30 Days of Xbox: NHL Rivals 2004

Sports games age like fine wine, right?

It’s often said of me by my Vertical Hold co-host Adam Turner that I know nothing about sports. It’s not, strictly speaking, true.

It’s just that compared to the (near-mythical) “average Australian”, I care a lot less about sports.

I’m not lacking in knowledge, but certainly in that raw passion that so many of my country’s citizens have for games of bat and ball, and their seeming blind eye to the huge sums spent on such efforts to the near-exclusion of a lot of other pursuits.

But still, I know a little, and a lot of what I do know is because of my long-standing passion for video games. Ice Hockey is a fine example; I’ve never played (and never wanted to), but I’ve played more than a few of the games, and indeed attended a few live games as a result, because it’s quite a kinetic, watchable sport in my view.

I’ll admit I had also forgotten, right up until I started playing, that the one nut that Microsoft had trouble cracking with its original Xbox war chest (which was massive) was EA. That meant that early on the original Xbox was largely a FIFA, Madden and NHL-free zone. Clearly, Microsoft had to do something about that.

So Microsoft did what Microsoft does, and made its own, via the “XSN Sports” series. NHL Rivals 2004 is its ice hockey take, and it’s one that’s entirely playable in a basic way, which is pretty much the only way I’m going to appreciate the game anyway.

Sports games typically age badly, simply because of advancements in visuals if not play mechanics, but I can’t recall the last time I saw an NHL game on an Australian store shelf. Yes, there’s a national league here (no, really), but I guess they might not sell as well as something based around a more recognisable sport.

That’s understandable (games companies like making money), but regrettable, because it’s a tense, fun game to play, even if you don’t quite understand the rules around matters such as two-line passes or offsides.

I only played through the one game, a 1-1 draw between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Calgary Flames, although the commentary did have my better half complaining that every time the commentator mentioned “The Penguins”, she had visions of Burgess Meredith in a hockey game.

Actually, that would be an even better game idea: Batman Ice Hockey, based on the classic ’66 series. Somebody, make that game!

Still, despite my general sports apathy, I quite like Ice Hockey. If it were a little easier to attend the local games, or a little easier to watch the NHL from the comfort of my living room, I could see myself doing so pretty easily. Probably more easily than buying an NHL game at retail in Australia, in fact!

Fat Duck Tech Retro Xbox Game Rankings

  1. Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time
  2. Outrun 2
  3. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
  4. SSX Tricky
  5. NFL Street
  6. Disney Extreme Skate Adventure
  7. NHL Rivals 2004
  8. Rocky
  9. Spy vs Spy
  10. Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death
  11. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball

In the sports game pantheon, NHL Rivals can’t quite beat its NFL Street counterpart, because I can easily see myself dropping Street in for quick laughs where NHL is rather more serious. I’ll take silly most days.

Next up: Another sports game? Who’s picking these things? Oh yeah… me.

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