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NHL 2004 Package Art
†GENRE
††Sports
†DEVELOPER
††EA Sports
†PUBLISHER
††EA Sports
†NUMBER OF PLAYERS
††1-4
†CONNECTIVITY
††no
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NHL 2004

Like Nike in their respective field, EA Sports and EA Games may not have the best product out there but they certainly have the street cred. to be given the benefit of the doubt and the marketing prowess to drive that confidence to you wallet. Is NHL 2004 the best new simulation hockey game for the GameCube this year? Yes. Is it the best game on the market; unfortunately, no. Segaís NHL 2K4 is far superior to this title but GameCube owners wonít have the chance to play that title since Sega threw in the towel on the toddler titillating GameCube.

Thatís not to say that NHL 2004 is a bad title. Far from it. With some new features including a new fighting engine & some amplified right stick controls, this franchise has evolved into a solid game this year. However, I have to admit that the AI superiority in last yearsí Sega NHL series is still far superior, and because of that Iím debating whether to stick with last yearís Sega title or step up to this yearsí EA title. Thatís not a testament to how poor NHL 2004 is but rather, the incredible hockey engine that Visual Concepts did on their incredible NHL 2K series. Since the ESPN title didnít come out for GameCube this year Iíll be comparing NHL 2004 to last yearís 2K3.

visuals

First and foremost; Sega take note, this is how you do player indicators, turbo meters and fatigue bars. You donít do brown lines on a black background or a black player indicator so you canít see when you have the puck. EA keeps things clear and precise in terms of visuals. You wonít have to squint to check things in terms of fatigue and who has the puck.

EAís animations and player models are definitely superior to Segaís title. The game looks spectacular in every aspect. From excellent checking animations, to the very cool in game cut scenes, EA makes Sega series look like the ugly sister. But then again, you date one type of girl for her looks you marry another type for her depth and replay value. Using that Analogy, EAís title will certainly give you that Keanu reaction whoah initially, but graphics can only carry a game so far...

audio

Sound is another category which EA manages to edge out Segaís title. The announcing tandem of Jim Hughson (a favorite Satan look-a-like of mine) and Craig Simpson give the game that Rogers Sportsnet feel (Toronto Joke). While EA has toned down some of the fluffery in the commentary; it still feels repetitive and not insightful enough to keep me listening.

In terms of the audioscape, everything is here. From hits, to skates scraping the ice to players yapping. Not to mention that the game features the EA sports Trax so thereís lots of music to get your teenage sister excited about. Really well done overall, and far better than Segaís effort.

gameplay

If you've been reading Nintendojo for a while now most of you should know that Iím a diehard sports fan. So Iím going to hit you with a clichť: Have you ever heard the comment "They look good on paper, but thatís why we play the games on the field, not on paper." ? NHL 2004, from the presentation by way of Audio/Visual and even the off ice features of the dynasty mode, seems to be in the lead but once the two hockey engines hit the ice, Sega takes them to the woodshed and gives them a wicked beating.

While EA sports have definitely improved the dullard A.I. of last yearís game, I still find nuances in Segaís A.I. controlled players that freak me out to this day. Positional crossovers during a breakout play, players diving to stay onside, pinching at the right time. While EA has definitely improved their A.I. itís more of an improvement in positional play and the defenceís ability to shut you down with a check or poke check. Itís not about KNOWING where to go and filling holes on the ice, Itís as if EA is trying to round out their game while Sega said, forget how it looks and sounds, lets just make it play like great hockey.

In any event, EA has definitely made an effort to tighten up their engine. Most notably, I like the use of the right stick control. While last yearís deke control via the C stick felt sloppy, this yearsí deke control feels sharp and crisp in itís movement. In addition there are more options in terms of hitting and passing this year that certainly add to the gameplay. Some reviewers are raving about the fighting system with EAís latest effort. I still think NHL Hitz 2002ís fighting is the champion hands down. So I wonít even go there.

Where EA has been focusing all of their attention on their sports titles lately is their dynasty modes. They create these things for people who will never see a girl naked unless they pay for it and subsequently are "inbetween jobs" for the last ten years. I mean, it is crazy how much stuff there is to whip through in this mode. You basically start a team from Toronto Maple Leafs level (e.g. the fungus at the bottom of the barrel); you then have to coach/GM the team to gain experience points through wins, Stanley cups etc. in order to acquire things like new training facilities, staff to train your players, a new jumbo jet with a private bathroom and so on. In short; you build the team into a worldclass organization thatís a true winner (e.g. The Greatest Hockey Team of All timeÖGoÖ Habs!).

You also establish things like TV contracts based on performance, ticket prices, etc. I would love to go full bore into this mode but I just donít have the time in my lifestyle. Suffice it to say that you can absolutely lose yourself managing a team. This is the deepest any hockey game has gone in a dynasty mode and for the managerial freaks out there, this game is for you. Avoid Segaís hockey title and go forth to balance the books.

Overall, EA offers more features but I still favor the gameplay of Segaís title. I take things as one game / season at a time. So if you want to head into a twenty game dynasty EA's NHL 2004 is for you. In the end, the game feels tighter but still has that arcade feel to it when compared to Segaís NHL 2k3. If I want arcade hockey, I go to the source: HITZ.

multiplayer

Thereís nothing like a tic tac toe play that ends with a one timer slap shot and then a pulverizing cross check to your buddiesí defenseman as the puck is sliding into the net that ends with "Eat the grits from the poop shoot baby! Eat up!! Yeeeeah." Hockey is such a fantastic sport; It has the speed of auto racing, the grace of ballet, the violence of football and absolutely nothing to do with soccer. How can you not want to get a bunch of buddies and tear up the ice?

overall

NHL 2004 is an excellent hockey video game. It sets a precedent for game mode depth. In particular, its dynasty mode is sick and twisted in terms of its Madden-esque depth. The players AI has been improved and this was a must fix portion of the game from last year. While I still feel that this game should be tightened further into the simulation that Madden is, I feel that most Americans who donít appreciate/understand hell on ice will probably enjoy playing this title. As for the back bacon eating hosers out there, unless you want to be like Slats and manage your way to a Cup, youíll want to stay on the ice and marvel at the tight defensive team play of Segaís NHL 2K3.

Both games of hockey are excellent, it just depends on what youíre looking for. Now if only Sega or EA would add a post game nudey bar and beer mode Iíd be in heaven.

final score 8.8/10





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Staff Avatar Eric Mattei
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"Lost like tears in rain"


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