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If you're between the ages of 25 and 35, you probably look back fondly at Sega Genesis. It was the most perfect of all video game systems. Its controllers were sophisticated, but didn't take a Masters in Engineering and the dexterity of a Harvard neurosurgery resident to operate them. The graphics were 1990s tech (16 bit!), so they were real looking, but not real enough to keep you up until 3 in the morning in some role playing game, plotting a siege on Zangnar Castle with your buddy Gunter, who lives in Germany and keeps asking you to send him Levi's.
With Sega firmly entrenched as the best game system of the early 1990s, the games began to get pretty awesome. The Madden games began to develop into the juggernaut that they are today. The NBA games got a little more intuitive to play. And then came NHL '94.
It's tough to say who the person was in charge of developing this game over at EA Sports. What isn't tough to say is that this person deserves some kind of medal, maybe a Nobel Prize. The guy sat down and said, "OK, here's what's awesome about the game and here's what sucks. Let's keep all of the awesome things, and get rid of all the crappy things." They took out fighting, which never worked the way it should have (and didn't in future versions on the Sega platform). They left in the ability to spear someone and take them out of the game with a well-timed hit. They allowed you to turn off off-sides. And because there were only three buttons, changing your guy on the ice, passing and one-timing your shots wasn't all that difficult to do. They made a couple of absolutely kickass players, like Jeremy Roenick on the Chicago Blackhawks (who could pretty much score at will by going into the corner and coming across the crease) and Pavel Bure of the Vancouver Canucks (who was easily the fastest player and could kill on breakaways).
There was no better game to stay awake playing all night in college. And it wasn't only exciting to play; it was exciting to watch, which made setting up a tournament all the more fun. Not only that, the game could store your profiles and keep stats, so you could call someone out if they were particularly crappy at it. There was always one dude who just couldn't get the game. He'd try like hell to play it, but he'd get his ass kicked time and time again. The go-to excuse was always that the controller wasn't working and he'd quit, then someone would take over his game and all of the sudden the controller worked fine.
The proof of NHL '94's worthiness was NHL '95, which brought fighting back and tried to make the game more "real." The problem with that is that it became less fun (and more difficult) to play. For whatever reason, EA struck gold with NHL '94 that they just couldn't replicate.