I got this game for my birthday when it was new. The fact that I still play it 17 years later should give you an idea of how much fun it is for me.
It does help that this was a time when I was following hockey pretty closely, so I knew who a good number of the players were. It also may explain why this was one of the last NHL games I could really enjoy.
That aside, this game could still be fun for casual fans. The gameplay is very easy for even moms and dads (and sisters) to pick up quickly. Though there might be some "advanced" techniques to master, the old skate-pass-shoot scheme can usually get you through a few shootouts or practices (and exhibitions with a bit of luck). Though you should incorporate some turbo if you want to be successful in more advanced modes.
Speaking of modes, there are several that really add to the replay value of the game. There are of course the "normal" choices: Exhibition, Season, and Playoffs (I'll dig a bit into the Season mode shortly). But there are a few others I want to highlight:
While not an expansive mode, it does offer a little break from the norm. Plus, the shootout is pretty popular (or at least it was at this time) in the sport. Each team gets 5 shots, alternating after each one, and working from defenseman up to center. You start with the puck at center ice and get 15 seconds per shot. If there is no winner, you cycle through your line (Scoring 1) until someone breaks the tie.
Become king of the world! Choose one of these countries and assert your dominance:
- Czech Republic
- USA (#1)
In regular playoffs, choose an NHL team to run through the bracket.
In both modes, you can set the length of each series, customize the playoff tree, and set the standard in-game options (difficulty, line changes, goalie control, penalties, etc.) before you get rolling.
The mode my brother, Bill, and I played the most. The best part about this is that you can adjust the number of players for each team. You can play a full 6-on-6, or a simple 2-on-2 (goalies included). Also the game counts it as a check when you "accidentally" plow into your teammate - so fun!
And I have saved the mode I play most for last: SEASON
You can play a 25, random 41, random 82, or the regular 97-98 NHL game schedule. Exclusive to this mode are Breakaway Bonus Points. You earn these in-game and spend them on hiring staff, healing injured players, drafting/training prospects (aka creating players), and the Team Event - a pregame newsletter.
On hiring and firing coaches, each one improves a specific area of your team (the conditioning coach gives your players an endurance boost, for example). There are several types of coaches and you can hire and fire at will throughout the year, as long as you have enough points.
After the season ends, you can view the awards for the year and playoff statistics before beginning the quest for a repeat.
The graphics are not spectacular by today's standards, but they are still passable. And they were good at the time, especially considering Acclaim did the game.
My favorite feature is the glow/fire puck, partly because it makes games easier to follow. Although the players do look a bit clunky (if that's even the right word) at times, I love the goal celebrations. Players do backflips while the opponents flail on the ice, and the goalie slams his stick in disappointment. This is even more satisfying when you score often against a friend or older brother. Some people - nerds - whined about the flat crowd, and to them I say: it was 1998. Would a 3-D crowd have been nice? Maybe, but not having one doesn't ruin the experience for me one bit.
The sound in this game puts it over the top. I love the background music right from the beginning, and the menu themes get me pumped to play. The sounds on the ice are legit: from the checking to the skate-stopping to the puck hitting the post (such a heartbreaking noise!). The grunting while using turbo, coupled with the big hit smash of a power check really add to the intensity of the games. And, a personal favorite, the PA guy making announcements through the course of the game is a nice touch. I hope that lost child finds his parents soon.
To summarize, I still love this game. The diversity of game modes, the authentic sounds and sweet background tunes, and the ease of play all add up to always having a fun time even after all these years. If you have this game and a working N64, dust it off and play a quick Exhibition. I promise you will have fun. If you don't have this game, come play a few rounds with me! It'll be great!
FINAL RATING: 10 Eric Lindros concussions out of 10, would definitely recommend to a friend. (He seriously gets one in every season I play with the Flyers, it's a bit ridiculous.)
You will definitely see this game again when (if?) I finish my Top 25 N64 games list. Until then, or until next time, don't do anything I wouldn't do!
Crap open a cold one!