When EA announced they were offering an NHL ’94-inspired bonus game this year, it was a weird choice. It’s not an anniversary year for the game, but none-the-less, EA decided to offer NHL 94 Rewind as a bonus game for those who pre-ordered NHL 21. Now, after just over a month since the game was exclusive to pre-orders, it’s available for free if you’re a member of EA Play on PlayStation or Xbox Game Pass. Unfortunately, outside of the trip down memory lane, after you’ve played a game, you won’t want to play anymore.
NHL 94 Rewind does feature a few game types: Regular Season (which is essentially just an exhibition match), Playoffs (either single-elimination or 7 game series), and Shootout. There is some customization including the auto line-changes, how goalies are controlled, and turning on or off offsides. There is no online play, so if you want to play with others, it’s strictly couch-play.
It’s nice that there are options to play with. I was expecting just an exhibition game option and maybe a playoff mode but including shootouts and some variety with the playoffs is nice. However, I don’t expect people to go full seven-game series on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. As for shootouts, they are fine but once you’ve tried it out, you won’t feel the need to go at it a second time.
On the ice, the controls are super basic. It’s more-or-less “pass” and “shoot”, with a dump the puck option on offense. On defense, you can switch between players, hit players, or turbo. I fully understand trying to make it as accessible as possible and keeping it retro, but including some sort of deke button or some other form of depth on defense wouldn’t have hurt.
The performance on the ice is awful. Players are float on the ice with no real sense of control. Your AI is pitiful, never getting open, and regularly going offside. While the game tracks most stats, it doesn’t track offsides, which I encountered more than anything. Players collide so frequently that I even had encounters where an AI player got hit into an offside position. The AI is awful when it comes to goalies as well. There were multiple times when the goalie would leave his crease to play the puck only to give it away and allow an easy goal.
For a game meant to be fast and fun, it only felt messy. Even when I was winning, I was never enjoying myself. It was only a matter of time before the AI would ruin a breakout play on offense or not play properly on defense to allow an easy shot on goal.
I’m not going to knock the graphics or sound as both hit their marks on bringing back the retro feel. However, the rosters use the 2019-20 NHL season, so it’s very much out-of-date even with the 2020-21 NHL season still without a proper start date. I didn’t see the option to move players around and I don’t expect EA to update this in any way.
As disappointing as most sports games have been in 2020, even as a free bonus, NHL 94 Rewind is overpriced. EA made a big deal about this inclusion, really pushing it in the hopes the nostalgic factor would entice more people to pre-order NHL 21. If you can play it for free, you may find some fun for a few minutes but don’t expect anything more than that. If EA decides at any point to charge people for it, it definitely won’t be worth it.