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HW Video Game Week: NHL 04

Video game week continues with a look back at NHL 04.

The All-Star himself, Dany Heatley, was the cover player (briefly) for NHL 04.
The All-Star himself, Dany Heatley, was the cover player (briefly) for NHL 04.

One of the best aspects of hockey fandom are the video games. From the release of Nintendo's Ice Hockey in 1988, there have been a wealth of hockey games that have made an impression on casual and die-hard hockey fans alike. During Hockey Wilderness' Video Game Week, we'll be re-visiting our favorites. Today we have former HW staff member and current blogger at Team of 18,001 Giles Ferrell breaking down EA's NHL '04

When one thinks of the better NHL games EA Sports has ever produced, NHL 04 should be one of your first thoughts.

Despite graphics, little else changed with the EA franchise between NHL 94 and NHL 03. NHL 04 was the game that A) took major strides in giving gamers the most realistic game play and B) put EA in the lead in terms of who had the best NHL game franchise (a lead they have not relinquished in the 10 years that have followed).

The big reason for the major strides in game play was the enhancements EA made in puck control, skating, board play, hitting, and fighting. The changes were very evident from day one and gave the user the most realistic hockey video game of its time. These major changes helped shape the next decade of the EA franchise.

Another major change came in the dynasty mode, which allowed you to make just about every decision (player contracts, drafting, scouting, trades, etc.) for your team, all the way down to how you decorate your office as the team's GM. Hopefully, you ran your front office better than the Edmonton Oilers have the past decade.

Not at the top of the list of big things to appreciate about this game, but was new compared to its predecessor (NHL 03), was the Elite League feature. Germany's DEL, Sweden's Elitserien, and Finland's SM-Liiga were the three Elite Leagues added to the game for general game play. This feature is still evident 10 years later as six different leagues spanning from the Canadian Junior Leagues to the European Elite leagues were a part of NHL 14.

Something else that was first introduced in this game was the online play, allowing one to take their talents up against anyone else in the world. It was pretty nice to be able to play a two player game and not have them sitting right next to you.

The cover athlete for NHL 04 was none other than former Wild extraordinaire Dany Heatley back in his Atlanta Thrashers days. But he was soon taken off the cover after the Dan Snyder incident and replaced with Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. The first shipments of NHL 04 still featured Heatley as the cover player, but from the second shipments of the game on, Sakic was on the cover.

Soundtrack wise, NHL 04 is one of the best in the franchise's history (and in this writer's opinion, one of the best video game soundtracks ever). You can find the entire track here in the video below and let the nostalgia sink in for the next hour.

Perhaps the greatest testament to this game is the fact it has been rebuilt online to reflect all current teams, jerseys, rosters, etc. So for instance if you wanted to suit up as the 2013-14 Minnesota Wild in their alternate green jerseys, you can do so in the rebuild. I have yet to take part in this, but have heard great things about this.

The EA NHL franchise has come a long way in the 11 years since the release of NHL 04. Even now with all the popular changes the franchise has made, the 04 version still resonates as one of the best in history.

Well I'm definitely in the mood to play a game now. Anyone want to hook up their PS2 to their dial up internet and join me for a game?