There have been quite a few ice hockey games on the N64 and some have looked surprisingly samey. No, we're not looking at you, Wayne Gretzky. Oh all right then, we are... and we're pointing. Hang on though, sliding across the ice in slow motion comes something else. The crowd is cheering, the tannoy is bursting with over excited commentators and someone's dropped their hot dog. EA's NHL '99, the long distant cousin of the Sega Mega Drive's NHL game (which we so fondly remember) has just entered the rink. Torvill and Dean, get off and let us watch some serious action.
Unfortunately, ice hockey isn't that hot over here in Blighty but is apparently the fastest growing indoor sport, which means those eager to get beaten up on a solidified pond should well take a look at this. Featuring all the NHL teams and top international sides, all superbly animated in hi-res, you can then play any match (is that what they're called?) that the NHL recognises. Selecting any team you want, it's basically business as usual, undertaking friendlies, tournaments and championships. Only more so.
The controls are devastatingly simple and the analogue stick literally pirouettes about in its socket when used. The players seem to take pleasure in being controlled, sliding about and thumping each other with the most graceful right hooks you've ever seen. Yes, something we are all glad to see are the one-to-one fisticuffs that take place on the ice. They're no Mortal Kombat contenders, but hockey wouldn't be hockey without a good punch up.
Every aspect of ice hockey has been included, ranging from penalty time off rink, shootouts and the annoying organ music to the commentators urging people to buy their souvenir programmes. If it were any more realistic you'd need mittens!
The attention to detail was a major thing that got us rubbing our sweaty palms -well, Roy rubbed his sweaty palms, we rubbed our dry palms. The ice rink looks, sounds and would probably smell like real ice if we could get close enough and with numerous camera angles it is possible to get any decent view imaginable. The atmosphere generated by the crowd comes across so well too, that they boo if the away team starts scoring. Juicy! The players react to goals and other characters just as you would expect, and even the ref can be skated through so he doesn't interfere with play. Even juicier!
One rather spooky thing was that the texture-mapped faces of the players. They all looked the same. This is either down to cloning, or they are all from a large interbreeding family. No worry though, simply customise your own team complete with their own faces, numbers, weight and height. A word of advice though, a team of four foot players weighing over 300lbs aren't going to win.
If you already own an ice hockey game the chances are you not going to be skipping off down the shops with a fat wad of money for this one. If, however, you don't own one yet, and are interested in learning the delicate art of arguing over a flat carbon disk with other fully grown men... on ice, give NHL '99 a once over. It's the best ice hockey game on the N64, it's just a pity hardly anyone cares about the sport in England.
Download NHL 99
After 1996's disappointing NHL 97, many fans of the series thought EA had finally lost their touch. Then, out of nowhere came last year's incredible NHL 98, one of the best hockey games ever made. Well, believe it or not, it's that time of year again (time sure does fly ...), and EA Sports is back with the latest incarnation of their hugely successful series, NHL99.
The version of NHL 99 that we received isn't nearly finished, but already it's shaping up very nicely. The game engine is basically the same as last year's, but with a slightly higher resolution, improved animation and several new gameplay features. The Al right now is excellent (especially goalie Al, which is real tough), and the overall presentation and atmosphere are top-notch, just like last year. Graphically, the game looks great. The same TV-style presentation that was used last year is in full effect, and the player models and animations are terrific (there are several new animations this year, too). Oddly enough though, in this early version at least, the frame-rate is rather disappointing. It doesn't affect play too much (you get used to it), but it's clearly not as fast as it was last year. Hopefully this is simply because the game isn't finished yet--according to EA the game's animation is only 60 percent complete as of this writing, so it's still possible that things will be sped up by release. The sounds are every bit as intense as we hoped for, with great two-man play-by-play and awesome crowd sounds. When it comes to overall hockey atmosphere, no other game comes even close to this.
One particularly nice improvement to this year's game is the addition of analog control (which was sorely missed last year). It's super smooth, and the control is surprisingly tight. The Dual Shock support is a nice touch, too (hard checks never felt so satisfying...). Other new additions this year include the option to play on international ice (larger ice surface, international rules), several new coaching strategies, a new "Beginner" difficulty level (for you newbies out there) and finally, a new mode of play called "Coaching Drills." This mode lets you practice several different on-ice formations (plays, specific situations, etc.) over and over until you've mastered them. This way you can practice power-play situations or breakaways, or even just skate around freely to practice your moves on the ice. The concept is cool, but some more specific drills would be nice (most of them are pretty basic, like 2-on-i, Powerplay, One-timer, etc.).
All in all, NHL 99 is shaping up to be another huge hit for Electronic Arts. By the time you read this, we'll already have our hands on a final version, so keep an eye on next issue for the full review and keep your hockey sticks crossed in hopes that the development team managed to get the frame-rate up to a more respectable level.
The perennial hockey favorite returns to the rink for what is without a doubt its finest year on the PlayStation. While the game speed is a trifle sluggish, NHL '99 kicks ass up and down the ice with awesome gameplay, features, controls, and more.
NHL '99 wins the draw with the best roster of features in PlayStation hockey. Highlights include Tournament and Beginner modes, coaching drills, and the creation of custom teams, along with killer setups for editing lines, on-the-fly strategy, and creating players. Of course, standard elements such as lighting, trades, season action, pro and international players, and others round out the lineup.
But the real trophy winner is the stellar gameplay. NHL strikes a sweet balance between realism and fun. allowing you to occasionally be a puck hog and skate for glory while still delivering realistic, tough-as-nails hockey. Well-staggered difficulty levels mean the game should please rookies and pros, while the riveting action and cool features mean you'll be playing this game for months.
Smooth-as-butter controls keep you in the thick of things with impressively intuitive passing, responsive skating, and a complete lineup of moves. Everything feels natural and comfortable...as long as you turn off the wacky shot meter, which interferes with snap shots by displaying a little meter that powers up each shol.
NHL suffers from two significant flaws, however, the most important of which is game speed. W ithout a doubt, the game's fast enough for a fine round of hockey but the pace and frame rate should be a lot more fluid and clean--like Face Off '99's silky action. Second, for some incredibly moronic reason, EA left time-outs out of the game. Many casual gamers won't even notice, but if you're into changing your lines yourself, that late-in-the-third-period time-out to rest your top line can be a game winner.
Biscuit in the Basket
When it comes to looks, NHL gets bested by Face Off, which has better animations and snazzier arenas. Still, NHL's graphics look plenty-sharp with realistic polygonal players, solid player movements, and eye-catching arena fly-ins.
On the sound side, NHL rocks. Cool tunes, along with topnotch on-ice and crowd sounds, perfectly support the slick commentary by NHL announcers Jim Hughson and Daryl Reaugh.
While Face Offs going lo attract a following, NHL '99 is the first choice for hockey pros. It's hands-down the best PlayStation hockey game of the year and a must-buy for any sports gamer.
- Use give-n-go passes to break out fast and open up the defense (hold x instead of tapping it when you pass).
- For the best chance of scoring with one-timers, pass from a wing deep in the corner of the boards to the center parked right in front of the crease.
- Darius Kasparaitis of the Penguins punks Ulf Samuelsson of the Rangers!
- If you're on a breakaway, deke like mad and watch the goalie. As soon as he commits, fire off a shot into the opening.
- On face-offs in your opponent's end, you can occasionally score by winning the face-off, passing to the teammate parked in front of the goalie, and one-liming the puck into the far corner of the net.
While hockey fans have always drooled over EA Sports' legendary NHL series, NHL '99 looks like it'll almost certainly take the ice this October as console gaming's best hockey title.
It's a good year to be a hockey fan. NHL '98 fell flat after a while, but NHL '99 looks to make amends with gameplay, graphics, and controls that alrcadv reach star levels. The most noticeable change is the dazzling graphics, which feature slick rinks and fluidly animated, cleanly detailed polygonal players. Once you get into the action, the controls have a natural, comfortable feel, and the wellpaced gameplay rocks. 1 .it-tle details, like a puck that rolls and wobbles after bouncing off the glass, add a lot. Of course, NHL '99 delivers all the standard fealures, such as the pro teams and players, 18 international teams, on-the strategy, trades, player creation, fighting, and season play. Cool extras include creating custom teams, coaching drills to practice your game, and an expansion draft for the Nashville Predators. While we haven't yet seen enough of MIL Face Off '99 to decisively declare N1IL '99 this season's champ, it'd take one mind-boggling hockey game to come close to the excellence of this preview version.
The N64 has certainly had its fair share of hockey games so far, with last year's Breakaway '98 and Midway's trio of suspiciously similar titles (the Gretzky twins and Olympic Hockey), but to date none of them have been up to par, gameplay-wise, with EA's renowned NHL series. This year it's only going to get tougher for everyone else, as EA is currently putting the finishing touches on their first N64 NHL game, NHL 99. As you may know, EA's NHL 98 for the PlayStation last year was one of EGM's favorite hockey titles of all time. NHL 99 for the N64 uses an updated version of that very same gameplay engine, and aside from some obvious differences (no FMV, no two-man play-by-play, etc.), it looks like it may be just as good, if not better than last year's marvel. (We'd expect this from a PlayStation sequel, but for a first outing on the Nintendo 64, this is actually very impressive.)
NHI_99's most impressive aspects lie in the game's realism. The graphics and animation are just fantastic, and the sensation of speed (which is very, very important in hockey--other developers should take note of this) is brilliant. The in-game Al is excellent (and all-around improved over last year's NHL games for the PS and PC), though in this preview version (which seems to be pretty far along), the goalie Al still needs a lot of work. Aside from that however, the Al is definitely where it needs to be. There's obviously plenty to keep the hard-core hockey fans satisfied (don't forget about the on-the-fly offensive and defensive strategy changing, player creation and line editing features), but EA's also looking out for newbies as well. If you're more concerned about just getting on the ice and playing, you can opt for a Quickstart game which'll throw you right into the action.
Overall, NHL 99 is definitely looking sweet right now, but EA definitely needs to address the goalie Al problems and maybe consider getting some new voice samples for the (very limited) play-by-play, because the stuff in there now is pretty hideous. If all goes well, NHL 99 (which allows for four-player play and supports the Rumble Pak, by the way) will be the N64 hockey game to own when it hits store shelves this October.
Last year, NHL 98 was the best hockey game of all time. Sure it had a few minor flaws but the total experience was unmatched by any other hockey game on the market. Here we are a year later but is NHL 99 a year better or did EA Sports screw up a good thing?
Hockey is one of those sports that I don't like to watch but love to play on my game system. It is also a sport that seems to be getting closer and closer to perfection when it comes to the video games. All that EA Sports had to do was leave the game engine alone and just polish up a few things and I would have been happy enough. They just could not keep their hands out of the cookie jar and had to add some new features. You now have a shot meter, more player animations, coaching strategies and the expansion Nashville Predators. They have managed to take what was the best playing hockey game around and make it better. Great job!
Forget about all of the fluff and hype because this game has one key element that really matters. That element? If you guessed gameplay then you win the prize. The NHL series has always been the best playing games around and they just seem to keep getting better. They may add new features and change up the overall presentation but they have managed to stay true to the gameplay and it really shows. Every year I walk away thinking that they will not be able to come out with a better game the following year but they always manage to.
In my review of NHL FaceOff 99 from 989 Sports, my biggest complaint was that I just never really felt like I was in the middle of the action. That is not a problem with this game. I always seemed to be right in the middle of all of the scoring opportunities or I was always chasing down the other guys offensive breakaway. No matter what was going on in the game, I always felt like I was right there, up close and personal. Now that is what a hockey game should feel like.
Part of feeling like I was in the middle of the action had to do with the camera angles. NHL 99 offers enough camera angles so that just about everyone will find one to suit their needs. I prefer an angle that is low enough to the ice that I feel like I am right on top of everything. Some people like the far away camera. Not to worry because you can have up close, far away or anything in between.
Aside from feeling like you are in the middle of the action, you will definitely feel the pain of every check and smash from your opponent. First off, you will feel it in the dual shock controller. Secondly, you will just feel it from the awesome player animations when you crush them into the wall. There is no doubt about it. This game feels like NHL hockey all the way. One of the best things you can do in a sports video game is a good, solid body check in a hockey game. This game is the best at conveying the actual brutality of a hit like this. After making a few of these hits and being on the receiving end of a few more, you will understand why hockey players have no teeth.
One of the new additions this year is the shot meter. This allows you to see your players shot power increase as you hold down the shot button. If you want to pull off a quick, less powerful shot, just hold the shot button for a second. If you really want to smash the puck, hold the shot button down for a couple of seconds until the shot meter gets up to the top, then let it rip. I really liked this addition. It gives you more control over your shooting thus giving the game a more realistic feel. In real hockey, shot power is one of the biggest keys to scoring so it is about time that video games give you this type of control as well.
I did have a couple of minor complaints with the game. The first complaint is partially due to the fact that I hate to read game manuals. If I can't figure it out without reading then it has to be complicated. Well, I had a pain in the ass of a time trying to set up a custom team. Actually, that is not true. Setting up a custom team with custom players was easy enough. The problem was actually playing a season with this team. I tried and tried to make this work and I was never successful. Sure, I could have opened the manual but it should have been easy enough that I did not have to.
The second thing that kind of bothered me about the game was the fighting. Don't get me wrong. I love fighting in hockey games and this game has some of the coolest fighting moves around. What I didn't like was the fact that I would beat the hell out of the computer every time. I don't mean almost every time either. I mean EVERY time. Also, the fights seem to happen pretty frequently. I had games with three or four fights in them. This was a little bit much. On the plus side though, you can really do some cool fighting moves. My personal favorite is when you grab the other players jersey with one hand and just blast him with uppercuts with the other. Very cool.
The graphics in most hockey games are pretty good and this game is no exception. Slightly upgraded from last year, the graphics get the job done. You will definitely feel the brunt of every body check. The players still look a bit under-detailed when you play from a distance but when you get up close, they are crisp, clear and pretty detailed. The players really react like actual hockey players and, like I said, this game has some cool fighting moves.
If you like hockey, look no further. NHL 99 is the best hockey game out there and it will take something pretty spectacular to knock it from the top. I really don't know how much more hockey games can grow aside from making the graphics ultra detailed. You know what though? It seems like I say that every year and the next year the games just get better. Go buy this game. You will not be sorry.
NHL '99 is quite simply a sports simulation and keeps very faithful to the actual game of hockey, right down to bad officiating, eerily realistic player animations and player hot/cold streaks. The game is fully licensed by the NHL and the NHLPA and touts an all-new roster, AI enhancements, and improvements in puck physics.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
EA Sports has had a lock on most sports simulations all the way back to the Sega Genesis and early PC games released in 1991 (e.g. Madden Football and NHL Hockey). Always on the cutting edge, EA Sports has been right there with the ability to make player trades and create players, allowing the gamer to play General Manager and determine the personnel of his or her favorite team. Additionally, allowing modem play in past versions let gamers compete against each other, another example of being on the cutting edge of sports sims.
Having had a lot of experience playing their versions of NHL Hockey on both Sega Genesis, then abandoning the Genesis for PC on NHL '97 and subsequent versions, I was anxiously awaiting the release of this game, and for the most part I was not disappointed.
To start with, you have four player skill modes to select from: Beginner (new for the absolute green player), Rookie, Pro and All-Star. The aim of EA was to provide a mode that allowed someone with no experience with this sort of gameplay to jump into the action, start scoring, making plays, and basically learn the game. At the same time, this meant that the bar had to be raised for each of the other levels and this is truly evident. The game user interface is for the most part identical to NHL '98, allowing custom controller settings per player, LAN and modem play, and shipping with Internet mode. Player trades and creations are also in the game, although sadly not multi-season mode. Software and hardware 3D options are available, automatically configured by the install utility. Just as with NHL '98, the game ships with DirectX 6.0 drivers and will prompt to install on game installation.
A unique feature makes shooting a touch harder to complete, as if you are shooting the puck while skating, if you shoot off of the wrong leg, the shot will just flutter off the stick without any power, regardless of how the power meter registers. Conversely, if you time it correctly, the shot fires at a realistic rate and chances are you will beat the goalie. But remember, the harder the shot, the harder to control the aim of the shot, making quick wrist shots far more accurate and dangerous than the all-out slap shot.
Again, keeping faithful to the real game and all the factors that plague it, officiating can be biased at times. This makes for frustration playing the game, but I get just as frustrated watching my Toronto Maple Leafs penalize themselves out of a win, so this is also a realistic feature.
There are some bugs left in the game, as penalties sometimes confuse the "officials;" on one occasion I had been given a major penalty for fighting and a minor for instigation. Two players went off for five each, plus my extra two. From the time when these penalties were assessed (mid-Second period) through the end of the game, I remained one man short, even though no other penalties were called. My penalty killing unit’s stats were decimated, and no matter how many goals the other team scored, I remained on the power play. But this only happened once, leading me to believe that a specific set of circumstances had to occur to reproduce this bug. Also, goalies are much quicker than in NHL '98, except when they go down to stop a shot -- they will react like turtles flipped on their backs, never getting back into the play. I am certain though that these minor concerns will be addressed with a "service pack" (with NHL '98, a new NHL.exe was available on the web site within a month of release)
Another huge improvement, in fact the most notable improvement, is the Artificial Intelligence of the game. I can safely admit to having NHL '98 mastered, as the AI on that game left a lot to be desired. Goalies and defensive players on NHL '99 are, even in Rookie and Pro modes, much faster and smarter (hockey-wise) than the predecessor, and will prove to be very challenging for any player. Offensively, the pursuit of the puck is absolute by the AI, and offensive schemes for the AI are very good. This means that realistic play against the computer is a reality, so much so that I actually became frustrated with it, convinced that I was actually playing against someone else. To be honest, this is very refreshing in a game, and for the first time since Quake 2 I actually started to sweat playing a PC game.
Outstanding, a real treat, but a 3Dfx hardware accelerator is highly recommended. Some changes have taken place between NHL '98 and '99. Notably, graphics have been improved, to the point of being eerie. Some of the cut scenes (in 3Dfx mode) of the player bench, and goalie warm-ups/stretching are so incredibly realistic, you could swear that you are watching them on television. New player skating and shooting animations have been included, making the experience seem real. The improvements do come at a price though, as running through my Canopus 6 MB card the hardware does have a noticeable strobe-effect trying to keep up to the sheer number of polygons rendered. (I haven’t seen it through the Voodoo2 yet, but do believe that this would be remedied with the hardware upgrade.)
Minimum: Pentium 166MMX with 32 MB RAM and 200 MB hard drive space available. 33.6 modem
Recommended: (software 3D rendering engine requires 200MMX) Pentium 200MMX with 3Dfx hardware accelerator, 32 MB RAM, 450 MB hard drive space (optimal installation)
Get this game; it’s a real winner! With the upgraded Artificial Intelligence adding a new level of difficulty to this year's version, fantastically rendered graphics and improved physics in gameplay, NHL '99 is the hockey simulation to buy if you have ever considered giving the genre a try.
Currently the best ice hockey game around, with a hi-res mode, very smooth controls and lots of fighting! If you like pucking, this is for you.
Good ice hockey but not great ice hockey. Wayne Gretzky offers a faster, more playable rink-based experience. Buy that instead.
Ducking in and out and tapping the jab button will keep your opponent busy. If you move in closer, you can try to really connect with a hook or a haymaker. On the top of the screen you'll see the strength meters for you and your opponent. If you can connect on your opponent more than he can on you, you'll knock him down first. Unfortunately, you'll both end up in the penalty box for fighting. This is the best fight game going on the N64 (and in between fights, you can even play a little hockey).
Actually, it's not the easiest thing to get in a fight. I've only gotten into two so far. According to the Instruction Manual, you have to slam into an aggressive opponent with one of your aggressive players. You'll want to check the statistics and trade for an all-out aggressive team to get in plenty of fights. Otherwise, you'll eventually see a few, especially when you really get into the game.
NHL 99 includes all the official teams (including the new Nashville Predators) and most of the current players updated from last year's rosters. It is licensed by the NHL and the NHLPA. Other features that are new to this year's version include Quickstart and beginner modes, coaching strategies by Stanley Cup winning coach Marc Crawford, and some international play.
You can choose the quick start option to jump right into a game. This is a good option for beginners, allowing you to get into the action without being confused by the multitude of choices that can be made. The main things that are dropped from this mode are penalties and the ability to switch strategies on the fly.
When you are ready for the full game, you can choose from beginner, exhibition, season, playoffs, tournament, and shoot-out. Season mode lets you play the exact season as it was really scheduled by the NHL.
Shoot-out mode is not only good to practice for eventual ties, but also to practice your approach on the goalie when you break out in the open. You need to get the goalie leaning one way and bring the puck back the other way to get it past him. Controlling your own goalie can be tricky, but it is worth the effort if you enjoy better control over every aspect of the game.
When controlling the player with the puck, you have plenty of moves at your fingertips. By tapping the Z or L buttons, you perform a Spin-o-Rama. The A button passes, and the DOWN, C combination will give you a burst of speed. The control stick allows you to move around or aim your shots.
When you control the player without the puck, you have a few different moves to make. The A button allows you to switch to the player nearest the puck. It is important to switch frequently, get in position to push down C, and slam into players from the other team.
On offense or defense, you can press LEFT, C to access a quick change menu to switch between four different approaches. This is useful, as you cannot control every player all the time. Your strategy will help you know what the computer-controlled teammates will do.
When you play against the computer you have three different difficulty levels to choose from (Rookie, Pro, and All Star). Once you get the feel for the game, you'll find that Rookie mode makes it far too easy to score. By switching to Pro, your opponents will be playing about the same speed you are. This, too, will become beatable with time, and you'll want to move to All Star level. In All Star mode, opponents move faster than you do and it is much more difficult to get the puck in the net.
All modes and levels allow you to trade players from one roster to another. While it compares the strength levels of the (up to three) players involved in trades, it will not prevent you from doing the most unbalanced trades imaginable. If you want all the best players from the various NHL teams playing on your favorite team's roster, it will take a few simple trades. After I made some trades, I found it a little difficult to change the lines in the game. Neither the manual nor the help in the game explains what the acronyms for each line stand for.
If you are a big hockey fan you will probably appreciate the number of penalties that could be called in the game. Of course icing, 2 line passes, high sticking and fighting are included, but the game also includes boarding, charging, cross checking, elbowing, holding, hooking, interference, roughing, slashing, spearing, and tripping. If your opponents get stuck in the penalty box, make sure you take advantage of the power play and score some goals. Even though they will get more defensive, make sure you keep the puck near your opponent's net.
As with all season-based games, you can choose to save or not to save. So if you are willing to put in the effort, you can have the impossible perfect season for the new Nashville Predators. This game supports the Rumble Pak, the Memory Pak, and four-player modes. It's got great music and the crowd effects really help you feel like you're at a real NHL hockey match.
This game is a blast. I would recommend this game to anyone that loves to play great sports games. It offers continuous action in an addictive flavor. The added effect of full scale fistfights is fun. I also enjoyed blazing around the ice with the speed burst button. Like most sports games, this is more fun against other humans than against the AI. This game is definitely worth playing, especially against your friends in 2 on 2 mode. You'll also find the announcer highly entertaining, it's the voice of NHL analyst Bill Clement, and he says some funny things.
The reign of the famed NHL series has rarely been challenged, and with the debut of the N64 version and some slick refinements to this year's PlayStation game, NHL '99 will likely rule the rink again this fall.
Visually, EA spruced up the players with a new round of motion-capture that should provide rougher hits and deadlier shots. The arenas also got a facelift, sporting much more detail than before. On the sound side. NHL announcers Jim Hughson and Daryl Reaugh call the PlayStation action, while ESPN's Bill Clement handles the N64 commentary.
On the Bench
While NHL '98 rocked on the PlayStation, it had plenty of room to improve--particularly the player A.l. and the game mechanics. Fortunately, that's what EA's focusing on for NHL '99. which should deliver faster action, more scoring opportunities, and revamped puck physics that will allow shots to deflect because of traffic in front of the net. The A.i.'s also being tuned to shape up the goalies, face-offs, breakouts. checking, and passing, as well as the action behind the net and in the neutral zone.
As far as features go, naturally gamers can expect all the pro teams, rinks, and players, along with 18 international teams, an expansion draft for the Nashville Predators, new on-the-fly strategies, and analog controller support. Finally, a Beginner mode will make it easy for newcomers to get into the game without detracting from the realism of the other difficulty levels.
Dusting Gretzky and dashing past Breakaway, NHL 99 surges to the top of the N64 hockey standings in this brilliant debut. EA Sports' long history of hockey expertise shines through in tile game's slick graphics and realistic, compelling action.
This Rookie Rules
Although NHL '99 is a recognizable port of NHL '98 for the PlayStation, EA's efforts in patching up the latter version's (laws and tuning it for the N64 have paid off handsomely. The addictive gameplay de-ivers a sweet balance of crunching checks, thrilling goals, and truc-to-hockey realism, while the sliding difficulty scale--which ranges from the simplistic Beginner mode to the brick-wall All-Star mode--will challenge all takers.
Featurewise, NHL hits the ice with a solid roster. Beyond the usu-als (pro teams and players, Season mode, etc.), you'll find international teams, an outstanding setup for editing lines, on-the-fly strategy changing, fighting, trades, and player creation. The only real shame is that a Practice mode didn't survive the training-camp cuts.
As for the game's controls, skating and passing have a natural, comfortable feel that makes NHL a joy to pick up and play. However, the new shot meter, which powers up the strength of slapshots, interferes with firing off quick shots-- but thankfully, it can be turned off. Also, checking, holding, and hooking have a bouncy feel that makes the physical side of the game less effective and intuitive than it should be. With practice, though, you'll learn to work around these minor Haws.
Busts Off a Breakaway
NHL's graphics arc nothing short of beautiful. Incredibly realistic-looking ice and arenas make great settings for the sleekly moving, highly detailed players.
On the other hand, the announcer, ESPN's Bill Clement, is a shining example of why the "off option was invented. His repetitive, over-the-top commentary (after a big hit, "Choo-choo! Freight train!") is a formula for nausea. Fortunately, cool organ tunes and inspiring crowd sounds make amends.
The True "Great One"
If you also own a PlayStation, you'll probably want to wait and spring for that version of NHL '99--with more thorough features and better polish overall, it'll likely emerge as the better of the two. But N64 gamers have no reason to be glum. NHL '99 definitely ranks., helmet and shoulder-pads above its N64 competitors and should be a part of any N64 sports gamer's collection.
- Be wary about pounding the Shoot button in front of the goalie or skating into him at high speed--the ref calls interference penalties with abandon.
- When fighting heat down opponents by continually unloading haymakers (tap Button Z).
- If you're back alone on defense, it's smarter to try to hold your opponent. This tactic gives your teammates time to catch up--and besides, if you blow your check, the goalie's all alone.
- To rack up goals, concentrate on crossing up the goalie. Fake to one side, then cut loose high across the net into the other corner, or skate a hook pattern across the top of the crease and flip it in on the backhand.
As much as I hate to say it, I'm a little bit disappointed with NHL 99. Overall, nearly everything about the game has been slightly improved over NHL 98. The Al is smarter, the goalies are tougher (those trick plays are a lot harder to execute this year), and the TV-like presentation is even better than it was last year. There are more options and features (the Coaching Drills, while simplistic, are very useful), a new shot meter (which, to be honest, isn't really necessary), and analog control (which is far, far more precise than Face Off 99's analog control). Pretty much everything that made last year's game so great is here in even better form; except for one major problem. Oddly enough, while the ice looks much more detailed than last year, and the players both look better and animate better, the frame-rate took a major, major hit. I don't know about you, but I'd sacrifice non-crucial stuff like ice detail for a blazing frame-rate any day. One of the main reasons NHL 98 was so great last year was because of its super-fast, hard-hitting gameplay, and for some incredibly stupid reason, EA let that slip away this year by botching the frame-rate (even on All-Star difficulty, it's not as fast as NHL 98). If you can deal with this, you have another great hockey game. Personally, I think I'll stick with NHL 98.
NHL 99 is this year's hockey champion in my eyes. Everything about it is well-done. Along with the strong gameplay and fluid animation, the play-by-play commentary is amazing. It follows the action on the ice down to the second. The difficulty levels and opponent Al are neatly balanced as well, although sometimes scoring comes a little too easy (on any level). That possibly could be a goalie Al weakness. Overall a great game.
What happened? My beloved NHL series took a serious dive in the frame-rate department. EA Sports seems to always have a problem in this area, but 99 actually runs worse than 98! If you can look past the chop-chop, you'll still find a very solid hockey game underneath. NHL 99's passing is a bit too accurate and tight, making this game a lot easier to get into than NHL Face Off 99. Still, I can't get past the crappy frame-rate.
Last year, NHL 98 ruled the roost with equal parts simulation and hard-hitting action. This year seems too heavily weighted toward the simulation end. The action moves extremely slow which wouldn't be that bad, but the animation is choppy making for an unfulfilling experience. The commentary is still top-notch and the overall ambience is second to none. The list of new features isn't nearly enough to make up for the loss in playability.