Mixed or average reviews - based on 39 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 15 out of 39
  2. Negative: 4 out of 39
Buy On
  1. Impresses with smooth, realistic game play and rib-cage-crushing intensity.
  2. 90
    It's gorgeous. The uniforms look like cloth (meaning they aren't shiny), while the ice and the plastic visors shine like the real thing. The physics are exciting and, because of the realism, the hits feel more devastating.
  3. Xbox Live integrates into this title and elevates it to a level not seen in hockey in years. While the game won't take the crown from "Blades of Steel," it certainly can hold its own against almost any hockey game out right now.
  4. Whilst this is Microsoft’s first venture onto the ice, it does quite a respectable job at recreating the action, speed and excitement of the game of hockey.
  5. A good game with solid animation, and a terrific passing system. The game may not be one of the top scorers in the league, but it set up the goal scoring opportunity very well.
  6. Features slick controls, an outstanding presentation, and challenging play. Unfortunately, the game’s AI is a little too challenging to the point of being too difficult.
  7. Part of a very stable genre, Rivals has no glaring flaws. It's only what other titles have in additional teams, game modes and animations that might be the difference.
  8. The most fun I’ve had in quite awhile is playing the Rivals pick-up games – a fast moving, no-sticks-barred, 3-on-3 game of ice hockey on a little ice pond out in the middle of nowhere.
  9. In essence (online play) transforms it from being a non-descript hockey title, to the hockey game to own. What more can we say?
  10. While it doesn’t compare to "ESPN NHL Hockey" in terms of better control and game play Rivals makes up for it with the XSN sports community which you can use to create virtual leagues and better online capabilities.
  11. Everything is here for great hockey; it just lacks the flair or polish of the competition, but in all fairness, this is a debut effort as opposed to the other games that have been around for years.
  12. The Live enabled play is a big plus. The rest is not on par with Rivals' rivals (sorry, bad pun) like EA, ESPN and Sega.
  13. Play Magazine
    Gameplay falls right where it should be - not too fast, not too slow - just like hockey should be. [Dec 2003, p.98]
  14. 75
    With all this going for it, it's a shame the single-player game is so humdrum.
  15. If you think you will play on-line, then it is worth getting.
  16. Much like a NHL expansion team that does unexpectedly well in its initial campaign but doesn’t have any realistic chance of competing for even a number-eight seed playoff spot, NHL Rivals 2004 is a good start for Microsoft’s hockey franchise, but needs many more superstar elements to challenge its competition in the hockey game arena.
  17. Official Xbox Magazine
    The biggest fault in Rivals is the A.I. - your teammates seem terminally lost, neglecting to chase loose pucks or go after rebounds. [Dec 2003, p.106]
  18. "NHL 2004" and "ESPN NHL Hockey" are still the cream of the crop, but don't be surprised to see NHL Rivals join them in another year or three.
  19. 70
    It doesn’t really do that much to excite you though, as it lacks something that makes the whole experience a let down from being an exciting prospect. The graphics are average and the sound not a great leap better.
  20. 70
    The control mechanics are intricate, though quick tic-tac-toe passes with the right stick, more in-depth faceoffs, and speedy line changes using the directional pad are nice features.
  21. A 95-mile per hour puck in the face! I’ve seen far worse first efforts in sports gaming, but I’ve seen no worse hockey efforts this year.
  22. The lack of anything truly innovative, and the so-so gameplay doesn’t offer any incentive to want to play the game for an extended period of time. I was not having fun with the game at all.
  23. 65
    The hockey in Rivals is very mediocre; the equivalent of a real-life hockey franchise that's just happy to be in the league and not intent on pursing championship glory.
  24. Worryingly, opposing computer-controlled teams seem to have a habit of always scoring in the third quarter from a cheaply-taken goal - I would have put this down to my poor play but the problem has been reported elsewhere.
  25. NHL Rivals 2004 is a rookie smashed into the boards by league veterans and does not stand a chance in its first season facing opponents ESPN and EA; fortunately rookies can always improve, but I am hanging my skates up for the remainder of this season.
  26. Despite a few nice features in Rivals (crowd noise, online play, and decent neutral zone play to name a few), overall the game falls flat. It's hard to get excited about this game knowing there are much better hockey simulations on the market.
  27. Doesn't do much to set itself apart from the competition, and, additionally, it has some rather problematic flaws that deteriorate its gameplay to the level of subpar, at best.
  28. The only major advantage that Rivals holds over the other Xbox hockey titles is XSN support, but even that can’t make up for the lackluster gameplay, absence of depth, and mediocre visuals.
  29. Problem is, if you are serious about your ice hockey games Rivals' online capability is one of the few things to get excited about.
  30. Xbox Nation Magazine
    Where the game falters is in the A.I. of CPU players; simply put, these guys fell kicking and screaming from the artificial-intelligence tree. [Mar 2004, p.99]
  31. GMR Magazine
    What it does do well is capture the back-and-forth flow of hockey, especially during odd-man rush situations, neutral-zone navigation, forechecking, and power plays around the goal. [Jan 2004, p.84]
  32. Game Informer
    The biggest problem with Rivals is that it doesn't feel like you're skating ice. [Dec 2003, p.174]
  33. netjak
    A decidedly average hockey game in a field of above average hockey games.
  34. Cheat Code Central
    Rivals does have one aspect I like and that is the online play. A chance for 10 on 10 is a video hockey fans dream come true. It plays smooth and seems better online and not by mistake.
  35. Kudos to Microsoft for trying something new, but if you are to continue this franchise next year, trying focusing on beating out the competition in options and just plain fun.
  36. My biggest problems, though, are with the unevenness of the penalties called and shots that go in.
  37. 40
    More like an expansion team than a Stanley Cup contender. With a sharper focus on either realism or arcade play combined with more standout graphics, next year's version could be bumped up to the first line.
  38. Simply fails to deliver what the player has paid for, which is as unforgivable as giving up a goal with ten seconds left in the period.
  39. GameNow
    The physics are off, the referee makes questionable calls, the line changes are ridiculous, and the gameplay is too sluggish to be fun. [Jan 2004, p.63]

Awards & Rankings

#30 Most Shared Xbox Game of 2003
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 21 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 21
  2. Negative: 1 out of 21
  1. BlueFalcon
    Mar 9, 2005
    There are a few things that this game does better than any other hockey series. But for the most part, it's not quite up to par. The There are a few things that this game does better than any other hockey series. But for the most part, it's not quite up to par. The graphics need a lot of work, but I very much like the different camera angles during replays. I think this series could be a contender with some relatively minor upgrades. But as it is, I wouldn't recommend it. Full Review »
  2. AnttiK.
    Jan 24, 2004
    Excellent game. The Real Suprise. I've played all new NHL-games and this is the best of all. I hope that next year custom soundtracks Excellent game. The Real Suprise. I've played all new NHL-games and this is the best of all. I hope that next year custom soundtracks are also available during gameplaying. Full Review »
  3. BillD.
    Dec 11, 2003
    I sometimes wonder who is pocketing the magazines.They loved EA NHL 2004 (which ea keeps handing us the same crap for the past 5 years) and I sometimes wonder who is pocketing the magazines.They loved EA NHL 2004 (which ea keeps handing us the same crap for the past 5 years) and they don't like NHL Rivals(A good first year effort thats more fun than EA) Do they know anything about the sport?This game Is alot of fun!Sure it's gotta a few flaws but,for a 1st year effort,it is a good solid game.It not as deep as others.Controls are sharp,graphics are very crisp.Best arena music.The fighting engine is the best so far and it acyually works!.This game shine on the pro level . Its a blast to play.Could easily topple EA NHL with refinements and deeper play.Did I mention how fun this game is?If I had to pick only one hockey game this year .It would be Sega NHL2k4,but I would miss NHL Rivals alot. Full Review »