NHL 2K – Sega Dreamcast
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Release Date (NA): February 9, 2000
Genre: Sports, Hockey
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Ah, the Stanley Cup is here yet again in its entire icy splendor. Tension abounds heavily in this heated match up and the world will be watching. The New York Rangers will take on the recently resurgent LA Kings. Many were surprised to see the Montreal Canadiens lose in the semi-finals, as they were the favorite to win the Stanley Cup by many analysts and hockey fans. That is today, 2014…but I’m not here to talk about today. I’m here to talk about yesterday…way back in the year 2000 when the 2K sports series kicked off its first 2K Hockey game on the newest, baddest, and most powerful video gaming machine on the market. I’m talking about NHL 2K for the Sega Dreamcast.
Sega’s Dreamcast ushered in 2K Sports’ first hockey video game, and man did they give EA Sports some heavy competition. The introduction of NHL 2K was the center ice face-off moment for 2K sports vs EA Sports, and the true winner was the consumer. Competition often has a way of making everything better. No longer can the big corporation skate by with subpar games since they live an uncontested life. With competition, both 2K and EA were forced to stay on their toes and fight for the top spot. Taking on the giant is no easy feat, and many have failed; NHL 2K, on the other hand, made instant waves as a true competitor to EA Sports’ annual NHL series. Now we know a bit of the history, but what about the game?
After the corporate introductions of Sega Sports, BlackBox, and TrueMotion, a sleek presentation of some real NHL footage is presented in a 2 minute video as the years count up from the NHL’s humble beginnings in 1917 to the current year 2000. Excitement runs high with anticipation of checking bodies into the walls, throwing down your gloves, and bashing their faces in! Oh, and playing some hockey too! Much like any sports game of the time (and most sports games today), you are given the option of playing a one-off exhibition match, a full season, or a playoff round. While the options aren’t wildly varied or deep, this is plenty for a straightforward sports title. We’re here to play hockey, not play childish mini-games.
The first thing that pops out, in any of the game modes, is the graphics. With a great effort to simulate a hockey game as realistically as possible, they succeeded with style and grace. By today’s standards, the player animations are blocky and not very lifelike. But by the standards of the time, this was as real as it got, and everyone was in awe at the technical achievements. The game starts with blacked out arena lights, a laser show, and fireworks while the commentators introduce the teams and touch up on a couple of key players. Even today I’m shocked at the level of detail given just for a game introduction. The camera swoops down from the top rafters and flies past all the players warming up, then the referee blows the whistle and everyone gets in formation. The camera snaps to an aerial view, the puck is dropped, and bam! We’re playing some mother effing NHL 2K hockey!
There are over 1,000 motion-captured moves and over 100 goalie animations. This is truly astonishing but a tad below NFL 2K which boasts over 1,500 motion-captured moves. Regardless, the level of detail is evident in the polished package. Each player glides across the ice with realistic character movements but so much more is happening that you likely don’t see. When players skate, their blades scrape the ice, just like in a real rink. When players put the brakes on, they spray ice. Also, you can see player reflections in the ice. These tiny touches might go unnoticed by the general public, and while you might not notice them, without them you would say, “there’s something a little off about this game.”
The gameplay in NHL 2K is the bread and butter of this entire game. No matter what the graphics look like, no matter which game mode you’re playing, having good game physics and solid gameplay are paramount for success. While NHL 2K delivers this quality gameplay, it is not without its faults. The positive notes are the simple button configurations for your everyday casual gamer. On offense we have pass, shoot, speed burst, and dump the puck. On defense we have block shot, change players, poke check, and speed burst/body check. Some might consider this to be overly simplistic and lacking range and depth, and that is where some of the finer details come in. On offense or defense, you can press L at any time to change your coaching strategy. This only adds a few more options, but it gives you more control. All of the controls are simple to learn and function exceptionally well with great responsiveness.
With great gameplay and graphics, what could take NHL 2K to the next level? The answer to that, my friends, lies in the play-by-play commentary by Hall of Famer Bob Cole and color commentary by former NHL coach Harry Neale. The scripted lines from these guys are exceptional, and it is very apparent that a great deal of effort was put into the commentary. You will sometimes feel like you’re playing a game that you’re watching on TV! THAT is how good the commentary is. Never does the commentary get boring, lame, or repetitive, which I would have to say is the first time for any sports game I’ve ever played before the year 2000. Harry Neale is sometimes humorous but Bob Cole is the foundation of the duo. Simple play-by-play would eventually get boring and pointless. Can you imagine? “He passes the puck! He shoots the puck! He blocks the shot! He passes the puck! He slides into the wall!” And so on. When a particular player makes a standout play, the commentator might touch up on that player’s history by telling us about his success playing for the Florida Gators, or other tidbits like “Rod Brind’amour is typically on the ice for the last minutes of a game, which is a great complement.” The commentary takes NHL 2K from just a hockey game to a hockey simulator.
It’s not all peaches and roses in NHL 2K as there are some areas of the game that seem to be lacking. I can’t claim these faults to be the case of limited disc space or technology as some of them are simple enough for any game of the time. Whenever a goal is scored, the crowd cheers a little and that’s essentially it. There are no flashing lights, no wild group hugs, essentially nothing. Scoring a goal in NHL 2K is hard as shit, so a little more extravagance would have been appreciated. There also doesn’t appear to be any sort of juke moves which would have been a great addition for advanced offensive gameplay. In addition to lackluster scoring and a lack of offensive moves, NHL 2K also suffers slightly from being TOO realistic at times. Almost every time the opposing goalie stops a shot, he smothers the puck, resulting in a stoppage of play. This repetitive stoppage really breaks the speed of the game and causes some slight annoyance after a while. There are dozens of things to be nitpicky about but no game is perfect, and NHL 2K is not the exception.
- NHL 2K features a really fun fighting system! Throw down your gloves and go back and forth in fisticuffs with your opponent! The buttons for fighting are simple and archaic (punch and block), but I’ll be damned if it isn’t balls-out fun! Each player has a health meter in the bottom; the first player to have its health meter depleted loses the fight.
- All 27 city arenas are shown in full 3D detail. Granted, most will look exactly the same, but regardless they have all arenas featured here.
- Gamers can create and customize up to 40 players from scratch! The downside to this is that you can just dish out 100s in any category from speed to stamina and more. I mean, I guess that’s not a downside but there needs to be some give and take.
- You can edit the lines however you please. There are 4 offensive lines and 3 defensive lines. In addition, there are special lines for power plays, penalty killing, and who is in goal for the game. Changing out lines is as easy as pressing R during gameplay. Boom. Line change.
- The Playoffs game mode allows players to bypass the regular season (all 82 games) and still have a chance to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup! Games can be simulated to further speed up the time and get you to the final series faster.
- You can trade players in any mode, but it really matters the most in season mode. It’s extremely easy and simple and next thing you know, you have an all-star squad as your normal team!
- Penalties can be turned off, leading to some more aggressive (maybe cheap?) gameplay between you and your friends.
While actual gameplay in NHL 2K is somewhat simple, easy, and slightly shallow, the behind-the-scenes set up is superb. Preparing your team by creating players, trading players, making great line-ups, and editing your coaching strategy all lead to having the right team to take you to the Stanley Cup. While the rosters might be a little outdated, and so are the graphics and overall game engine, NHL 2K is a historic achievement for the future 2K Sports franchise. The NHL 2K series saw great success and received praise from critics and owners until its discontinuation in 2012, and it all started right here on the Sega Dreamcast.
NHL 2K might not be as enjoyable today as it was back in the year 2000, and it probably won’t have you drooling over its “realism,” but it is still a game you can pick and up and play today. I personally think NHL 2K is one of the easiest sports games for a casual gamer to pick up and play. Any NFL game requires knowledge of operating a playbook, knowing WTF the word “audible” means, understanding some zone defenses, and so much more. With NHL 2K, you drop the puck, you deliver some bone-crunching checks, you take some slap shots, and you win some games. It doesn’t get any easier or more enjoyable than that.
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
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