It’s hard to remember a time when the only hockey games available weren’t released by EA, but that time existed. There were a lot of great licensed and unlicensed hockey games throughout the 90s and early 00s, and some NHL games developed by other companies like Midway. Note that EA doesn’t hold any exclusive license to create NHL games, but they’re the only company that actively develops them.
For the majority of these classics, you won’t find official NHL teams like the Golden Knights in most of these games, but you will find some great arcade gameplay, and a look at how hockey games evolved over the years.
Franchise Hockey Manager (FHM) 6
Take off the skates and enter the General Manager’s office in this fantasy league simulator. You’ll be responsible for the guidance of a given team, and must stay on top of every detail that goes into managing them. Using an easy and attractive UI interface, you’ll schedule training, negotiate contracts, and take on (optional) challenges like pitting teams from different eras against each other.
FHM 6 may be a simulator game, which usually means “deep and complex as hell”, but the learning curve actually isn’t too steep at all. It’s a great management simulator for all hockey fans.
NHL Hitz 2003
Midway, the developers of Mortal Kombat, had a real treat for hockey fans when they released the original NHL Hitz in 2001. They polished the engine for the 2002 sequel, but really nailed the gameplay and features in 2003, making NHL Hitz 2003 the best of the Hitz series. As you can guess from the game’s title, NHL Hitz focused on arcade-style gameplay, with more emphasis on body-slamming action.
True to other Midway sports games like NBA Jam, players in NHL Hitz could become “on fire” after scoring successive goals, granting turbo speed and allowing them to annihilate anyone in their path to the goal.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey
The legendary Wayne Gretzky has graced the cover of numerous hockey games, and Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey was the second game in a three-year deal for a series of signature games featuring him. The man had serious marketing power. Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey had arcade-style gameplay with frequent scoring, turbo power, and exaggerated fistfights.
Interestingly, players dizzily wobble after losing a fistfight, as if waiting for a Mortal Kombat fatality. These were actually going to be included in the game, but were removed by Midway before publishing. Too bad, Wayne Gretzky uppercutting people’s heads into the stands would’ve been instant GOTY material.
Super Blood Hockey
This strangely cute-but-violent arcade hockey game was published in 2017 by indie developer Loren Lemcke, and is available on numerous platforms (PC, consoles). It features sprite-based graphics, like a modernized Super Nintendo game, and the player renderings are drawn in a cute, cartoon style. But then you hit other players, and blood flies everywhere.
It’s quite a brutal game, and all the blood covering the rink would almost feel gimicky, if not for the actually solid arcade gameplay. It’s a blast to play with two players. Check it out on Steam.
Blades of Steel
This 1988 classic for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and was rereleased twice for the Nintendo VC and Xbox 360 in 2007 and 2010. As one of the earliest 8-bit hockey games, Blades of Steel’s gameplay had stood up remarkably well to the test of time, with fast-paced arcade action, and a side view fight camera that was unique at the time.
Released in 1989 for the Commodore 64 (DOS) platform, Face Off! was a good traditional hockey game for the time. The VGA graphics were done well in comparison to 8-bit console graphics of the time, and the animations felt rather fluent and smooth. I’m sure those of you reading this won’t be lining up to download an old DOS hockey game, but give it a shot and see how far hockey games have come.
Bush Hockey League
One of the very few modern hockey games on this list, Bush Hockey League was released in 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It’s a rather interesting take on the old-time bush league hockey rinks of the 1970s, when men didn’t need helmets, used sticks as weapons, and wrestled grizzlies for breakfast.
The critic reviews were fairly mediocre, but come on, there are so few (almost none) modern hockey video games that aren’t developed by EA, Bush Hockey League scores goals for trying. And it does rather accurately portray the 1970s bush league hockey scene.