NHL Hockey was the first entry in a franchise that is now nearly two decades old, EA's NHL series. The game provided a much more realistic game than most (if not all) other ice hockey video games available at its release.
NHL Hockey was the first NHL-licensed title on the Genesis, as well as the first game with an official NHL license since the 1980 Intellivision game NHL Hockey. The Intellivision title was merely NHL-branded for marketing and featured no official teams in the game. EA's NHL Hockey does, however, feature licensed teams and logos.
The gameplay in NHL Hockey is similar to the game's successors. Players can pass, shoot, and hit, as well as fight. Fights will occasionally break out after hits and, unlike other games like Blades of Steel, award no real advantage to the winner of the bout.
The camera perspective is EA's characteristic vertical-scrolling view, rather than most other hockey games of the time which adopted a TV broadcast style.
The European release of the game was re-titled as EA Hockey and did not feature the NHL license. As a result, the teams in the game were national teams. However, the teams were merely cosmetic skins of the NHL teams featured in the North American product.