Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey | Retro Review | Nintendo 64 - TheFamicast.com: Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, November 27, 2020

Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey | Retro Review | Nintendo 64

by Danny Bivens

Gloves off. 
Arcade style sports games have a wide appeal. They can be fun for people that have no idea how the rules of the real sport work or they can be a somewhat relaxed way for hardcore fans to get into a video game version of a sport that they love. Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the Nintendo 64 is a perfect example of this. Not only was it the first sports game on the platform, it was also the first game to offer four player support. For all of you out there with warm and fuzzy memories of the game, is the Gretzky’s 3D Hockey best left in the inner recesses of your brain, or is it still worth playing today? That’s what I’m going to talk about here. 

I’ll be the first to admit that while, yes, I was aware of Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the platform, it was actually something I haven’t tried out until quite recently. I’m not the biggest hockey fan out there, but I would occasionally watch the sport back when I lived in America. As for the game itself, there are a few different options when it comes to modes - Play Game (get right into the action), Play Season and Practice. There are also options to view Records (a variety of stats including Wayne Gretzky’s career statistics) and Setup where you can change a variety of in game options. 
Before we move on to the gameplay, I should note that with the season, you do have some additional options. You can play an “arcade” mode which puts you against every team in each division to win. If you lose, you can keep playing the team until you win. You are also able to play through an abbreviated 25 game season or a full 82 game season if you like. Gretzky 3D does offer a “simulation” option that allows 3, 4 or 5 players per team. While I think it’s a good idea to try to tap into more simulation aspects of the sport, it doesn’t feel much different in my opinion. In one simulation style game of 5v5 hockey, I was in a shoot-out that ended in a 22-17 finish. Not exactly simulation style hockey there, but still fun. 

Controls sound a little bit difficult at first, but are pretty simple once you get the hang of things. On offense, you can pass the puck with B and shoot with A or Z. When a CPU controlled player on your team has the puck, you can still kind of decide what you want them to do. By pressing B or A, you can make them pass or shoot. You can also press R to immediately control the player. Defense allows players steal, check and hook their opponents. After a little bit of time with the game, you’ll be flying around the ice, checking fools, fighting, and scoring goals in no time. 
Visuals here are…well, they are very reminiscent of 3D games made in 1996. While the player models themselves definitely look the part overall, don’t expect to come into the experience seeing clear representations of the on ice players - things here look very cookie cutter with there being minimal distinction between the faces. Uniforms and the general use of proper team logos and branding are pretty well done. While the textures are a bit on the blurry side, they’re clear enough to know what Midway was going for. On top of all of this, the animations of the on-ice players look pretty good, and nice touches, like water bottles flying off of the goalie nets directly hit are included. In terms of performance, the game doesn’t skip a beat, running smoothly at pretty much all times. This aspect is extremely important, too, given the high speed, twitchy nature of the game. 

I need to mention that although this game does offer four player support (not only that, it was the FIRST N64 game to do this), that is one aspect of the game that I was unable to try out. Like many of you out there I’m sure, at this point in my life, it’s just more difficult to get friends over for the sole purpose of playing old school games. Still, I imagine it would be a ton of fun and just absolutely insane to have that number of people controlling players on the ice. Multiplayer would definitely add to the longevity of the game for sure.

Japan Connection
Hockey isn’t really a big deal in Japan. While I think that people know what the sport is in general, interest remains pretty low. There was a Japan only league in Japan called the Japan Ice Hockey League, but that folded in 2004 as remaining parties joined another group called the Asia League Ice Hockey. In this group, there are teams from Japan, Korea and one from Russia. I haven’t seen any games myself, but that’s something that’s on my bucket list. 

Now, as for Gretzky’s 3D hockey and its Japanese release...The game was released on February 28, 1998, almost a year and a half after the initial North American release in late 1996. While Midway was involved in some fashion, publishing duties were billed to GameBank - the guys responsible for publishing two Midway titles on the platform - Doom 64 and Hexen. Just in case you’re keeping score at home, these were the only three games that GameBank published on the platform in Japan. As for the localization, not much has changed outside of adding Japanese text to the game. The audio play by play is still in English here and given the lack of popularity for the sport to begin with, that was probably the right call for GameBank to NOT dump a ton of money into the game for Japanese voice.
Gretzky's 3D Hockey isn’t that hard of a game to find, even complete if you look hard enough. I found my complete Japanese copy for something like ¥1,000 ($10 USD). Heck, even the North American version complete isn’t that expensive or hard to come by - I found that one for a few bones at a local game shop while vacationing in the States back in 2018. As always, happy hunting!

Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey is a good example of a sports game done right. While it’s relatively simple, there still is some depth included in the package with the season mode. Still, players will likely find the most enjoyment out of this game with friends. It’s relatively cheap and can make home parties with the right group people a lot of fun.

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