Friday, September 22, 2006

Videogames of the Damned - NHL All-Star Hockey

There was bad Sega Saturn games, and there were bad Sega Saturn games. Devoted fans have always insisted that Sega's console unfairly got the shaft in the 32-bit era, but there's a very simple reason why Playstation steamrolled Saturn - Sega was churning out some really bad games.

Case in point: NHL All-Star Hockey. This was released late in 1995, sometime around the holiday season. PSX was all that anyone would talk about, and poor Saturn, despite some good games in Virtua Fighter Remix, Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon, and Worldwide Soccer, was struggling. The hardware was a wreck, and too many games seemed to be struggling. VF and Daytona are the better-known examples, but at least the polygon glitching didn't ruin the gameplay, which was examplery. Then the supply of games slowed to a trickle, divided between the underwhelming (Virtua Racing), the unnecessary (Myst, NBA Jam TE), and the awful (Ghen War). Sega's hockey game was the worst of the whole rotten bunch.

NHL All-Star Hockey brought me to within an inch of selling my Saturn for a Playstation. It was damn near the last straw. This may possibly be the single worst sports game ever made. I'm serious.

Chances are, you've never seen this game in action (chances are, nobody's reading this post, either, so big freakin' deal). Imagine a darkened hockey rink, one that struggled to even move, one that was barely lit. Did Sega forget to turn off the lights? Can the Saturn not even properly render an ice rink without glitching and chopping apart? Then the players come onto the ice, and you notice something very, very wierd: they're all sprites.

Sure, it was still some time before developers went fully polygonic on the sports games, but you could look at Sony's Gameday and see a quality, next-gen product. The sprites in NHL All-Star Hockey were fucking cardboard cutouts. I don't think they even drew the players at different angles, just the left and the right. Do you remember those table-top hockey games, with the bars and knobs? That's exactly was it was.

Paper Mario - The Hockey Game.

I'm probably not remembering correctly, but the player sprite animation was terrible and virtually non-existent. The graphics from EA's NHL Hockey games on my Genesis were better than this.

Still, you hope that somehow the gameplay will redeem itself, just as quality gameplay saved too many Saturn games such as Pebble Beach Golf Links and Virtua Racing and the aforementioned others. Forget it. The game played like bollocks, complete utter bollocks. You're pretty much forced to pull out the dictionary to find swear words to describe just how bad and unplayable it is.

Basic fundamental gameplay - passing, skating, shooting - simply does not exist. It's Catholics call "the mystery of faith." Why doesn't my player complete the pass? How am I supposed to control my player competently? How do I score a goal in this thing? Any why the hell won't someone turn on the lights in this rusty shed? All you can really do is light a candle, some incense, and meditate on the unanswerable questions of the universe.

What happened to Sega? They made a lot of good sports games on the Genesis. The only sports they ever got right was soccer and baseball, and they both required two or three tries to get it right. You'd think this was the work of complete amateurs, not the cocky rebels who stole half the videogame market from Nintendo.

Well, there's still some good comedy to come from NHL All-Star Hockey. My favorite bit is Coach LaBeau. Coach LaBeau hosts a video segment during one of the intermissions between periods. This really is one of the classics of FMV, right up there with Duelling Firemen.

Coach LaBeau's in the locker room, dishing out advice to you on how to win. Important things, like how to properly skate, and how to keep control of the puck. Did you know that you can use the blades of your skates to kick the puck around? I'll bet you never knew that. Did you also know that this advice is completely fucking worthless in this game? Surprise!

The great thing about Coack Labeau was his temper. Man, oh, man, is this guy always pissed. Was he related to Ditka? The opening to his segment is a ESPN-style video montage - one of the clips shows the Coach smashing a chair. Damn, he must have been shown the game he was starring in. I don't blame him.

No comments: