1999. The year of the cyber athlete.
EA Sports’ eighth installment in the NHL series of video games. Released in North America on the Sony Playstation, and Microsoft Windows on September 30, 1998 and for the Nintendo 64 on October 1, 1998, NHL 99 was the only EA Sports-made hockey game to appear on the N64 console.
Now to the main menu, and what do we have here? Well, there’s shootout, coaching drills, exhibition, season and tournament, which is nothing out of the ordinary. That is, until we get to the rosters. There’s an option here called ‘expansion draft’, due to the fact that the Nashville Predators joined the league in the 98-99 season. This mode follows the proper rules of the expansion draft, meaning that you can only select one player from each of the 26 franchises, with only a select few being selectable from each team. This is an interesting and fun little mode, however, it does replace the current Nashville lineup, with your expansion draft team, thus taking away the players from each other franchise that you selected, but if you’re looking to have some fun by drafting and playing in modes, then this is a nice little way of doing just that.
There are more than just the 27 teams in the National Hockey League that can be used. The World and North American All-Stars are available to play, as well as International teams, such as Canada, Russia, the United States, to lower International teams like France and Japan. Plus, you have the option to create your own all-star team if you wish.
Jim Hughson returned as your play-by-play announcer, but for this game, joined by Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh. The commentary is as good as you’re gonna get, for a hockey video game in this era. Nothing overly exciting to write home about, but it does the job required. An overview of the home arena plays, as the game loads into every game, which is a nice touch.
The gameplay itself, is a very fast paced, offensive type of style, typical for this generation of hockey games in general. Practically zero defense, is made up for by good goaltending. Tenders like Domink Hasek are hard to score past, which means that you have to think that little bit more, in order to score on the better goalies. You can have automatic line changes, and turn whichever rules you like off, to allow for a real feel game, or something completely free flowing and hectic. You can fight in this game. Fighting might be simple, but it is possible to ‘fight’, and only receive a 2 minute minor penalty for roughing, whereas your opponent gets the full 5 minutes for fighting!
The music is usually generic rock music, apart from the intro, which plays clips from the 1997-98 NHL season as a backdrop for David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, making it an iconic intro for the entire franchise.
All in all, NHL 99 is a solid addition to any hockey fan’s collection. There’s plenty here for those wanting to just pick up and play with some assistance from using the coaching drills, or those who want to go more in depth with season, tournament and the expansion draft mode. A game that doesn’t feel out of place in the franchise, and one of the better hockey games that were out on the market at this time.