NHL '99 Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Awesome
   After being disappointed by the NHL series for the past two years, my 
expectations for NHL '99 weren't very high.  Surprisingly, the series has 
gone back to its roots and now feels just like the old Genesis classics.  
This is definitely a good thing, and it makes NHL '99 a blast to play.
   The game has many of the usual hockey game strengths and weaknesses.  
The biggest strength of hockey games is that hockey, by nature, is all 
about intense, fact-paced, non-stop action, which NHL '99 delivers in 
spades.  The biggest weakness of hockey games is that when you press the 
button to shoot, whether or not you score is usually based more on luck 
than on skill, and this certainly holds true in NHL '99.  However, it takes
skill, not luck, to pass the puck well and get into position to make those 
shots, and it takes skill to control the puck by knocking the living crap 
out of the other team at every opportunity.  With the rest of the game 
based so much on skill, the luck-based shooting doesn't detract from the 
game any more than the luck-based shooting in some basketball games or the 
deep passes in some football games.
   And then there's the control.  There's no fancy, complicated, eight-
button control system here.  Instead, the game only requires you to use 
three buttons, resulting in wonderfully simple and responsive gameplay.  
Elsewhere, the game's intro contains the same high-energy, high-quality 
Full Motion Video that EA always manages to deliver.  There are four 
difficulty levels, but you have to play on the second-hardest unless you 
want to suffer through some very slow gameplay.  The up-close Auto Replay 
feature that debuted in this year's Madden is very cool (and, thankfully, 
it's skip-able so you don't have to re-live goals that were just scored by 
the other team).  There are a wide variety of injuries that can happen, 
ranging from severed fingers to Post Concussion Syndrome.  Checking the 
other team feels darn good, and you can almost feel the pain when you slam 
some hapless soul up against the boards.  Plus, you have complete freedom 
to execute as many late hits as you want, and you're hardly ever penalized 
for it.  In addition, EA has loaded the game with plenty of options and 
features as they always do, but I was hoping for a feature similar to 
Madden's brilliant Franchise Mode.  Oh well, maybe next year.
   Fights happen fairly often in NHL '99.  Some fights are back-and-forth 
slug-fests, but in most of them, the computer literally just stands there
and lets you beat the crap out of them.  Also, some fights come after hard 
checks or after two players bump into each other, but most of the time they
are completely unprovoked.  You're skating along and all of a sudden the 
whistle blows, and two players (sometimes on opposite sides of the rink) 
skate towards each other to fight. Weird.  Also, if a fight goes past a 
certain invisible time limit, the two players simply stop fighting and go 
to the penalty box.  There's no animation for the refs or other players to 
break it up; it's as if the two players figured, "Well, we've been going at
it for a while, let's call it a day."
   The menu music in NHL '99 kicks some serious butt.  It's missing that 
funk-a-delic feel found in NBA Live '98, instead going with more of an 
equally cool hard rock style.  The commentary is annoying, but it can be 
turned off in the options menu.  The organ music is nice (especially the 
hilariously-feminine music during fights), but much of it was recycled from
Live '98's organ music (which itself had been recycled from Live '97's menu
music).  Also, you don't really have time to enjoy any of the organ music 
becomes it abruptly stops right before every face off. 
   Speaking of the face offs, I kept encountering a bizarre situation in 
which my center would switch positions with one of the wings in the middle 
of the face off, causing an annoyingly frequent wait of several seconds.  
I found that this didn't occur if I waited until the last second to start 
pressing the face off button, but if I do that, the computer wins most of 
the face offs.
   Finally, the graphics are flawed, as is typical for a hockey game. You 
basically have two options in hockey games.  You can play with an up-close 
camera view and marvel at the detailed polygonal players, but struggle to 
see where you're going and end up making a lot of "blind" passes.  Or you 
can play with a camera view that is fairly zoomed out (which is essential 
if you want go have a good view of the ice), but be unimpressed by small 
players with no detail.  I have yet to see a comfortable middle ground in 
any hockey game to date, including NHL '99.
   NHL '99 has its fair share of flaws, but overall, it's a fantastic game 
and the best hockey game released this year.

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NHL '98 Review


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