"SKATE WITH ALL THE GREATS!
"Over 500 real players have skated into the hot sequel to NHL Hockey. Now you can skate, stick and score with all the greats - Robitallie, Chellios, Recchi, and Mullen. Complete rosters of every professional team including expansion teams Ottawa and Tampa Bay! "
~ back cover
Long before EA became a video game goliath they spawned NHLPA'93, one of their first marquee sports games that would help establish their now tremendously successful EA Sports franchises, and propel them to become the worlds largest 3rd party video game developer they are today. Originally released in the fall of 1992, NHLPA '93 is the 3nd installment in the EA Hockey franchise for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. It is also the prequel to the hallowed NHL '94.
By today's standards the game may appear crude or primitive, but in it's day it was a truly innovative game that managed to take every major element of what makes hockey great: fisticuffs, bone jarring hits, raucous patrons, booming slap shots, fast frenetic play, and condense it into a 3x4 plastic cartridge that was distilled gaming greatness, the likes of which many say are still unparalleled in a hockey game.
When the original NHL Hockey hit the shelves in the US, and Europe (under the alias EA Hockey), it was heralded by video magazine reviewers for it's accurate depiction of the sport. NHL hockey was the 1st of it's kind to give fans a chance to play with every NHL team and presented the game as if it was a broadcasted by the EASN (Electronic Arts Sports Network).
The game had realism that no other hockey games at the time could touch. Each of the 21 NHL teams in the game had the exact color patterns of their respective club and matching logos for each team. Players could play against the computer or a human opponent, and even team up with another player against the computer. On the ice the games perspective is a top down vertical view from the bleeders, that smoothly scrolls to where ever the puck may be on the ice. The controls were intuitively designed to match Genesis 3 button layout. Press (A) and the player would hook, (B) and you could switch players or pass, press (C) without the puck and you could check. Press (C) with the puck and you could flick a wrister or wire a slap shot depending on how long you held the button down. The directional pad was mapped flawlessly as well, making for fluid movement of the skaters that allow for deft dekes and total control of the action on the ice. Players are modeled on 14 different attributes like skating, shot power, agility and speed that are based on the 1990 - 1991 stats. Ring a shot off the post and the crowd will collectively sigh, get rough after the whistle and the players drop the gloves. There's over time periods, there's penalties, instant replays, and playoffs as well. Clearly NHL Hockey was a necessity for any hockey fan who owned a Genesis.
The great detail EA put into games like NHL Hockey, and John Madden Football, are what began to shift the tide for sports fans in North America to Genesis during the epic console war in the early 90's between Sega and Nintendo, and it wasn't long before Genesis was regarded as the game console to have for sports games.
1992 was an eventful year in the western world no doubt: The Gulf War had come to an end. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup defeating the Blackhawks in 4 games. Bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Gun's and Roses were in their prime. LL Cool Jay's Mama said: "knock you out". In the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson uttered the now famous "You can't handle the truth!". Shows like Married with Children, Kids in The Hall, and In Living Color were on top. And EA gave us NHLPA '93, the sequel to NHL Hockey released a year earlier.
At the time, the idea of releasing a sports game annually that would feature relevant teams and rosters, with upgrades to various parts of an existing game was a unique concept. It had been successful with EA's early John Madden Football franchise, and the same practice was applied to NHLPA'93.
Building on the foundation of NHL Hockey, all of the major components are present
from the original: Graphically the sprites, animation, and rink , all made the transition intact. Same can be said for the games fluid control: The simple 3 button layout is unchanged, the (A) button will still hook an opposing player, pressing (B) will pass the puck or attempt a poke check once again, and the (C) button still shoots or attempts to deliver a body check.
On the surface it appears like everything that made NHL Hockey great was transplanted into NHLPA '93 along with some new features. This is true for the most part, except for one glaring omission. There's no NHL license, which boils down to: no official team names, no team logos, and no Stanley Cup.
Who's brilliant idea was this? Actually it was the NHL's, they felt that the rampant fighting in the original game reflecting poorly on the sport and wouldn't grant EA the rights to use the NHL logo and teams unless they shelved fighting in the game altogether. EA kept fighting in the game then cleverly went around the NHL and obtained licensing from the NHLPA; hence the title. Even without the NHL license and team logos it's obvious which team is which, since the uniforms and rosters match the actual NHL teams from 1992.
This NHL license issue wasn't the only problem EA faced in getting the game to the masses.
ESPN, North Americas leading sports television network, felt that EA's EASN logo resembled it's own a little too much and took offense, threatening to take legal action if they didn't abandon the EASN brand name along with it's magazine. Of course - EA complied, and created a new logo for it's sports franchises in 1993 that is now synonymous the world over. NHLPA '93, and John Madden Football '93, would be the final games to wear the short lived EASN emblem. Despite all that rigmarole, EA still managed to produce a great sequel to NHL Hockey. By infusing some dynamic enhancements to the games nucleus and improving things like: the audio by adding organ tunes, and player stats along with many other nuances (listed below) that would solidify the games position as an all time classic in the annuls of video game history.
At the moment the NHLPA '93 is unsheathed from it's plastic case, placed into the console and powered on, the 1st thing players would see is the revolving EASN logo, followed by an earshot of the games main motivational ditty that can only be likened to the theme of Rocky. At this point players realize this isn't just another NHL Hockey, but a game with vast improvements over it's predecessor.
Here are the new features exclusive to NHLPA '93:
| Complete NHLPA rosters from the 1992 season
| New player and goalie animations
| Tougher faster goalies that lunge and dive for pucks
| Improved offensive and defensive AI
| Player injuries that send players out for the remainder of a period or the game
| Edit and save personalized team lines
| Professionally rated player characteristics based on 1992
| Pro Set "Stars of the Game" selected after each game
| Dynamic organ music that reacts to real game situations
| Home ice advantage makes player statistics change according to game situation and enthusiasm of the crowd
| EASN pre-game scouting report for each team in over 10 categories
| EASN sports coverage hosted by Ron Bar
| Complete scoring summaries that track who scored when they scored and who assisted
| Penalty summaries track a players penalty and the infraction called
| Slap shots can break the glass
| Players are now trackable during instant replays regardless of where the puck is
| Strategic fighting system that uses enforcers to take opposing teams key players off the ice
| On ice goal and assist summaries including hat trick announcements
| No password necessary of saving playoffs with the battery backup
There are probably a few others that elude me right now, and out of respect for the scroll bar to your right, this will have to suffice. Still it's a very impressive list none the less. Most of these features that are now considered mandatory in hockey video games all made their debut here.
More than 15 years have elapsed since the release of NHLPA'93, a lot has changed in video games since then; and in the world for that matter. Gone are the VCR's, cassette walkmans, and cartridge based console systems. Replacing them are the DVD players, MP3 players, and a bevy of different cd based game systems with power Genesis or Super NES could only dream of.
EA's hockey series is now perennial thank's to games like this. The new games have more features, more buttons to press, and amazing graphics and audio that aurally blow NHLPA '93 out of the water. Yet they lack the charm of and fun of classic games such as (you guessed it) NHLPA '93. It's the simple elegance of the 3 button layout, it's the standard scoring techniques that take the randomness out finding the twine, it's the "pick up a play" satisfaction when you only have time for a fast game, and the communion of man and his buttons against old family rivals and friends that makes this game an absolute classic who's legacy will endure for many years to come.