In the wake of NBA Jam, developers attempted to translate the arcade magic to other sports. Some games took off in their own right, such as NFL Blitz. Many others fell off the face of the Earth. Not actually sure where Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey stands in the pantheon of arcade sports games, but it’s one that I remember fondly.
Released on November 11, 1996, this arcade hockey title actually has the distinction of being the first four-player game on the Nintendo 64. Though I missed the game at launch, it’s one I stumbled on years after its initial release. Don’t exactly remember if it was a game I rented before buying, but I do remember buying this used at a low price.
By default, this is a 3v3 hockey game with the camera slightly raised along the side of the ice. The action moves at a brisk pace, as players zip across the screen. Though the characters look rather blocky, the game maintains a consistent frame rate, making it still fun to play today.
While you don’t get access to gravity-defying dunks, you do get access to a flaming slap shot that will set the net ablaze if it connects. Not as memorable or as creative, but you can still score in other fancy ways, such as with one-timers and juke moves.
Like the game’s namesake, you’re going to score a lot. It’s not very hard to carve your way through the defense, and the goalie AI is a bit too loose. Goal counts in double-digits are commonplace, which is fine when playing with friends and you’re having a silly time.
Though I couldn’t figure it out now, I vividly remember finding an exploit that allowed me to score every time. If you find it, expect your games to hit 100+ goals if you really want to push it. This is not a game you want to take that seriously.
That said, it does have a 5v5 simulation mode. You can choose a wider rink to accommodate, or even play 5v5 on the smaller 3v3 rink if you’re a masochist. Would highly recommend to switching the camera to an overhead cam for this, similar to the NHL series of games. If you want to play hockey with all the penalties on, go for it.
Personally, I prefer the arcade action of 3v3 with no rules. 5v5 with rules reminds me a lot of playing NHL 94, but again, its AI doesn’t really hold up for this style of hockey. Furthermore, it still has all the wacky physics and flaming shots, so you’re basically just playing arcade hockey with more dudes and more rules. With friends it’ll work better, but the fluidity of 3v3 works better here.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey is not a perfect game, but it’s still a very fun one. At its core, it’s still a fast and frenetic hockey game that will dazzle even casual sports fans with big hits, flaming shots, and amateur goalies fresh out of house league. Maybe you missed it back then, but it’s one that’s easy to find now at dirt cheap. One of the best value adds for your Nintendo 64 collection, even if your taste in sports games doesn’t go beyond NBA Jam.