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The NHL is the top hockey league in North America, making hockey one of the sports that translates best to video games. The best examples of thrilling sports video games for decades have been the NHL-licensed titles, which can be found on almost any home console.
Gamers and hockey lovers alike have been enamored with the fast-paced, hard-hitting, skill-based sports games that we know today since the NHL video game series debuted in 1991 with the first NHL Hockey. EA has dominated the hockey game category with 31 iterations of the NHL video game franchise since 1991.
While the first hockey video game, Hockey!/Soccer!, was released in 1979, the genre has seen many other important entries, including Blades of Steel by Konami and Slap Shot by Sega. Even 2K created various well-known NHL video games, like NHL 2K11.
Choosing the finest game iterations can be challenging because there have been so many; nonetheless, some players continue to play some of the classics today. However, we are equally curious as you are about the best five NHL games of all time.
In addition to being the best sport to watch in real, hockey also works incredibly well in video games. Game developers have been attempting to replicate the thrill of an ice hockey game for years on gaming consoles. And lots of people have had great success with it.
Hockey games have advanced from Blades of Steel, the first to feature fighting, to NHL 20, which put a focus on roster building and realistic gameplay.
The Best Hockey Video Games
The best hockey video games ever are listed below, with awards given for creativity, innovation, strategy, aesthetics, and overall gameplay. We don’t offer our options in any specific order.
1. NHL ’94
NHL 14 and NHL 2004 are frequently contested as the two best hockey video games of all time by fans of the NHL series, surpassing NHL ’94 for some. It was an easy decision for me to place NHL ’94 at the top of the podium. This is because NHL ’94 isn’t just considered one of the greatest hockey games ever.
However, one of the greatest sporting contests ever. It was ranked 47th in IGN’s list of the best 100 games back in 2005. Just one prize from an astonishingly large list has been mentioned.
NHL ’94 stood out in its era thanks to additional game types and mechanics, but they might seem obsolete now. Even though the players never seem to stop having fun. Numerous communities continue to host events because of the unwavering popularity of this game.
Even 28 years after its initial release, players are not prepared for the game to end. In my opinion, NHL ’94 is a fantastic illustration of how players may fall in love with a game without the most extravagant graphics or bizarre mechanisms.
2. NHL 2014
For several reasons, NHL 2014 is regarded as the final well-run NHL game. One-touch dekes were used in the game, which was simpler and more impressive when executed correctly. Additionally, it was the first time the game used dynamic ratings, which were based on evaluations of real-world performance made by players in-game.
The Be, a GM & GM Connection mode, gives the players a ton of customization and is the most complex they have ever been. The Live the Life option also included off-ice scenarios for your professional athlete. Media interviews, fan interactions, and endorsements provided a more dynamic role-playing experience to play out your career.
The addition of online seasons to the HUT and EA SHL modes has contributed significantly to the game’s success. Today, there are professional leagues and players for online NHL games.
For the 20th anniversary of the game, players could also play NHL ’94 in the NHL ’94 Anniversary mode. This brought back many memories of what many players consider the greatest NHL game ever. NHL 2014 included more features than any game before it, and because of this, it won the 2013 E3 Award for Best Sports Game.
3. NHL HITZ
NHL Hitz is one of the best hockey video games. It carries the idea that playing hockey was incredibly fast, with bone-crushing collisions, to its logical conclusion. The 3-on-3 hockey game was played in an arcade style with no set rules or penalties, just wild, action-packed plays.
Players would fly through the glass and into the stands after receiving strong hits, yet the action would continue. Power-ups increased the difficulty of scoring goals, and when players were performing well, they would even catch fire. You could control the puck and score goals with your goaltender, and even the fighting was a mini-game.
Back-and-forth hockey is played with an exaggerated style that hasn’t lost any of its entertaining value. It continues to be a mainstay in the NHL series and is associated with some of the best NHL game memories for hockey fans. If I could, I would gather my ten closest friends for an evening of NHL Hitz-provided nonstop entertainment.
4. NHL 2004
The enhancements EA made to the “Dynasty” mode are mainly responsible for NHL 2004’s popularity and success. It made it more possible to become a general manager and lead your team to the Stanley Cup. Additionally, this was the first NHL game to include a cutscene following a Stanley Cup victory. Players hoist the Stanley Cup and pose for a classic team shot in a reproduction of real Stanley Cup celebrations. The soundtrack for NHL 2004 significantly contributed to the atmosphere that was unmatched in any other game. Most people agree that the music for NHL 2004 is the best one in the entire series.
NHL 2004 stood out thanks to all these elements, earning a top three podium spot on this list. Its ongoing support by the PC gaming community is another factor that makes it stand out as one of the greatest. Since its release, modders have updated the original PC game almost yearly.
NHL 2004 was still being played on PC by between 10,000 and 15,000 people, according to a 2016 study. If the video game is still enjoyable 12 years after it was released, I believe it is safe to state that it is among the greatest hockey games ever made.
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5. NHL 2011
NHL Ultimate Team was a revolutionary addition to the series in NHL 2011. It was about time the NHL had an Ultimate Team feature, especially with games like FIFA and Madden already having one. Players may create their own teams with the NHL Ultimate Team, or HUT.
Then, players would compete in online matches and advance in the HUT ranks. This added an entirely new dimension to grinding NHL games and is a significant factor in the game’s current level of popularity.
NHL 2011’s ground-breaking physics-based gaming engine fundamentally changed how we play the game today. This increased the game’s realism and responsiveness and expanded what players could do on the rink. Players would tumble over one another due to new features like the hip-check.
By controlling stickhandling and dekeing with the right joystick, skill plays became more successful and simpler to execute. Goals could be scored everywhere on the rink, not only in the attacking zone, which led to the iconic goalie goal.
6. NHL 13 (2012)
Even though the adjustments were minor, EA continued to make subtle changes to the games throughout the 2010s that improve the entire experience. NHL 13 increased its emphasis on the game’s online components while also working to enhance the in-game playing environment.
The presentations in NHL 13 were team-specific, and each arena had a distinctive simulated TV introduction. The physical aspects of the game were little changed, but the CPU’s intelligence was improved and made more realistic.
NHL 13 was a refinement of earlier games without taking away everything that made the past games great, except minor changes to the Be A Pro mode and the goalkeeper controls.
7. NHL 10 (2009)
Including more components from the actual hockey video games was possible once the developers had mastered the major physics adjustments made in prior iterations like NHL 07. In-game activities were greatly expanded in NHL 10 such that the action in the game appeared much more like the on-ice action of a real NHL game.
The game introduced a Be A GM mode in addition to better passing mechanics and more realistic play along the boards. With the new mode, users could manage a team from the bottom up, akin to how an NHL organization would manage its daily hockey operations.
8. NHL 11 (2010)
In earlier games in the franchise, many aspects of the real game were conspicuously absent because hockey is such a challenging and fast-paced sport. Further adjustments to the game’s physics were made for NHL 11 to make it more accurately resemble the action of an actual NHL game.
Another real-time event introduced to the game to make it more prosperous and realistic was the addition of broken sticks.
NHL 11 added an Ultimate Team mode akin to MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty among the game modes. Users were now able to access player card packs that could be used in the game’s online modes. Additionally, the Be A GM option in the game has more intricate contract structures and other more realistic elements.
9. NHL 21 (2020)
While alterations to the game’s mechanics are a significant element of each year’s new release, EA Sports has also recently begun increasing its online modes. NHL 21 made a few significant changes from the previous game and instead chose to improve it rather than merely tweak its systems.
The World of Chel online multiplayer modes. A new ranking system allowed players to acquire ranks with each Chel season, including the game’s major features. Additionally, the Be A Pro option gained complexity by enabling the user to create their avatar a personality. Which enhances the narrative and brought to mind NBA 2K’s game modes.
10. NHL 07 (2006)
As the original Xbox’s old guard was phased out, 2006 marked the start of a new age in gaming. NHL 07, the series’ final title to debut on the original Xbox, introduced many significant gameplay modifications that would later realize in later installments.
The game’s entirely new physics system, which increased realism, was the biggest and most obvious change. The puck would uncharacteristically snap from player to player in earlier iterations because they used a magnetic-style approach to the game’s mechanics. It’s interesting to note that only NHL 07 was released on the short-lived Playstation Portable system.
11. NHL Legacy Edition (2015)
No matter whatever console generation it appears on, EA’s NHL franchise is consistently among the finest. The next-generation (PS4 and Xbox One) hockey game NHL 16 was published, and it was greeted with the customary excitement for the EA brand of hockey games. However, gamers from earlier generations (PS3 and Xbox 360) received a different game.
With relatively few game-specific updates, NHL Legacy Edition was essentially a rerun of the NHL video game from the previous year. The real mechanics and in-game elements are kept while the NHL Moments Live component is modified to add new events. Despite its similarity. The game’s slick mechanics and GM Mode contributed to its positive reception.
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12. NHL: ROCK THE RINK
NHL: Rock the Rink was launched in March 2000, when pro wrestling fandom was at its peak. Keep that in mind when talking about the game because it resembles a cross between a cage fight and a hockey game.
The game wasn’t just enjoyable to play; it also made a lot of people chuckle. Don Taylor, the announcer, earned particularly positive feedback for his comments. Additionally, some amusing details like the game finishing after a specific number of goals were scored rather than at a particular time.
13. WAYNE GRETZKY’S 3D HOCKEY
The first rink game on the Nintendo 64 was Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey. The game is much more enjoyable when your buddies join you. Just like the previous games like GoldenEye or Super Mario Kart.
The first N64 game to support four simultaneous players was the hockey game. It is the most entertaining choice due to the game’s arcade-style design. The game also had graphics that are still recognizable today, such as the goalie’s net morphing into a brick wall after a string of successful saves.
14. NHL BREAKWAY 98
On Playstation and the Nintendo 64, NHL Breakaway was first made available in 1997. Acclaim published the game, and Keith Tkachuk served as the cover athlete.
The Player’s characteristics represent the title’s main novelty. Stronger and bigger players could check opponents more forcefully. Faster players could get to the puck before slower ones. Quick and powerful athletes like Eric Lindros were nearly unstoppable, much like in real life. In 1998, the game’s sequel was made available.
15.NHL 3 ON 3 ARCADE
NHL 3 on 3 Arcade never had a standalone release. In actuality, it was made available as an NHL ’09 add-on game. However, some players preferred playing the side game over the main game.
That’s due to 3 on 3 Arcade’s emphasis on enjoyment. It portrayed NHL stars playing pickup hockey with oversized heads. Gamers might compete online against their pals. Additionally, the game had elements similar to NBA Jam, including player power-ups and special maneuvers.
16. ICE HOCKEY
One of the best hockey video games ever made was the most straightforward. When it came to hockey gaming, Ice Hockey for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 set the standard in many ways.
It included fighting, like in any decent game. But scoring against your opponent also requires a proper degree of skill. The game had foreign teams from the USA, Japan, Sweden, and the Soviet Union but did not have an NHL license.
17. ESPN NHL 2K5
Competing with Electronic Arts has been extremely tough for any video game franchise. But Sega put in a valiant effort in 2004 with ESPN NHL 2K5. The game was available on Playstation 2.
People will remember the most about using the analog stick on both attack and defense in the game. Players could use the analog stick to poke the puck out of the way and deke their opponents on the offensive or defensive. The game received a number of sequels.
18. BLADES OF STEEL
Gamers of a specific vintage have pleasant memories of Blades of Steel. The game generates a tremendous amount of hype in the late 1980s. And the battling aspect of the game is what many remember the most.
Blades of Steel was a success for Nintendo, even without an NHL license. Players were willing to give up the chance to use Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky as long as they could dominate their opponents. The visuals and gameplay both contributed significantly to the game’s legacy.
19. Bush Hockey League
According to executive producer Mike Torillo, the game was influenced by the 1977 movie Slap Shot and was set in the 1970s Bush Hockey League (BHL).
Bush Hockey League has both an exhibition mode and a story mode. It offers a few control schemes, including simpler two-button controls and yet another “beer mode.” The game offers ten different teams to pick from. Matt Baker provides game commentary.
20. Super Blood Hockey
The more difficult parts of hockey are the main focus of Super Blood Hockey. Due to the excessive blood and violence, the film is rated “Mature.”
It borrows many mechanics from the video game Ice Hockey for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
There are eight different nations to select from. You can build and control your team in a cruel, dystopian world of arcade-style ice hockey play with no rules.
21. Hoser Hockey
Hoser Hockey is a timeless arcade hockey game featuring Canada’s frigid lakes. Create your teams, then engage in a quick-fire shinny battle with the AI or your friends. Up to eight players can play the multiplayer Hoser Hockey locally and online.
NHL hockey in a classic arcade! Create your squads and engage in quick-fire shinny battles with other players or the AI. Up to eight people can participate in local or online games of Hoser Hockey.
22. SLAPSHOT Rebound
Rebound is a multiplayer hockey video game based on physics that lets you play the sport in an arcade-style setting. There is no puck adhesive, shot button, or random number generator.
You and your teammates must get control of the puck, move it around, shoot it, and outwit your rivals. Play with your friends or create a multiplayer Slapshot group.
1 NHL 14 (2013)
The changes to the game modes and the community vote for the cover athlete gave the impression that NHL 14 was developed specifically for ardent hockey fans. EA changed the game’s physics in two key areas, speeding up play and improving the realism of impacts.
The likelihood of 2K ever returning to hockey is slim, but the business did manage to surprise the gaming community last year when news of their ambitions to create a new NFL game, which is now set for a 2023 release, leaked.
New multi-season stories and challenges will allow you to pursue your ideal hockey career in novel ways. With more alternatives than ever, you can pursue long-term objectives like starting a dynasty early in your career, like Crosby, or aim for back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, like Maroon. Because it is your tale, tell it how you want.
The greatest possibilities are NHL 19-22, which are also extremely comparable. Although the gameplay is harsher, NHL 17–18 shares many similarities with the following games regarding content. Avoid NHL 15-16 since they lack the substance and customizing choices found in later versions. Particularly NHL 15.
Most games played by NHL players, including Fortnite, Call of Duty, NHL, NBA 2K, and FIFA, are tactical and team-based.
EA doesn’t hold any exclusive rights to the NHL license. Nothing prevents someone else from developing a hockey game or obtaining an NHL license.
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