I found this on Reddit Hockey today, and being that I’m the perfect age to be impressed by something like this, I had to run it.

Here’s an image from every year of EA Sports “NHL” line, starting with 1994 and ending up in 2013, followed by some thoughts:

* First off, NHL ’94 is pretty widely regarded by hockey fans/gamers as the most addicting sports game of all-time. And, it may well have been, it was amazing. That said: NHL ’95 was pretty freaking incredible too. Not sure which I’d play if I could choose one for the next hour.

* The ice in the early years was really, really blue for some reason.

* I remember the massive graphics upgrade with NHL ’98, another amazing year for the game. Like, what did they figure out in one year there? Those images aren’t even close.

* As the graphics improve, you have to ask – are the games getting more fun? As someone raised on two-button Nintendo controllers and three-button Sega ones, I’m not so sure. I don’t super-enjoy trying to fly a spaceship while playing video hockey.

* Oh, and yeah – the graphics are out-of-control amazing at this point. It’s going to be crazy to see where they go from here.

What are your thoughts – what was the best year? Do you miss the simplicity of the early editions?


(Credit to theScore’s Scott Johnson for the image – the original Facebook post and conversation can be found here)

Comments (45)

  1. NHL 94. Still the greatest game of all time

  2. I remember the PC versions of NHL 96 and 97 had the 3D graphics that were finally implemented for the console version of NHL 98. I guess it was just a matter of making those graphics work on gaming consoles. I loved NHL 97 for PC, myself. It had all the real masks for every goalie in the league!

  3. I remember getting really addicted to playing NHL 2002 as a kid and thinking that that game was the boss. Now it is amazing what they have done to the franchise.

  4. What about NHL Hockey (1992) and NHLPA Hockey ’93? In the ’92 version you could fight after the whistles!

    • I distinctly remember playing the shit out NHLPA Hockey ’93. Game was awesome and we preferred it over 94 because of the cheap across the middle of the ice easy goal in NHL 94.

  5. ’94 and ’98 were all-time…’94 pretty much cost me a few college course credits.

  6. I’ve played thousands of hours of sports games (no exaggeration) and nothing beats this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkdKksI_Fhk

  7. NHL 97 was the best classic version, in my opinion. I love the gameplay of the modern versions (the feeling of pulling off a really great deke is almost as good as doing it in real life), but I miss the days of the early 2000s versions when you could rip through 29 game seasons in dynasty mode and watch your team transform over the course of a decade. Today’s games only let you play real 82 game seasons, and I just don’t have the time for that anymore.

  8. NHL ’94 is still my favourite hockey game of all time, but Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball stands tall as the sports game that pilfered the most hours of my life.

  9. I would have to say that ice hockey for nintendo was the best hockey……Danm i miss that game!!!

  10. its really hard to compare images from the early years that are of actual gameplay vs. the newest years where the images are from clips animated especially for commercials… not at all debating whether or not the graphics are amazing, just would probably be better if it were a direct comparison. #dork

  11. NHL 99 for PC was my fav. It wins strictly because it has the single coolest intro to a hockey game EVER. Click link below to watch and you will agree.


  12. A quick trip down memory lane thanks to Wikipedia has provided the following interesting facts about the platforms and development of the franchise. Enjoy:

    1994: The game debuts on DOS, SNES, Genesis and SegaCD
    1995: SegaCD is dropped but the game hits handheld devices on the GameGear and GameBoy
    1996: The GameGear is dropped
    1997: The PC release is available for both DOS and Windows; The game premieres on Sega Saturn and Sony’s Playstation; GameBoy is dropped;
    1998: The PC release from this point forwards is only on Windows;
    1999: The SNES, Genesis and SegaCD are dropped; The game premieres on N64
    2000: The game returns to handheld devices on the GB Color; N64 is dropped
    2001: The game releases on both the PS1 and PS2; GB Color is dropped
    2002: The game returns (again) to handheld devices on the GB Advance; The game premieres on the XBox; PS1 is dropped
    2003: The game premieres on the GameCube; GB Advance is dropped
    2004-2006: For the first time there are no changes, the game distributes on PC, PS2 and XBox for 4 straight years (incl 2003)
    2007: EA makes its final attempt at a handheld game on the PSP; The game releases on both XBox and XBox360; GameCube is dropped;
    2008: The game releases on both PS2 and PS3; XBOX is dropped; PSP is dropped;
    2009: The game releases on both PS2 and PS3
    2010: PC and PS2 Dropped
    2011-13: The game has now gone through it’s longest stable development model where it releases solely on the Playstation3 and XBox360 from 2010-2013 (4 Years)

    • That list is wrong. NHL Hockey by EA Sports first came out in 1992 for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. It was followed up by NHLPA 93, which traded in the NHL license for an NHLPA license so they included the players names. NHL 94 they figured they can get both and did that, so that was the first with both NHL teams and logos as well as player names.

  13. The only criteria I’ve ever had to decide between was this:

    NHLPA ’93 had fighting and blood, but no one-timers.
    NHL 94 had one-timers, but no fighting or blood.

    Either way, best two hockey games hands-down.

    Addendum: if you play on emulators, there are editors out there which allow you to alter values (names, stats, even jersey colours). I created my beer league team.

    • i was waiting for the blood comment. i loved seeing probert laying some guy out. my friends and i pretended the player was having to go the hospital. good old time flin flon hockey :D

  14. NHL 99 with Eric Lindros on the cover prompted so many fights at my house – friendships were made and destroyed

  15. I stopped after 2001. They got too complicated when all I really wanted was to have NHL94 with fancy graphics.

  16. I understand the greatness of the older games, but I cannot understand how nobody here has come out on the side of the more recent ones. Maybe “flying a spaceship” isn’t your thing, but the massive level of complexity and the ever-increasing ability of the gamer to imitate sick moves and dekes and feel more immersed in a more life-like hockey experience wins hands down for me.

    • that was the other comment too that didn’t make much sense to me. how many of us played street fighter and tried to memorize 15 hit combos lol

  17. ’94 by far and away – loved screaming down the right wing with Teemu and going end to end with Housley, only to watch Essensa let in a face-off win from centre ice. We always used the AI goalies.

    And for those who don’t like it because of the cross-crease “guaranteed goal” manoeuvre,. Sure, it makes beating the AI easy, but if you’re playing against a friend – defend against it!

  18. While there is something to be said about the simplistic fun of the early games I like that it takes more time to master the new NHLs. I like that there are few AI glitches to take advantage of. When I score in NHL 12 I feel like it actually took skill. I like developing a player through the OHL & AHL. I’m 31; I spent many hundreds of hours playing NHL 94, but I’d never want to go back. The new games to me keep getting better.

  19. I’d just like them to release a PC version again.

  20. Actually, it was these games that introduced me to hockey fandom. Never followed the game before a good mate dragged me into playing these games with him and after that I got interested and became a fan of both these games and ice hockey in general.

    Overall, the games are a blast but definitely have their shortcomings. AI hasn’t really progressed in my time playing it (from NHL 09), the GM mode is really bare bones and the commentating… the commentating is seriously hit or miss. But for the most part, once you get the hang of them, they’re great fun.

    (Side note: The ice would have been very blue in the first 2D games to stop players in white uniforms from basically disappearing into the ice. With 3D graphics, it’s less of an issue.)

  21. Wish they’d remake Mutant League Hockey.

  22. ’94 and ’95 by far my favorites. But Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey on N64 basically claimed me and my roommates souls in college. Arcade 3on3 hockey insanity.

  23. I’m pretty sure the blueness of the ice had something to do with old CRT TVs. Maybe something about being easier on the tubes than a screen full of white.

    We played probably 10 seasons of 94 and 95 on my old Magnavox. Midgame, one evening it popped, sparked, and the screen went blank. You could faintly see the scoreboard burned into the screen in the corner.

  24. Oh man, I LOVED the arcade version of Wayne Gretzky 3D hockey. Always played as Philadelphia because they had the legion of doom line. Someday I’m gonna buy a cabinet off of eBay and relive those arcade days. Side note: those of you with a Wii should check out NHL Slapshot, nice and arcadey but also surprisingly deep and just a blast to play.

  25. How has no one brought Blades of Steel into this conversation yet? Rock-em-sock-em style fights, after which play *continues* and only the loser of the fight gets taken to the box … how hockey should be.

  26. Blades of steel rules all of these games!

  27. NHL 2001 for PC was the best for me. Loved how you could hold the shoot button for a bit and the wrist shot would get harder. The mods were great and easy; loved having authentic masks and pads for every goalie and the right ice and boards (and goal horns) in every rink. Cyberfaces too!!You could put your own music in the game for play stoppages (different tunes for over the glass, home penalty, away penalty, etc). Really good stuff

  28. I think the games the past 3 years have been beyond awesome. Nhl 94 and 98 are also legendary.
    Check out http://www.cnhl-ps3.com and http://www.nhl94online.com

  29. 2009 on has introduced a mass attack of glitch goaling nutsacks who practice this craft in the UHL and \eashl…. fix that before graphics upgrades you bastards

  30. ’98 was the first year of Dreamcast/PlayStation 2. That’s why the graphics bump.

  31. The pictures are dated wrong!!! Where is says NHL 96 its actually 95 and so on!!

  32. The pictures are dated wrong!!! Where is says NHL 96 its actually 95 and so on!!

  33. 94 is still the best, for pure game play, pick up and have a ton of fun. I remember when 98 came out for psone it blew my mind away definitely a personal favorite then 2005. There’s a few bad ones in there as well. I can’t remember which one it was, but their was cut away wedding proposals in the isle, I kid you not.

  34. NHL 93 was game that started it, but 94 and 95 were played consistently and continually as long as somebody was awake to get “schooled” during college. Sure the graphics weren’t as amazing as the newer versions, but the gameplay was fantastic albeit pretty simple to master. That was the feature that made this game so incredible. Everyone could grab a controller and be good enough to compete. Even the worst player could win with Chicago or Detroit! It was the start and finish to pretty much every night!

  35. Hello everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and post is genuinely fruitful for me, keep up posting these articles or reviews.

  36. Why hasn’t EA come out with an iPhone version that looks like the old 8-bit games but plays with new players and minor tweaks? Am I the only person who thinks they would instantly sell a million copies on iTunes? Imagine online play and local bluetooth multiplayer or iPad play?! Better yet have two iPads be the ICE and have each person control one player each as they skate across both iPads. COME ON EA NO IPAD SUPPORT IS AWFUL.

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