Gretzky (1)

Genre: Sports
Year: 1997
Developed by: Software Creations
Published by: Midway Games
Platforms: N64, Playstation
Feeling Like: The Good One

I’m in the seventh grade, and I can’t get my mascara to stop running. My high heels are killing me and the knot in my necklace is irritating the back of my neck. I was about to go on stage as Isabelle Channing, lover of the Phantom of the Opera in Glenlyon Norfolk’s production of the House of Frankenstein. It was my first real go at theater and thankfully the last time I had to wear lipstick.

I wasn’t nervous and managed not to embarrass myself. A few bad improvised lines were uttered to be sure, but I found the biggest challenge was avoiding Mr. Ollech’s room. Some of the crew (fellow Grade 7’s) had set up an N64 and weren’t letting any silly play distract them from cruising waves in Wave Race 64 and having mini tournaments with the real star of the show, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey ’98.

If you go back to the late 90s, every sports game was arcade-y. Early attempts to recreate sporting experience were considered a success if you could make out what sport it was at a glance, and having real player names on the box scores. For the most part, developers focused on fast, furious action. Games like this were not concerned with reality at all, to their benefit.

Gretzky (2)
Like having offsides, or concussion protocol

Other than passing, skating and shooting, Turbo was the core gameplay mechanic. If your skater’s arrow was white, you could burst by defenders with a boost of speed reserved for Sonic the Hedgehog, or Luis Mendoza. Alternatively, you could body check somebody into the middle of next week. Obviously, the Player of Department Safety is not concerned with an illegal check to the head, or obeying the laws of gravity. All you need to know is that it’s immensely satisfying and continuously hilarious to see opposing players do a flip in the air after you pummel their body and steal the puck.

The other function of turbo (is there anything it can’t do?) was to blast your shot so hard that it turned into a fiery comet of death. A ballistic missile that would scorch the net to cinders. It was always worth your time to attempt to do this.

But it’s not exactly a sophisticated system. The announcer’s tirades of “HE SCOOORES” or “THAT GOALIE’S A WALL” grates on your ears as much as the graphics rake your eyes. Eventually, you’ll learn that it’s not the quality of the shots you take on the goalie, but how many shots before one eventually goes in. But it all flows so damn well, like a river that’s unconcerned with topography. The goals always look incredible. Goalies dramatically flop around in the outdated stand up style. Players launch physically impossible one-timers from all angles directly on target. The more said about the Loony Tunes-esque goal that has the goalie fly back into the net and crash into the back boards, the better.

You may be interested in learning what modes there are in the game, or what the rosters are, but you won’t find that sort of information here. All I can tell you is that it’s never a good idea to have a hockey video game in a Canadian classroom a few hours before a stage production. Particularly not one where goalies can become literal walls, or where the puck glows nine different colors constantly, or where 3 on 3 isn’t reserved just for overtime, or where sleek tic-tac-toe-tic-tic-tic-tac-toe-tac goals are the norm, not the exception.

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