NHL 99 (N64) Review
Publisher: EA Sports
By: Andrew Carty 10/21/98
Electronic Arts are known for their fantastic sports sims, and more specifically, the best hockey game around. Many people (including myself) are quick to recognize NHL 99 for the Playstation and PC as the greatest hockey game of all time. That said, NHL 99 for the N64 is not either of these games. It was built upon the 98 engine, and fully updated for the 99 season. However, that's not to say it's NHL 98 with a 99 sticker on it and updated rosters. Graphics, sound, and interface have all been upgraded. So keep in mind, this is the first NHL game on the N64 (and the only good hockey game), but it does not have all the new options and features of the two aforementioned systems.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics are awesome, effortlessly destroying the attempts of Midway and Acclaim. But it is EA, and I don't think anyone expected any less. The rinks are well done, but not fantastic, and do not highlight specific arena differences. The 3D player models are great, and everything on ice looks sharp. It runs in the N64's medium-res, definitely a contributing factor. What really stands out is the great animation. The players skate, shoot, check, and fall with incredible realism. Even the goalies have new animations, sweet kick saves and all-out dives. The replay mode will blow you away: it's a must see. Perhaps the greatest graphical disappointment is the fact that there are no real faces. However, overall the graphics are fantastic.
Presentation/Audio : 80
Anyone who has an N64 knows this is where the system lacks the most. Thankfully, EA has the talent to overcome many (but not all) of the limitations put on developers. When you turn on the game, you get the familiar rockish tunes in the menu system. Although it is nice, it's nothing fantastic. Where you will notice the sound though, is while playing a game. The ambient sounds are superb. Crowds cheer and jeer appropriately, and every once in a while they will come together and cheer the home team on with a "let's go Redwings" or "go Wings go." You'll hear the crowd sound off horns and use other noisemakers, too, and randomly shout, "get it out" or something of that nature. Unfortunately this will be overshadowed by the lackluster commentary. EA has given the public address announcer a sense of humor, and unfortunately he's not funny. When you combine that with the fact that you probably will only hear him once every five games, it seems like a total waste. The PBP announcer (Bill Clement, ESPN) is just as bad, saying stuff that most commentators would never be caught dead saying. Too bad they didn't stick with Jim Houghston (which I hear was done on the PSX and PC versions). You may even turn these guys off, wondering if they couldn't have found a better way to use this memory, such as providing, say, player names.
Interface/Options : 94
NHL 99 sticks with the tried and true EA interface everyone is comfortable with. If you've played NHL before, or Madden, or FIFA, you'll have no problem working through the menus. If you do, simply press down C to activate the help menu. It will tell you what buttons do what.
NHL 99 allows the user to choose from exhibition, season, playoff, tournament (using international or NHL teams) and shootout. Season mode will have you choosing from how many games you want to play, if you want full statistical tracking, and even if you want the trade deadline. For many hockey sim fans, these are a must, and I for one am glad EA didn't overlook this.
I feel I do have to mention the manual. NHL 99 comes with an excellent manual that not only goes over the buttons and game interface and menus, but it also covers hockey strategy and key terms. EA deserves a pat on the back for this effort.
Gameplay : 86
Don't even bother playing this game on rookie. If you have played NHL 98, you'll probably score over ten goals in the first game. If you haven't, count on at least 5. The goalies are incredibly pathetic, with virtually no reflexes or lateral movement, you'll be wondering what drugs they're on. Really, skip rookie altogether. On Pro and All-Star, though, the game plays great. It is based on the NHL 98 engine, and the gameplay is virtually the same. It is a little faster, and control is definitely tighter, but not much else is changed. Breakouts, defencemen covering their own end, odd-man attacks, power plays, penalty-kills, etc. are all fine. But even though most of the game plays fine, there are a few problems. Goalies don't seem to know when to come out to play the puck, especially on power plays. They also seem virtually impenetrable on slapshots, except for the rare one low to the far side. In fact, the easiest way to score (for those who never played last year's version) is either to take a lot of one timers, or crash the net and hope for a rebound.
So what we have is last year's gameplay with updated control. Do you feel screwed? Don't worry, it blows away anything else on the console.
Difficulty : 72
As with previous games, the difficulty is not the greatest. On beginner mode, I was able to score 25 goals in ten minute periods my second time out. The goalies are straight-up sieves. If you haven't played the series before, or are new to hockey, I recommend this mode. But even beginning players will find themselves moving up to harder levels quickly. On the "All-Star" mode, the hardest in the game, even the most veteran players should find significant challenge. No 82-0 seasons on this mode.
Overall : 86
EA Sports has produced an excellent hockey title that is by far the best on the N64. Although I wish I could do something about the announcers, the game shines in every other category. EA has created a fine product that will hopefully raise the bar for all other developers. If you are a hockey fan, this game is a must buy. I recommend it highly to everyone else.
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