There are a few video game athletes that are so overpowered, such an absolute truck, that when you were a kid you’d fight your friends over playing as whatever team they were on Bo Jackson in Temco Super Bowl comes to mind, but unlike like Bo, I don’t know diddly about football video games. All I know is that playing as Jackson as a kid was like having a Game Genie hooked up without having to type in all of those codes.
Mike Tyson? He probably should get a mention in this category, though you can’t play as him. Little Mike can only hope that whoever’s controlling him has quick reflexes and pattern recognition or else he’s getting knocked into next Tuesday and referee Mario is counting down into a KO.
But this is a hockey blog, so we’ll be focusing this debate on hockey video game athletes. In NHL 94, one of the greatest sports games of all-time, most folks believe that Jeremy Roenick is the greatest athlete in the game. Jeremy Roenick certainly agrees:
“It’s one of my claims to fame,” Roenick said. “I’m very proud of it. I’m down in the annals of history, whether it’s being on the ice or in video games. I like that aspect. Whoever it was at EA who gave me the [great] rating in ‘94, you’ve left me something to be proud of for eternity.”
Roenick’s a powerhouse in the game. There’s absolutely no arguing that point. The number of YouTube videos of Roenick highlights is bizonkers.
(I don’t know why they chose “More than a Feeling” for this but it adds something, I think)
The puck is glued to his stick in a way that no other player can control it. Poke check JR? Pffft, he’s just going to slap that puck right past your goalie. His in-game stats are jacked up past where they should be. In 1992-1993 (the stats EA used to base his ratings off of, since NHL 94 was released on March 15, 1993). Roenick finished with 50 goals and 57 assists, which is an incredible campaign. Obviously, he deserves to be a standout player in NHL 94.
I do not think that he is the best in the game.
If we’re assuming NHL 94 is the greatest NHL video game ever put together (and honestly, it is) then whoever the best player in that game is should be considered the best player in a NHL video game. Yes, I know that’s a logical fallacy, but roll with it.
I posit that the best player in NHL 94 is Mario Lemieux when handled by the right player. Michael Brook, in this outstanding interview with Kill Screen, explains how they rated the players - and JR was rated high because of size and speed. Size was key because back in the ‘90s, a giant, bone crunching hit was a major selling point for a hockey video game. Now, a big enough hit in NHL 20 can get you kicked out of the game. There was no danger of that on the SNES.
In contrast to JR, Wayne Gretzky wasn’t fast and he certainly wasn’t big, so the best player in the game had a lower rating. Finesse doesn’t necessarily translate to a 16 bit video game the same way that it does to our modern games, so Gretzky wound up being underpowered. The same with someone like Brett Hull.
Mario Lemieux featured on an absolutely stacked Penguins team that was almost always my backup to playing as the Blues. According to Brooks, Lemieux was held back for being “injury prone,” which sounds like a pretty awful way of saying “he had cancer.”
Exhibit A for why Lemieux was a solid player in NHL 94
That shot had eyes.
Lemieux could lay a hit with the best of them, too - without that check off the faceoff, Kevin Stevens’ goal doesn’t happen:
Finally, there’s this accomplishment. Keep in mind that periods on NHL 94 were 5 minutes long each, and sometimes the action could turn into a log-jam around the net. 12 goals in a game is tough to pull off, but 12 goals in a game for one player?
There’s your proof. Lemieux was the superior player.
Or, well, there’s a NHL 94 player out there who’s really good and decided to play using Lemieux. This really isn’t an academic argument. If you want something based on cold, hard facts, here’re the player ratings for NHL 94. Turns out that the best player in the game is...
Oh, it’s Lemieux.