It all began with EA Sports Double Header on the Sega Megadrive. EA Hockey and John Madden Football in one package that set the ball rolling on a 20 year journey across 4 consoles and, for me at least, eleven NHL games.
NHLPA 93 followed and while it didn’t have the official teams, it did have all the players and it also refined some of the gaming mechanics of the first game.
Despite my love for it, I didn’t get another NHL game until NHL 2000 on the Sony PlayStation. I played this to death – working through five consecutive seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. I rebought the game recently and it is so fast and arcadey it’s untrue! Still fun though.
NHL 2004 was the next one I bought on the PS2 and it was superb. Playing it now, it is too fast and too focussed on the big hits, but at the time we couldn’t imagine ice hockey games getting any better than this. Which is why I didn’t get another until the Xbox 360 came along and NHL 07 was unleashed on the world with the all-new Skill Stick.
The Skill Stick allows you to control the player’s skates with the left stick and the hockey stick with the right. By the time you got the hang of it, it was evident there was no going back. Ice hockey videogaming had changed forever. THIS was the way to play.
NHL 08 refined the Skill Stick controls and we still look back on it fondly – though it has to be said it was particularly easy to score. NHL 09 went the other way and was super hard to score, but a year later, NHL 10 found a happy medium between the two.
Since then, with NHL 11 and 12, the series has been treading water. Both are great games, but the changes have been minimal and it felt like we had hit the ceiling on what they can do with the series on the current consoles.
Then this happened:
NHL 13, for me, is the best in the series. The new True Performance skating engine creates realistic momentum affecting the players movement and turning circles in relation to their speed and the True Broadcast camera gives a superb presentation just like watching it on TV.
There are refinements across the board that have just come together to create a perfect simulation of the sport. Sure, there are a few slider adjustments you’ll want to make and if you’re using the True Broadcast camera then it’s a shame the fight cam is still in first person. The commentary – while improved – is still not up the same street as the 2K series of sports games, but these are just small niggles.
In NHL 13 you have to fight for every goal. Every lost turnover is a desperate occurrence and every goal a punch-the-air moment.
I’ve been saying this for 20 years, but they’ll surely never beat this year’s. Never.
Until NHL 14 of course.