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Sports video games

Reading this Salon article on sports video games brought back a ton of memories from college. I never got into Madden properly, but I played a ton of Tecmo Bowl, Tecmo Super Bowl, and NHL ‘94, the latter of which is, in my estimation, the best sports video game of all time (with which Stewart would agree, I’m sure). A quote from the article:

[Bo] Jackson isn’t the only athlete to have achieved fame for his video game likeness. Then-Chicago Blackhawks forward Jeremy Roenick’s ability to fill the net and make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed in the “NHLPA ‘93” game was immortalized in the 1996 cult film “Swingers.”

Roenick was good in ‘93, but with the much-improved gameplay in NHL ‘94, he was a monster. He was blazingly fast, had a quick stick, could stop on a dime, had the hardest shot in the game, and was easily capable of racking up 15-20 goals in three 5-minute periods. But he also had an unfair advantage over other players in the league because the Blackhawks were such a great team. Players like Steve Yzerman, Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne, and Alexander Mogilny matched up well with Roenick skill-wise, but their teams just weren’t as dominant overall. Not to mention that you couldn’t taunt your opponents with new Roenick-related lyrics to Pearl Jam’s Jeremy (GarageBand karaoke version coming soon) as easily while piloting Bure or Selanne through the heart of their defense for a completely demoralizing goal. Oh, the sting of being taunted with ad-libbed Pearl Jam.

The article also links to an article by Bill Simmons for ESPN Magazine about video game football. Near the bottom of the piece, there’s a list of the top video game football players of all time, on which is Randall Cunningham at #3:

The best video game QB of all-time. You could roll him out to either side, scramble for first downs, throw 70 yards with him, avoid sacks…and he never self-destructed like he did in real life. Regardless of how his NFL career turned out, he’ll always have his video game career to fall back on.

Based upon my experience with Cunningham in Tecmo Super Bowl, I’d put him at #1. The Eagles, who were not a great team in the game, were unstoppable with a properly coached Cunningham at the helm, mainly because he was a double threat at all times. He had the arm of Dan Marino and the wheels of Bo Jackson. If all the receivers were covered, you could just take off running and get a first down every time.

My sophomore year in college, a group of friends and I played an entire Tecmo season and I luckily drew the Eagles out of the hat during the team selection process. With a near-guaranteed first down (or touchdown) every time I had the ball, I rampaged through the regular season with a perfect record and a ridiculous quarterback rating only to buckle under the pressure in the playoffs. In the next season we started (but never finished), the Eagles were not included in the hat. Go, Randall!

Reader comments

MattFeb 06, 2004 at 2:49PM

Similar to Randall, Michael Vick in Madden 2003 is pretty amazing. Running for 100 yards a game is a breeze and he has a solid arm as well. I'd put him in my top 5 for sure.`

MikeFeb 06, 2004 at 2:50PM

Yep, I had the Eagles in a Madden '94 season in the dorms freshman year and ended up winning the Super Bowl. Cunningham could easily throw into triple coverage. I don't remember the receivers names, but there were a couple of good ones back then. Reggie White was a sack master on the defensive end, too. :)

jayFeb 06, 2004 at 3:00PM

how about Lawerence Taylor blocking every-single extra point or field goal in Tecmo Bowl.

Tecmo Super Bowl saw the rise of Thurman Thomas. Thurman carried over into Madden 94 where i experienced my saddest sports game moment ever.

my Dolphins had my friends Bills backed up 4th and 22 on their own 3 yr. line, in the snow, for the last play of the game. my friend read my zone defense and handed the ball to thurman who fumbled the ball, recovered the ball, and ran, up screen, the for the winning touchdown... two of my players got hurt trying to tackle him.

dowingbaFeb 06, 2004 at 3:11PM

I got bored of NHL 94 during my first sitting (which was, I admit, a good 8 or 9 hours). It seems like, out of all the old NHL games, '94 was the easiest to 'beat'. (ie: Once you get the formula down, you can just skate down and score every time, automatically. Which made the games rather ridiculous 30-40 goal affairs. Oh, and if you play against someone who doesn't have the formula down, it's just sad to watch. The Leafs won 45-1 again. ho hum.) I seem to remember my friend, playing against the computer, going for the record. I don't remember how high his score was but I'm sure it was well over 100.

A different JayFeb 06, 2004 at 3:12PM

I recall a similar Tecmo Super Bowl tournament held at my cousin's place with a group of friends. We drew numbers to determine teams, and I ended up with Detroit. On offense, of course, I simply presented a heavy dose of Barry-Right and Barry-UpTheMiddle, but on defense was where I made my mark. Using nosetackle Jerry Ball and the World Famous "Slip-N-Slide" maneauver, I dominated the opposition defensively, handling Bo and the Raiders in the Super Bowl for the title.

Man, my friends HATED that Slip-N-Slide move.

Aaron OxborrowFeb 06, 2004 at 3:13PM

Tecmo injuries were the best, soo random. Personally I preferred the Raiders. Bo Jackson was the fastest running back in the game and Tim Brown could catch anything. Plus that team had extra "hail mary" plays.

jkottkeFeb 06, 2004 at 3:18PM

Once you get the formula down, you can just skate down and score every time, automatically.

Yeah, that did take all the fun out of it, which is why we avoided the two or three "trick" maneuvers that resulted in automatic scores (we called them "cheater goals"), even against the computer. Doing that made the games competitive, unpredictable, and fun...which, from our standpoint, was the whole idea.

vitafloFeb 06, 2004 at 3:28PM

The hidden weapon of that game was Don Beebe. Take the Bills and air it out to Beebe. He could catch in triple coverage and practically always got it.

One of the other good things about it were the NFL records you could try to break. Almost all of them were beatable except the INT record. Try as we might, nobody ever topped it (I think it was 14 if I recall).

MasFeb 06, 2004 at 4:04PM

Well, I didn't read the whole text, nor any of the comments-- short of the first line about getting bored with '94 in his first sitting (duration time: 8-9hrs)-- due to serious lack of attention span owed to such passing of time as playing NHLPA '94 for hours on end. So, my comment is as follows-- yes, it would get boring, but I'd like to just add we had to institute a "Roenick Rule" (of which I have by now forgotten the clauses), wherein lies the genius of the game. A game that is dynamic, fluent and ubiquitous, thus proving itself impregnable to the sand of time.

ctrentFeb 06, 2004 at 4:07PM

you had to have ground rules in reguard to the cheater goals... otherwise it wasn't fun. it was a little tougher in 95, but still not too hard.

i never had super tecmo bowl, but on tecmo, bo jackson was the truth. that and mike haynes -- the man, the myth, the underwear. haynes picked off almost any pass.

ctrentFeb 06, 2004 at 4:15PM

oh, also... listen to the dvd commentary of mallrats and they talk about how they sold out. the part where banky is playing hockey and the sounds are ea's nhl 94, yet the shots of the screen are sega's inferior nhl title.

webFeb 06, 2004 at 4:17PM

I played so much time playing NHLPA '94 .. the back-fourth-back trick couls score you a hella ammount of goals. I remember having scores in the 100+ range using said goal trick. Its amazing how there wasnt really an internet to spread tricks like that around but we all still knew it.

I think this game was the big "hit" that got EA started in the sports genre. The newer games just dont seem to hold my attention like NHLPA did.

As soon as I saw the title I had flashbacks of '94 it.

JairusFeb 06, 2004 at 6:27PM

My brother and I still rent and play every hockey game that comes out, chasing the high of NHLPA '94.

We've yet to find anything nearly as good, although NHL 2K2 for the Dreamcast is probably as close as we're going to find.

...and for what it's worth, we also had to institute a "Roenick Rule", as well as a no-wraparounds stipulation.

NickFeb 06, 2004 at 6:31PM

My roommates and I picked up a used Genesis and NHL 94 a few months ago, and we haven't stopped playing it. On any given night, there are at least 10 games of NHL 94 played in our household. If you get a few players of similar skill levels, it doesn't matter that some moves are cheap. Both players can do 'em. I have played more of this game in my life than I'd like to admit, but it still has a level of sophistication in gameplay that was well ahead of its time.

Despite the primitive graphics, it's just so lifelike. I keep noticing new bits of realism the more I play. Knocking a guy down against the boards is easier than at centre ice. Screening the goalie actually lowers the chance of a save. Loading up a slapshot opens up an opportunity to steal the puck or bowl the shooter over with a check. Your players don't stop on a dime to turn, they swerve slowly in an arc, and when you feed a pass to an open man, he has to catch it right on his stick or else the puck is lost. I'm amazed at the at some of the gameplay details in this game.

And the star players themselves were meticulously playtested. They got almost every player bang-on, so much that each feels like he has his own "personality". Watch how smart Gretzky is...he'll go flying up ice for the breakaway pass, or if you bring the puck up with a defenseman, he'll skate back to cover the point. Or notice how Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey both hang around in front of their goalie, looking to intercept the one-timer. It is crazy for a Genesis game to be so elaborate.

But I've always wondered: why the hell is Roenick so good? He's never been a good enough player in real life to justify those kinds of stats. So I wonder....was EA Sports in cahoots with the NHL's player marketing division? Roenick's possibly the best-known American player, and certainly broke into the league as a marketable superstar with his brash interviews and rockstar attitude. A little something for the conspiracy theorists with too much time on their hands.

NickFeb 06, 2004 at 6:34PM

Oh yeah, and The One True NHL '94 is the Genesis version, not the SNES.

Stewart ButterfieldFeb 06, 2004 at 6:52PM

Amen to that (Genesis vs. SNES).

Joe Murphy, a non-star from the Oilers, also had a magic shot (slapshot from around the blue line when skating diagonally down the ice) but those didn't wreck it for me either: we all played the 2nd tier teams (Canucks, Nordiques, etc.) to make it more interesting and fair (it's been 8 years or so, but I think Canadiens, Boston and the Red Wings were allowed as well -- basically just the Blackhawks that were too good).

AndyFeb 06, 2004 at 10:02PM

Does anyone remember NHL '95?
The Penguins with Lemieux and Jagr, a perfect 100 points each - it didn't matter that Barasso sucked, you could have played empty net all the way. Or the Kings, with Gretzky, Robitaille and Granato. And then you'd try to beat them all with 60-point-teams like Hartford or the Senators.

The only game that ever came close for me after that was NHL Breakaway '98 for PSX, the very short-lived attempt by Acclaim to compete with EA, which was just killer. The worst thing was stat-obsession: played a real-time season with the Rangers and scored first in all stats - penalty time needed some serious effort during the last few games of the season

chiefFeb 07, 2004 at 1:34AM

As a huge NHL '94 + '95 fan, and a non-gamer, I must say that ESPN hockey for PS2 is absolutely amazing; be sure to check it out. Not as fun as the previous, but it's surely addictive.

MichaelFeb 07, 2004 at 12:57PM

Vick in Madden 2004 is almost ready to dethrone Cunningham and Bo as the most unstoppable Sports video game player of all-time. The only negative I see that keeps him from being ranked higher than Bo is that Vick can't take it hit. He fumbles and gets injured a lot. Always slide or go out of bounds. Here is the Sports Guy's (in my opinion the best sports writer there is ) take on Vick in Madden 2004 vs. Bo.

JamesFeb 07, 2004 at 8:09PM

I remember experiencing the thrill of discovery in two particular games of Tecmo Bowl. The first, I was playing against my brother. We were trying to play each time and I drew the Giants. On that day I found out that Lawrence Taylor was a monster on defence (could block kicks, could run down and tackle almost anyone and couldn't be blocked), that (Little) Joe Morris made defenders bounce off him and that the tight-end slant over the middle to Mark Bavaro was unstoppable. Seriously. I even told my brother what I was going to do and he couldn't stop me. If Simms threw the ball when Bavaro was crossing the field defenders couldn't pick it off and couldn't tackle Bavaro until he'd caught the ball.

My second discovery in Tecmo Bowl was the Bears. Mike Singletary on defense made anyone save perhaps Ronnie Lott look like a turnstile: against Barry, against Randal, even against Bo. Game after game, Singletary made my brother pay. And on offense Sweatness shot around the tackle for big gains play after play. When he finally ran into the end zone I could do my own touchdown dance and sing out, "Hey Sweatness, (do-dah do doo-dah do do) you're my weakness."

College GamerFeb 07, 2004 at 8:33PM

I basically received my college degree in Sega hockey. I probably averaged 3-6 hours a day during my 4 years in college. Tecmo Bowl was on heavy rotation for me during my high school days. Now, I find myself with an interesting predicament. I recently celebrated my 32nd birthday, and my wonderful wife decides to buy me a PlayStation2 with Madden 2004 as my surprise gift. I'm 10-years removed from college, a wife, a 13-month old son, and another on the way in May and am currently studying for an upcoming career shift. My head tells me that I should return the game system and buy something more practical, and given my hectic schedule realistically I don't see myself spending more than an hour a week, if that, playing PS2. And chances are, the system will be obsolete before I blink. Should I just forget about sensibility and practicality and enjoy it for the limited time I have, and for the limited time the system will be current? Or, should I return it and let logic rule the day? Any other 30-somethings out there who incorporate video game playing into their crazy busy lives?

PJ SwensonFeb 07, 2004 at 10:30PM

Lol, a month or two back I posted something about my brothers buying a modified atari 2600 turned into a handheld. The first game I bought him was Atari Ice Hockey.

Trying that made me want to try a sega simulator and play NHL 94. I like NHL 94, but 95 and 96 were better. Bourque is unstoppable.

The new games focus on realism takes too much from just playing a good game. If you could play 2 v 2 NHL 94 online, it would still be state of the art.

LaikaFeb 08, 2004 at 3:04PM

Not to long ago someone asked a now retired football player what he thought about the sport today versus when he played 10 or so years ago. The guy surprised the interviewer when he said today its all about the electronic games. I grew up in the 1970's so I never understood it because I never played it growing up. Electronic games make more money than Hollywood and the real
business behind the Superbowl etc is electronic games. There are many people out there who simply do not understand how really big
this is, they are still living in the past , believe it or not.

AlexFeb 08, 2004 at 5:13PM

None of these silly games will ever match Ms Pac Man

Samuel LindeFeb 09, 2004 at 2:27AM

Did anyone else manage to get their players invisible in NHL 95 for Genesis? I think it just worked in practice mode (which was an extremely boring thing...), and I only got it to work with Bryan Smolinski in Boston. Immediately after the first faceoff, you had to skate towards the offensive zone and fire off a slapshot up the stands. If you did it right, Bryan Smolinski was then invisible, and extremely fast (to the point of almost not being able to control...). But it was great fun, anyway.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.