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Letters to Le Coq

The staff at Le Coq Sportif just loves to hear from you, our valued readers. Unfortunately, we no longer have room in the issues to print the "Letters to Le Coq" section like we did in the good ol' days. That's why we've brought "Letters to Le Coq" to our homepage. Now you can once again have your questions about hockey answered by the wacky staff of Le Coq Sportif for all the world to see! So if you'd like to have your letter on our homepage, simply send your questions or recipes for brownies to...

sportif@oak.westol.com



Question 1:

My question is, when is the NHL '96 review coming out? It's been "coming soon" for a while now. Keep up the great work.

Kevin Murphy
(address withheld to protect the innocent)

LE COQ SPORTIF: Kevin, that is a very valid question, and one I'm sure is on the minds of many a Le Coq reader. The continual delay in posting a review of NHL '96 to the web page was once again brought on by a tragic mishap here at the offices of Le Coq Sportif... which, as many long time readers already know, can be found in the majestic 32-story Sportif Towers located in the thriving metropolis of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

It seems that someone accidentally changed the dosage amount on my medication's prescription label. And after consuming a much larger amount of said medicine over a span of roughly three days, I was knocked loopy and ran around the offices claiming to be Aunt Bea from the old "Andy Griffith Show." The problem has since been corrected and I'm back to my good ol' self... see, now I just break the Prozac in half.

Anyway, I will now give you my review of NHL '96 for the Sega Genesis... It blows. That's not to say that it isn't a tremendous improvement on NHL '95, because it is. It's just that we here at Le Coq Sportif expected so much more. While there was a lot of fine tuning done to make the game superior to '95, the same problems that plagued the previous year's version reamin in '96. Here now is a quick checklist of both the good and the bad about NHL '96:

THE GOOD

- The sound effects and music are vastly superior to those found in '95.

- Graphics on the set-up screens have also been improved tremendously. The ones on '95 seemed unfinished.

- The graphics on the game screen were also spruced up with several new player animations including head-over-heels collisions and more jubilant goal celebrations. The ice surface was also made more proportionate to a real life rink.

- Fights are back. However, this time only fighters fight. So you will no longer see Joe Sakic and Adam Oates mixin' it up like in the original NHL Hockey. The way a fight starts is also cool. The two players square up and face each other, but one of the combatants has to press the 'B' button to drop the gloves and go. If no one presses the button, then both men just get roughing penalties. Once the gloves do hit the ice, the fights also look a bit more realistic, although a pattern similar to the one in the first NHL will insure a KO everytime. And if you don't think fighting should be part of the game, there is an option to turn it off. Unfortunately, the game made a critical error in having the teams play 4-on-4 while the fighters are in the box. Not only does this take away from the realism of the game, but it also reeks havoc with stacked penalties.

- Players can now be injured for more than one game at a time. Unfortunately, now it seems evertime there is a big hit, somebody gets injured.

- The spin-o-rama is also quite spiffy. Now all you have to do is press the direction you want to skate and hit the 'start' button and your player will perform a near perfect imitation of the great Denis Savard. However, everyone on the game can do a spin-o-rama, not just the guys with high agility ratings. Which, of course, means Kjell Samuelsson can now spin and twirl like a circus chimp.

THE BAD

- While the ice surface looks a bit better and there are new player animations, the actual players themselves are smaller.

- The score is no longer always in the corner of the screen. This may sound like something little, but it's really annoying.

- Goaltenders are way too good. They fixed the automatic wrap-around goal problem of '95, but the programmers seemed to overcompensate. Now every goaltender on the game is near flawless on scoring chances from the slot and wing. The only reliable way to score is to rip long shots on goal and crash the net for rebounds. If that doesn't work, try firing from outside the blueline. More goals are scored from the neutral zone than the slot.

- While players release their shots much faster in '96, it doesn't really matter since the goalies are so good. You also don't have to worry about missing the net. No matter where you shoot from, the puck will always find its way on net. This makes picking corners almost obselete, now all you have to do is cross the red line and fire. This fact makes the game extremely lame. I prefer the good ol' days of NHL '94 when you could skate down the wing, look the net over and pick your spot. If you hit... great. If not, the puck was off the boards and already headed the other way. And nothing was cooler than sneaking your way through the defense and picking the goalie's five-hole. Those days are long gone in '96.

- Positions are also meaningless in NHL '96. Forwards can now be put back on defense and vice versa. While this is cool for the power play, forwards that drop back to the blueline should suffer in the defensive zone. However, there is no change in a player's game once he switches positions. The truely sad thing is that even if you keep your forwards as forwards and your defensemen on defense, they still won't play their respective positions. More often than not you'll find that your defensemen are always up on the play while one of your forwards is always hanging back on 'D'. And even if your forwards are up on offense, don't expect them to play their right position.

- The game's "improved defensive scheme" basically consists of having one guy standing between the hash marks in the defensive zone at all times, even when the puck is in the other end. And, has mentioned earlier, that player is rarely a defenseman.

- The biggest problem with the game is once again the fact that the players are all basically interchangeable, and lack any individualism. It doesn't matter if Brett Hull or Basil McRae is skating the wing, everyone skates and shoots the same. Remember the good ol' days of the first NHL when just the sight of Bernie Nicholls, Mike Gartner, or James Patrick winding up to shoot sent the Rangers' opposition running for the hills. And who can forget the quickness of Theo Fleury, the strength of Cam Neely, and the all encompassing greatness of Mario Lemieux. Lemieux is still good on '96... wait a minute, maybe that was Len Barrie... nevermind.

- Finally, the player control also bites. Guys zip around the ice like they've been munchin' on Pez for the past several hours. Forget about trying to do any snazzy moves on breakaways. Unless you make your deke the instant you cross the blueline, you'll just helplessly crach into the net. However, after several months of testing and research, I finally came up with the reason why the game control is so terrible in NHL '96 and in NHL '95. In these two games when you press the control pad, the first thing to respond is the player. The puck will remain in the same spot, but your player will shift from one side to the other. In the older games, the puck moved first, then the player. This allowed you to deke easier on breakaways and stickhandle through the tightest of defenses. Until this problem is corrected, all future NHL games are doomed.

Well, there you have it. NHL '96 for the Sega Genesis is yet another disappointment from EA Sports. Maybe it's just that the day of the 16-bit platform has passed, and it will be up to the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn to raise the once proud NHL Hockey series to the next level. This excuse would be reasonable if it weren't for the fact that head-to-head battles on the original NHL Hockey still create excitement around the ol' offices. Yes, the NHL Hockey series has seen better days. Le Coq Sportif recommends that you save your money on '96, and instead try to find an old copy of the original or even NHL '94. Both deliver the fun and excitement that the most recent versions so desperately lack.

So, thanks for the letter, Kevin, but I have to go now... Andy's bringin' Barney home for dinner and I'm going to make a chocolate cake for dessert. That is, of course, if Opie hasn't eaten all the frosting yet...


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