NHL Rivals 2004 is the first NHL title for the Xbox, developed by MGS (Microsoft Game Studios), and the second title developed under the XSN Sports banner - the development team's first foray into hockey on console.
At the time of its release, the visuals in this game were its major selling point, with each player's face mapped onto their model ingame. The game features a fully animated polygonal crowd, tons of motion-captured animations, NHL licensed players, teams and arenas. The look and feel of the game are much different than games like EA's NHL series.
This was also the first hockey game on Xbox that let players play in online tournaments and leagues over Xbox Live and XSN Sports. Rosters were updated as the season went on via content downloads over Xbox Live, though were only available for a limited time.
Rivals 2004 features the gameplay mode of 3-on-3 pond hockey. This pickup-game style of play is meant for those who prefer instant action, and it can also be played over Xbox Live. Players can connect and join in on a recreational game intended to simulate the fun pickup games that many people played as kids.
The gameplay is arcade-like, with fast play and quick passing via a button or in specific directions using the analog stick.