RetroVision – EA Hockey’s Licensing Differences

EA Hockey on SEGA’s Mega Drive / Genesis, is considered by many be one of the most realistic sport sims of the 16-bit era. It also happens to be the very first game to feature the now globally recognised EA Sports logo, and as such brought with it a roster of fully licensed teams that no self respecting EA Sports game would be without. Well, at least it did in North America.

Upon release in 1991, gamers who picked up a copy of Electronic Arts’ NHL Hockey, as it was known stateside, would find themselves presented with a game filled with licensed content. Players could pick from any of the 22 teams from the 1991-92 NHL Season, alongside two All-Teams, all of which were kitted out with fully accurate logos and kits. That’s not all, as the game also included the National Hockey League itself, much like in today’s modern EA Sports titles.

Match & Team Select menu
The menu screen which allows you to select from the 22 teams that featured in the 1991-92 NHL season.

There were though some aspects that you would expect to have seen missing. For example, despite including the league and all of its teams, the only competition that can be played within the NHL is the Play-Offs, and not the preliminary league stages. This meant that much of the one player involved knockout matches played in a best of seven system.

Nevertheless, this didn’t heavily impact on the success and critical acclaim that the game received on release. Mainly because much of the game’s enjoyment can be found within its highly enjoyable two-player mode. In fact, when it came to the global release of the game, the gameplay would be even more of a focus point.

EA Hockey Boxes
The North American box art features the title “NHL Hockey” alongside logos from eight of the licenced teams. Whereas the European box art features no licencing and the new name of “EA Hockey”.

You see, when it came to the game’s global release, despite the gameplay being identical, the game itself looked decidedly different. This was evident just from simply taking a look at the North American and European box art. This difference in box art hinted at the major difference between the regional instalments of this classic game, essentially the official NHL licensing was only something that would be seen in North America.

As such, rather than a fully licensed National Hockey League including its 22 teams, global Hockey fans would have to settle for 22 different countries ranging from Canada to Luxembourg. This also meant that the game’s name was altered from NHL Hockey to EA Hockey, upon its release for the SEGA Mega Drive. Ultimately though, this difference wouldn’t matter to the fans who purchased the game.

New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers
Gameplay featuring the New Jersey Devils vs New York Rangers.

You see, regardless of both the licensing differences, and the varying levels of popularity that Hockey sees from country to country, NHL / EA Hockey became globally popular thanks to the quality of the gaming experience within. One that gave a perfect balance of the Arcade gameplay, and representation of the sport, and made players feel like they were a member of The Mighty Ducks. It even went as far as to include the hand to hand fighting that has become synonymous with the sport over the years.

All in all, the game was so well respected that it became the stepping stone that launched EA’s now annualised Hockey series. In turn, becoming one of the lynchpins of the EA Sports series of annual sporting sims. Just goes show you that whilst licenses certainly help, the quality of the gameplay will always win.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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