Hockey is not only the best sport to see live in person, but it also translates fantastically to video games. For decades, game makers have been trying to catch the on-ice excitement on gaming consoles. And many have had fantastic success with it.
From Blades of Steel, the first game to introduce fighting, to NHL 20, which focused on roster building and realistic gameplay, hockey games have continued to move forward.
Below is a list of the ten greatest hockey games of all time, rewarded for innovation, strategy, graphics, and all-around gameplay. Our choices are presented in no particular order.
Back in 1993, NBA Jam hit arcades around America, and sports-based video games were never the same. Titles before NBA Jam attempted to recreate sports as realistically as possible. The Midway-developed basketball game made it all about fun.
NHL Hitz was the hockey version of NBA Jam. Only 3 players were on the ice for each team, making the game wide open. There was also a fighting feature. The loser of the fight, though, was removed for the rest of the game. There were 3 versions of the game which were released in 2001, 2002, and 2003.
Just because this was Electronic Arts’ 17th version of the game doesn’t mean that it couldn’t improve. And this title featured a number of new aspects that made it a favorite among gamers.
The create a player option was well-received as players could design a new skater and add him to their franchise. The game also saw many improvements in how their squads played defense including a defensive skill stick and strategies such as dump-and-chase and forechecking.
NHL: Rock the Rink
NHL: Rock the Rink was released in March of 2000 when interest in professional wrestling was at a fever pitch. That is an important thing to remember when discussing the game because it presents as a cross between a cage fight and a hockey game.
Not only was the game fun to play, but it also generated a lot of laughs. Particularly well received was the commentary of announcer Don Taylor. There were also little fun wrinkles like the game ending when a certain number of goals were scored rather than a fixed time.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey was the first rink game to be released on the Nintendo 64. And like other games like GoldenEye or Super Mario Kart, the game was more fun when your friends joined in.
The hockey title was the first N64 game to allow four players to play at once. And the arcade-style of the game made this the most fun option. The game also had graphics that are still remembered to this day including the net turning into a brick wall when the goalie recorded a bunch of saves in a row.
NHL Breakway 98
NHL Breakaway was first released in 1997 on Playstation and Nintendo 64. The cover athlete was Keith Tkachuk and the game was published by Acclaim.
The big innovation in the title was the player’s attributes. Players who were bigger and stronger were able to check opponents harder. Players who were faster could beat competitors to the puck. So like in real life, fast and big players like Eric Lindros were close to unstoppable. The game had a sequel that was released in 1998.
NHL 3 on 3 Arcade
NHL 3 on 3 Arcade was never actually released on its own. In fact, it was released as a side game for NHL ’09. Some gamers, though, liked playing the side game more than the full-scale version.
That’s because 3 on 3 Arcade was all about fun. It featured large-headed versions of NHL stars playing pickup hockey. Gamers could also challenge their friends online. The title also featured NBA Jam-like features such as player power-ups and special moves.
One of the greatest hockey video games of all time was also one of the simplest. Ice Hockey, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1988, took a number of steps ahead when it comes to hockey gameplay.
Like any good game, it featured fighting. But it also took a fair amount of skill level to score on your opponent. With no license from the NHL, the game featured international teams like the USA, Japan, Sweden, and of course, the Soviet Union.
ESPN NHL 2k5
It has been very difficult for any game series to compete with Electronic Arts, but Sega gave it a great go in 2004 with ESPN NHL 2K5. The game was released on Playstation 2.
The game was best remembered for how the analog stick was used on both offense and defense. While on offense, players were able to use the analog stick to deke their opponents and on defense, they were able to use the stick to poke the puck out of the way. There were multiple sequels of the game made.
Blades of Steel
Gamers of a certain age remember Blades of Steel very fondly. Back in the late ’80s, there was an incredible buzz about the game. And the game was most remembered because of the fighting feature.
Despite the lack of an NHL license, Blades of Steel was a hit for Nintendo. Players were happy to trade in the opportunity to use Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux as long as they could batter their opponents. The gameplay and the graphics are an important part of the game’s legacy.
NHL 94 is more than just the greatest hockey game of all time. And NHL 94 might be more than just the greatest sports game of all time. Some critics, in fact, say that NHL 94 is one of the greatest video games ever made.
Immortalized in the movie Swingers both for Jeremy Roenick’s skill and making Wayne’s head bleed, the game is nearly perfect. Nearly 30 years later, the crisp perfect gameplay of the EA Sports title transcends itself.