Every night can be hockey night with NHL 99

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, January 1999

NHL Hockey 99
Electronic Arts Canada
For Windows PC, Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation
About $60

Every year, as the leaves turn colour and drop from the trees, every true-blooded Canadian knows its hockey time again?even if the season now stretches on and on to June.

And every Fall, the intrepid hockey fans at Electronic Arts-Canada release the update of their classic computer and video game, now perhaps as Canadian a classic as Lord Stanley?s cup.

NHL 99 is available for PC, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation, and gives virtual-sports fans all they could ask for to play along with this winter?s season. Of course, it?s updated with new lineups, but also with the new changes to the rules and ice. As well, the program (at least on the PC) offers new level of detailing? for example, at the start of each period, the ice shimmers and reflects. As play continues, it looses its sheen, until between periods, the Zamboni restores its smooth surface. Talk about paying attention to details!

Our 14-year old game-testers, Joey and Frankie, looked at NHL 99, using a Sony Playstation and a Pentium 166 with a 3DFx graphics accelerator. They discovered that the other-side of the increased details is hefty hardware requirements. The two year-old P-166 is NHL 99?s minimum CPU, for example (though it will play without a graphics accelerator).

The boys commented on the increased realism in the game? more interaction with the audience, empty seats in the stadium. Frankie felt that the crowd cheering made the game seem ?more pumped up?. In previous versions, the stick sometimes became transparent, while punches sometimes went right through players? heads. Not in this year?s version. They were also pleased that this year, players can choose whether to fight or not. They were disappointed, however, that the fights remained one-on-one. No group pile-ups, and unlike real life, no bruises.

A nice addition is the new coaching mode. This lets players practice defensive and offensive drills, improving skills before playing a ?real? game.  In addition, there?s a beginning play mode for new players. Of course, there are the standard single game and series modes, with international series along with the NHL season.

It?s easier than ever to keep your eye on the puck?a new grey circle surrounds it, making it stand out against the ice.

Joey liked how users can pick their starting position, then quickly change it as gameplay progresses. He commented that it was too easy to score in the so-called hard modes?at least in the PC version. Both boys agreed that the gameplay on the PlayStation more accurately reflected the different levels.

With its non-stop movement and action, ice hockey is perhaps the ideal sport for simulated gameplay. And with NHL 99, Electronic Arts has added another season to its winning streak.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan