"The Puck Stops Here! Strap on your helmet and cinch up your skates because this is ice hockey, not nice hockey, a fast and furious all-out assault on your senses, where breakaways are met with bone-quaking body checks and the five hole looks more like a buttonhole. Skate faster, stop quicker, line it up and let it fly - this is the ultimate in breakneck, blistering sports action!"
Just when you thought it was safe to go back out on the ice, EA comes up with another average NHL title for the SNES. The fifth time isn't a charm as this game slightly lags behind the Genesis once again.
Although '96 is relatively similar to last year's version, it has a few new tricks that previously were only available on the Genesis version. It does have Exhibition, Season, Practice, Trade, and Create Player modes, but direct playoffs and shootouts were left out once again.
ProTip: Circle the opposing net and look for a teammate crossing the crease for a one-timer.
What are Mark Messier and Scott Stevens gonna do without playoffs? But at least these guys are in the game, along with all the other pros and their respective teams.
And finally, after listening to the cries of fans everywhere, fighting is back on the menu. The only problem is the fights are dull and hard to control. If you want great fighting, step back in time to the days of NHL'93.
Nothing but Net
Above-average controls make NHL '96 easy for most pros, even when set on the expert skill level. New moves like a quick stop and a 360-degree spin add to the game-play, and one-timer passing has been implemented to complement one-timer shots. But why pass when you can zip right past your opponents and put one straight through the goalie's pads?
- Be careful near the crease. Get in the goalie's way, and you'll wind up in the box with an Interference call.
- Checking a player into the penalty box or benches takes him out of the play.
The graphics measure up to this year's Genesis version, but they're not as sharp. With detailed sprites and several new animations, it's not that big a leap from last year's colorful look. However, the fights look more like wrestling matches as the players smother each other.
The sounds of NHL '95 were like listening to the game from the locker room, and in '96, it's more like the parking lot. A snappy new opening tune and voice feature try to cover for the weak Pong-like sound effects that include muffled groans and gunshot checks.
Fights go quickly and are hard to control, so know your moves ahead of time.
Back in the Freezer Followers of the NHL series will debate whether the '93 and '95 versions are better than the '94 and '96 versions. If you already own '95, keep skating past '96.
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Every year EA Sports' hockey games innovate and improve, and this year is no exception. NHL '96 retains its iron grip on the Stanley Cup with meteoric game- play and stellar new features -- though it doesn't revolutionize the game the way previous editions did.
The Great One
NHL always leads the pack in dazzling new moves. With a give-and-go pass, one-timer pass, and 360-degree spin, this version continues that streak. Other standard moves -- one-timer shot, drop pass, and so on -- remain in the lineup.
- Catch passes by switching to the receiving player as soon as possible and twisting his stick toward the puck.
- Use the new spin move to roil around checks.
The usual Season, Playoff, Regular, and Shootout modes provide more than enough action, and you can make trades and create players for all 26 NHL teams, which are equipped with the real '95 players. In a disappointing but realistic touch, no All-Star teams were included because of the strike.
Don't despair, though -- fighting's back! This NHL wisely corrects the biggest shortcoming of the previous versions: If the competition overheats, you can pound your opponent into the ice! Unfortunately, the view doesn't zoom in on the fisticuffs, and the subsequently muddled action won't entirely quench your bloodlust.
When things get hot in front of your net, have one man lay down in front of the goalie, then switch to a defenseman and gun for the puck.
The action rockets along at a much faster pace, and the tough computer players now cut off one-timer shots and play tighter defense, which makes for rich, strategic hockey. If you conquered earlier versions of NHL, the '96 edition will pose new challenges, especially with three new difficulty levels.
Use the new one-timer pass to quickly move the puck up the ice and create breakaways.
Realistic refinements to the gameplay also deepen the action. You won't automatically snare every pass that touches your sprite, but the familiar, acutely responsive controls let you easily pull off every move that your player is capable of in real life.
The graphics return to the style of NHL '94 with smaller, less detailed sprites that move with greater fluidity and grace. Fun animations (players grab different body parts for different injuries) strengthen the visual appeal. Solid new sound effects, such as the dungeonlike creak of the penalty-box door and the crushing thumps of checks, enhance the audio appeal.
To deck another player, repeatedly grab his shirt and pummel him in the head.
NHL '96 stands tall as the top hockey game, and it beats the pads off its SNES counterpart. If you own the '95 version, though, rent before you buy to make sure the improvements in NHL '96 are worth the green.
- When a weak-shooting defensive player has the puck on a breakaway, crank a slap shot from the blue line and try for the rebound.
- Pass from one side of the net to a player on the other (which should cause the goalie to move after the puck), to crank in a one-timer.