as good as NHL ’94; and while it was hard to play, I remember figuring out a few tricks along the way. Now that over a decade has passed since I last played the game, I figured that I’d give it another shot. After all, Super Nintendo games with gimmicky Mode 7 effects always stand up well to the ravages of time and superior technology, right?
HOW WAS IT THEN: NHL Stanley Cup was a far inferior game to the sport’s champion at the time, EA Sports’ NHL/NHLPA series. When Stanley Cup came out, it was compared to NHL ’94 and Brett Hull Hockey, and the comparisons were not favourable. While more impressive graphically than the former two, the camera spun around to behind the player’s perspective no matter where the puck was going. This meant the end result was like being in a dryer’s tumble cycle, spinning around the puck. The game also didn’t have some of the niceties of EA’s game, including the then recently added one-timer. This led to gameplay that was based around luck more than skill: get it to the zone, fire, and hope for the best against the super goalies who barely ever moved but sucked up everything.
That isn’t to say that Stanley Cup didn’t have fresh ideas. They experimented with having little icons above each player’s head that denoted how open they were: green for open, red for covered, and yellow for in between. However, seeing passing lanes was difficult because of the camera and the constant buildup of players. And while the spinning camera was inventive, it was far from usable due to the limited power the SNES had.
A decent season mode, an NHL (but no NHLPA) license, and Nintendo’s publishing are what kept NHL Stanley Cup from utter irrelevance when it came out.
HOW IS IT NOW: Since 1993, I’ve had ten recorded concussions and who knows how many others that went under the radar. I still get migraines sometimes, and bright lights are also my enemy on occasion. In short, I’m not as sharp as I was back then.
Needless to say, the vertigo-inducing sensations from NHL Stanley Cup did not sit well with me.
The camera literally turns every couple of seconds, and it does so violently. At best, this makes it hard to get a bearing on where you are on the ice. At worst, it can make someone legitimately sick from the motion. I didn’t struggle this badly with 3D gaming as I did with just trying to get through the first quarter in an average Hartford vs. Montreal game. All of this is made worse by how the game itself—the act of simulating the sport of hockey—is such a garbled mess. They tried to simulate NHL ’94‘s checking system, where players speed up into hits. While it’s hard to nail down as a human, the computer has no problems, so you can’t skate more than five feet without being upended and having the camera swing around again. Yes, you can pass out of it, but you don’t know where you’re passing most of the time. If you go by the icons above each player, who are usually so far away that everyone blends together, chances are good that the icon will change while the pass is moving or will be flat-out wrong, which can lead to either a missed pass or icing. There’s a clearance button, but I had trouble using it because by the time I thought to use it, I was lying on the ice again.
Of course, sometimes, I pass back to my goaltender, or my goaltender skates up with the puck, which is fun in terms of the oh crap they’re shooting on an empty net factor. There is absolutely no clue as to where the puck is going at any time. Even a breakaway is hit-or-miss; there’s no way to deke the goaltender out, and they don’t move for any shots unless it’s a programmed move that makes no difference. At least the goal celebration looked nice in 1993.
There is simply no redeeming factor about NHL Stanley Cup. What was bad in 1993 is painfully so in 2012. It was the worst hockey game of the lot back in the day, and it hasn’t aged well even on its limited standards because of the inability to just pick it up and play. Even the nostalgia of playing as the teams and players of the early 90s is inferior to NHL ’94, which has both an NHL and NHLPA license, putting names to the jersey numbers.
NHL Stanley Cup goes beyond being a bad game. With hindsight as the perspective, it’s one of the worst sports games of all time.