Every week, PHT will showcase hockey video games that you may have never heard of, that you would like to remember and that we would all like to forget. This time, we look back at Sony’s surprisingly expansive range of hockey video games.
When it comes to whining about old hockey video games, we enjoy looking back on arcade-style games or honest attempts at sims, and we often wish for more. Even with a game like “Hit the Ice”, which was ported in many different versionsways, there was not really a sequel. But from “ESPN National Hockey Night” to the “NHL FaceOff” games to “Gretzky NHL” titles, you can’t say that Sony hasn’t taken enough kicks to make hockey video games.
Zooming out, Sony has a truly stunning legacy of … well, largely hockey-forgettable video games.
The sheer volume of those titles means we don’t go into too much of a particular title. Instead, let’s think about the twists, from different consoles to brands, killing up to 99 times.
Sony hockey video games begin with “ESPN National Hockey Night” before Sony consoles.
Released on 16-bit consoles (Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo), Sega CD and computers in late 1994, Sony Imagesoft released what would be far from the last hockey video game with ESPN branding. It seemed like a pretty ambitious title for its time. While I may be an easy marker because of that sweet ESPN hockey theme this video starts:
And also FMV Bill Clement!
Unfortunately, this title started a trend. While Sony’s hockey video games sometimes went through big changes and showed different levels of ambition, they rarely made much of an impact. Most of these titles were either shrugged or grimaced during bad times.
Sony changes to the “NHL FaceOff” series on Playstation and then on Playstation 2
If you grumble that there is only one “Mutant League Hockey” game, or just a few “NHL Hitz” titles, you could show your forehead how long “NHL FaceOff” existed – even ignoring the pivot points of Sony before and after ‘NHL FaceOff’.
In early 1995, Sony pumped out the “NHL FaceOff” titles among other sports series. Honestly, one of my lasting memories of Sony’s sports titles was the intro song “NFL GameDay”, which is etched in my head for some reason:
Early in the “NHL FaceOff” series, you saw some pretty big jumps in the graphics. This came at a time when video game developers were still struggling with the jump from 2D to 3D, and sports video games were not immune to such challenges. Consider the jump from the first title in 1995 to the 1998 edition (“NHL FaceOff ’99”):
It turns out that EA Sports’ “NHL” series isn’t the first time a hockey video game presentation went from ESPN and / or Bill Clement to NBC’s own Mike “Doc” Emrick. Emrick became a fixture in the series, alongside Darren Pang, even as the “FaceOff” games transitioned to their next piece of packaging.
Again, the various studios that have worked on the series have certainly tried things. For example, enjoy 989 Sports ‘made by the pros, played by the pros’ video featuring 1) Warren Sapp, 2) Vin Scully (!) And 3) Scotty Bowman (!!).
There were even ‘foot-in-the-crease’ reviews in ‘NHL FaceOff 2000’.
… And this beautiful face of Mike Modano.
The series really gets lost
While the first ‘NHL FaceOff’ celebrated hockey on the first iteration of the Playstation, the next console jump could explain why an OK-to-good series went sideways. Starting with “NHL FaceOff 2001”, the series moved on to Playstation 2. (That 2001 edition appeared on both Playstation 1 and 2.) Things were bumpy enough that the 2002 edition was eventually canceled. (According to the series’ Wikipedia page, Luc Robitaille is said to be the cover star.)
The last in the series was “NHL FaceOff 2003,” originally published in 2002. (NHL seasons that span parts of two years often make these titles a little confusing, right?)
The 2003 version no longer got the series on the rails. That said, the little in-game previews were a mix of pretty useful and so bad-for-good.
Overall, the “NHL FaceOff” series enjoyed a long time, even if you ignored the other Sony-related hockey video game titles, which came out from 1995-2002 (with a year off, which seems really true to the era of exclusions from the sport).
Just as “ESPN National Hockey Night” gave way to “NHL FaceOff”, Sony’s titles would come back to life in a different package.
Sony is releasing a few hockey video games with Wayne Gretzky included
Sony turned from “NHL FaceOff” titles to “Gretzky NHL 2005” and a 2006 version on Playstation 2. As Alex Navarro noted on Gamespot, the Sony Gretzky titles mainly stood out as Sony hockey video games that were not terrible.
Navarro also pointed out that Sony revived the series under that Gretzky NHL title during a lockout. If that wasn’t the table for a disappointment, both EA’s “NHL” titles and the “NHL 2K” series drew much more attention from sim-minded hockey players. Not surprisingly, the titles got a general ‘meh’.
That said, the Gretzky titles were also ported to Sony’s portable PSP system and seemed to perform quite well.
Since EA largely ignores handhelds like the Nintendo Switch – apart from perhaps a release of a “FIFA” – it’s a pity that the Gretzky / “NHL FaceOff” series couldn’t run to that format. Being able to play a pretty good NHL licensed hockey game on an airplane would have been cool so far just the thought of air travel became deeply terrifying.
I also wonder if “Gretzky NHL 2005/2006” should have been running at full speed. Aside from recalling the pretty fun Nintendo 64 era Gretzky games, you’d lean on something that would make it stand out. The 2006 edition of the game had a feature that actually allowed you to summon … Gretzky to help you win? Bonkers, sure, but what if it was the focus of development rather than a function?
Wayne Gretzky represents the answer from a hockey video game series the unpleasant blue shell in Mario Kart? I don’t hate it.
Again, a rather surprising series of Sony hockey video games
OK, so let’s take a look at the timeline of Sony hockey video games again. Keep in mind that it is possible that something may be left out because there really were so many. (Share in the comments if you notice anything. Maybe there was a spur in a spur wrapped in bacon and riddles?)
- “ESPN National Hockey Night” (various 16-bit consoles / PC, released in 1994)
- “NHL FaceOff through NHL FaceOff 2000” (Playstation, released every year between 1995 and 1999)
- Consider “NHL FaceOff 2001” a trend break because it was released on two consoles. (Playstation 1 and 2, released in 2000)
- … The process of creating one on each console might explain why “NHL FaceOff 2002” was canceled for PS2.
- “NHL FaceOff 2003” (Playstation 2, released in 2002.)
- “Gretzky NHL 2005” (Playstation 2 released in 2004; PSP version released in 2005)
- “Gretzky NHL 2006” (Playstation 2 released September 2005; PSP version released October 2005)
Sony produced a lot of … bad or OK hockey video games. Maybe they have the limits of Michael Scott’s favorite quote from Gretzky thereby. Today, they mainly focus on baseball with the generally well-received series “MLB The Show”.
As tempting as variation is, Sony was probably smart about getting out of hockey / NHL video games.
PHT remembers other hockey video games:
- Hit the Ice, an arcade title that comes in many forms.
- Tony Abbott ( ) shares his memories of NHL Hitz 2003.
- Super Blood Hockey turned out to be quite fun and solid. Maybe even great.
- NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
- NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game featuring Wayne Gretzky and a small plastic hockey stick rim.
- EA’s NHL ’98, when the company reached its polygonal stride, also had a great soundtrack (ironic and unironically?).
- A tribute to the NHL 2K series, which challenged and sometimes even surpassed EA’s popular submissions.
- Who needs Tecmo Super Bowl when you can have Tecmo Super Hockey? (You may want to stay with Tecmo Super Bowl.)
- “Ice Hockey” has a thick, meager, normal impact on the Nintendo NES.
- Looking back at hockey video games on the Nintendo 64.
- Bone up on Bones Jackson & Co. in “Mutant League Hockey”.
- “Get the pass (?)” With this retrospective on “Blades of Steel”.
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