Now, you may think it a little strange that I’m reviewing a game that has been out for 26 years. You probably think that there is little merit in highlighting its positives and negatives, and giving you an insight into my experiences with the title is a waste of both of our time. Possibly it is, but I downloaded NHL ’94 Rewind to relive a classic title that I played when it was first released, and hoping EA would somehow modernise the gameplay to be more palatable for the modern gamer.
Having been developed by EA Vancouver and published by Electronic Arts, this sports title has long been considered one of the greatest hockey games to have existed. In its heyday it captured the feel and the atmosphere of the fast-paced nature of the sport, allowing avid fans to transport themselves to the ice, hoping and praying that they would get through the season playoffs, eventually lifting the pinnacle that is the Stanley Cup. With all the recent remastered and reimagined games that have been unleashed on the market, it was both a shock, and a pleasant surprise that EA added NHL ’94 Rewind in its original state.
My first impressions when I loaded into this retro sporting classic, was a nostalgia fuelled joy that quickly changed to a realisation that it had aged as badly as I have. On a smaller screen the harsh pixelated imagery may not have looked so bad, but on anything that is 40 inches and above, it not only hurts the eyes but also the soul. EA retained the basic control system, and allowed for both classic and modern advertising to be used in every game. This added to the original feeling, and fuelled the retro nature.
Unlike modern day sports titles, the early attempts were very basic. Effectively, you could pick your favourite team, select from a few game modes, and compete against a friend locally, or against the usually unbalanced computer opponent. This is exactly how NHL ’94 Rewind is constructed, which makes for a poor experience if you want to delve deep into the team makeup, and feel you can make a difference with player knowledge and tactical nuance. However, it’s fantastic if you want to jump into the action, and simply start playing a game.
So, has the gameplay held up to modern-day standards? Unfortunately, no! It’s clunky, unresponsive, and painfully disconnected. Players skate around like headless chickens (though I think chickens would be more responsive), scoring a goal is more luck than judgment, and when you eventually get the puck into the net, it feels like you have reached the summit of Everest. The penalty system is inconsistent and inaccurate, and each team’s skill level appears to have little to no impact on how well they play. In short, like most things that are remembered through rose-tinted spectacles, they should not be revisited without having some modern gaming polish applied.
Graphically it has retained that classic 16-Bit look, with rough, brash images that contain few details, yet somehow represent the object or person it intends to portray. Though this is an abomination for the eyes, and is a bit of a joke being played on a modern day TV or monitor, it runs smoothly with only minor issues observed. The classic use of advertising boards was a clever move by EA, it kept the gameplay on point with the original era. If you played this during your childhood, you’ll be transported back to the 90s, where you’ll relive all the wonderful memories that the original created.
The best part of this title has to be the crass audio that is played over the stadium tannoy system. Classic sports songs like “The Charge” on organ blare out, as you “Faceoff” with your opponent. The crowds scream and boo as you tackle and foul one another, and the blades make a delightful crunching sound as they slice through the ice. Though the audio is dated, it’s somehow still realistic and relevant.
The controls and User Interface are terrible and will frustrate you at every twist and turn. The control mapping should have been implemented with more finesse. The developers should have considered how a modern day controller and gamer work together compared with the earlier simpler consoles. Every task was an effort, and the controller issues fuelled the luck element that forms the backbone to both the success and failure faced during every game.
One of the driving factors behind me playing this game after all these years was the impression that this would be a simple 1000 Gamerscore. How wrong I was! This wasn’t because the tasks were challenging, because they really aren’t. The aforementioned finer issues made the simplest of objectives difficult to achieve. The one major benefit of this problem is that it increases the replay value, but this is at the cost of much of the enjoyment factor.
The overall tone of this review is one of disappointment and frustration, and unfortunately this is how I felt after my time with this game. I didn’t expect it to play, or feel like a modern day title, I just hoped that it would play a lot better than it did. If the developers worked on the control system, then you’d have a fun and simple sports title that oozes retro charm, opposed to a frustrating mess that makes you question your childhood gaming experiences. Do I recommend this? Yes, but only to avid fans of the sport, and the original game. Rose-tinted specs are a dangerous thing, and the only saving grace was that this was free to download as part of the Gamepass subscription service, meaning that reliving my youth was just about worth it.