As the years have progressed, hockey video games have treated hockey fans and video game fans alike to a seemingly endless stream of engaging multiplayer experiences. Most popular hockey games tend to be comparable to other sports games for their generation, in that they feature teams with set positions, and they're normally fast paced and action-packed. Today, hockey games have evolved to feature incredibly realistic graphics and modern features like online play and achievements. Although, change doesn’t exclude older hockey games from being recognized as some of the best in the series, and in fact our list of the top 10 hockey games includes a few retro classics.
10 NHL Breakaway ‘98
9 NHL ‘99
The game that came after Breakaway was a much-improved development. The graphics improved more than fans thought they could be with only a year-long time difference. At the core of the game were its memorable and honestly hilarious one-liners. These small details weren’t overlooked by fans who enjoyed the small commentary given throughout. The fast-paced gameplay gave fans an exhilarating hockey experience that was a leaps and bounds improvement over its predecessor, especially in terms of graphics.
8 NHL ‘94
NHL '94 is surely someone's favorite game, but it does not meet the caliber of others on this list. The game presented beautiful graphics for its time, and gameplay that still challenges some of those on this list, but it was also lacking in many aspects. Although fans were able to overlook it, the game had a lack of teams, players, and the general freedom players wanted and later received in ‘96. The game overall is still considered one of the best by many fans. But we still can't overlook how well it is still performing for its time and how well it will continue to be perceived by others.
7 ESPN NHL 2K5
If there was one year where hockey and video games thrived it was 2005, at the time it had some of the highest sales recorded. The game with its advanced offline, online, and detailed gameplay, it provided players with a whole new outlook on social gaming. The fluid and spot-on gameplay and controls made it that much easier for gamers to enjoy hockey. Composed of previous features that no one would expect. The game changed the way hockey fans would play forever. Although it was the conclusion to the joint ESPN 2K franchise, it still goes on as one of the most well-received games of its time.
6 NHL ‘07
This game brought a new way to handle players that changed the whole way the gaming scene was handled. By adding the skill stick, it was a revolutionary movement in the whole EA franchise. The ability to use the skill stick as your hockey stick made it easier to maneuver players and to control the movements that they made individually. Sure, it needed more skill, but players enjoyed the challenge of the addition. Otherwise, it was noted that the change in controls proved to be beneficial for all their other franchises. While the game may not be known for any of its other revolutionary features, it did provide gamers with a change of scene that would later prove to be beneficial in other games.
5 NHL ‘96
It's easy to say that NHL ‘94 was a good game. NHL ‘96 is the better stronger version of it. After a clamoring from fans, developers included deeper team customization that no one expected. The game now lets players trade teams and change all positions and layouts. It also supplied the possibility of creating your personalized character. Giving you hours worth of trades and changes that could be made until you reached a satisfactory team. Although it did bring back fighting between teams, much to some players dismay, the game brought a whole new level of in-depth play to the franchise.
4 NHL ‘04
It may not be the most popular game on the list, but it did, however, prove to stand above many when it was released. Even to date, the game is still one of the best available, since its features are still used. The features off the ice were franchise mode, much better than in previous versions. Now the possibility of improving scouting and recruiting modes, and the full customization of the arena and teams allow players to have hours of fun without limiting the options. The game is still updated by fans and receives new teams and players constantly. It is still widely well perceived.
3 NHL Hitz ‘02
This arcade classic provides fans with a different style never seen in a hockey game of its caliber. The game supplied fans with quick action and high scoring opportunities never seen in any ESP or NHL game before. Fans alternatively had the choice to play different game modes which were much more challenging than the standard Classic mode. With the addition of those game modes, the game would be able to keep players hooked on its content for longer hours. Although it isn't the best game graphics-wise, it still lands the #3 spot in this list for its overall playability and entertainment.
2 Wayne Gretzky ‘64
This might not be the most modern game on the list, but it does deserve this spot. The old-time classic was one of the best-animated games of its time. With the fast-paced gameplay and endless fun, it was advanced for its time. The game would progress rather quickly with entertaining visuals. The features were a glowing puck and the crazy animation of the burning net whenever a goal was scored. The gameplay was simple, even beginners to hockey games would be able to easily maneuver their way around the glowing ice. Overall, the game was a fun adaptation on the game of hockey.
1 NHL ‘11
Newer isn’t always better, but in this case, it kind of is. The 2011 version of everyone’s favorite hockey game exceeds reality. With a responsive AI and sharp controls, the polished game does not resemble its past versions. The newly added range of options dives deeper into the simulation, making it one of the most realistic versions it can be. The possibility with regards to character customization, team recruitment, and trades, as well as changes in the overall team dynamic is nothing ever before seen. With more options than before, players can experience features from past games and more.