Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Players: 1-4 (local only)
Nunchuk and Wii Remote Compatible
Mini Hockey Stick Peripheral
I had the chance to head to EA Canada last week to get a head start on my time with EA Sports first NHL title on the Wii called NHL Slapshot. After seeing this game at E3 in June of this year, it was a title that intrigued me given that EA Sports was finally bringing NHL to Nintendo’s home console. Well since that time the game has shaped up quite nicely, and having the time to sit with the developers in person while playing the final retail build really did help me understand all that has gone into making this title. So, is NHL Slapshot the game that was worth the wait for Wii owning hockey fans? I would have to say yes.
Visually, NHL Slapshot is a looker, Wii or not. I have to be honest with you here and let you know that I really did not expect the game to look and move this good. While at EA Canada, and when chatting with one of the producers, we talked about people at E3 thinking that it was a game on one of the ‘bigger’ consoles, and after watching, and playing it, I can see why. Interestingly enough, when asked what the graphics engine it is based on, I learned that they started with a PS2 build and customized it to take advantage of the Wii’s graphic capabilities.
Players are well animated as there are lots of hockey moves going on (e.g. dekes, shots, hits, falls. etc.) and the ice has that reflective look to it. Take a close look at when players skate; you will see their reflections, as well as the scoreboards reflection, early on in each period. As time goes by the ice gets dull and scratched up from skates and the clean and reflective look disappears.
In terms of the players themselves, the pro players manage to have a pretty good resemblance to their real counterparts. Sure, they don’t look exact, but you can tell who they are from Crosby to Nash to Ovechkin. What is also notable here is when you play any of the Peewee games with NHL players they are kid versions of themselves. It is pretty cool to see your favourite NHL player wearing a helmet and cage while on the ice as a young child.
As for the arenas, given the smaller amount of horsepower the Wii has compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3, there were some sacrifices but they all look pretty good. The crowd is 2D, but they are animated and help to make the atmosphere feel like a hockey arena. All the home arenas of each team have a look and feel that represents each one well. You’ll find appropriate scoreboards, seating patterns, and on-ice logos. Peewee and Bantam games are played in outdoor arenas that make for an enjoyable and original enough setting.
For you tech-heads out there, the game seems to be locked in at 60 fps with very little issues noted. It runs smooth and fast with bright colors throughout. You’ll find some special effects too such as a flame trail once a slapshot is launched. EA notes that the game runs with full 2X Anti-Aliasing. Pretty good stuff for what is supposed to be a much weaker console.
Audio in NHL Slapshot is also pretty good. You get play by play commentary from Bill Clement and Gary Thorne. It manages to help the gameplay by adding that touch of authenticity. It is not as in-depth as a true simulation game, but it really does get the job done. As for the sound effects, I found them to be a mixed bag. Pucks ringing of posts, on-ice chatter, and skates digging into the ice sounded great, but the sound of body checks and stick to stick passes sounded slightly off. This may sound like a minor gripe, but in a game that has so much going for it, including attention to detail, these mis-steps in sound were noticeable, but they are not a deal breaker. Finally, you’ll find a lot of recognizable music that plays in arenas, but the music soundtrack seems to be stuck in the late 80’s to late 90’s. The songs were good at one time, but now they can seem out of place. Overall the sound package is pretty solid.
NHL Slapshot is indeed a true hockey game, it is that simple. The amount of options and modes that this game has is impressive. Given that the word “Slapshot” is added to the well-known “NHL” initials, you’d think that it would be a watered down arcade experience. Sure, the game does have an arcadish feel now and then, but in the end you will find that there is more depth to the title then you might expect. There are 150 authentic teams, plus additional teams at the Peewee and Bantam levels. You will find CHL, AHL and NHL teams with their authentic logos and real players. You can also update NHL Slapshot’s rosters online using the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. Once your rosters are all in place you can fully edit your teams, edit your lines, and even edit your strategy. There is more depth than one would expect from this Wii hockey title.
The biggest thing that most will notice with NHL Slapshot is that you use a mini hockey stick to play the game. Yes, you heard me right, a mini hockey stick. Now I know that most are thinking that this will be another useless plastic peripheral for the Wii, but this belief is a real misconception. Playing NHL Slapshot with the stick is really fun, and makes a whole lot of sense. While the game can be played with just the Wii Remote and Nunchuk alone, it seems to be missing something if you don’t use that darn hockey stick.
Controlling the on-screen action is quite easy. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk lock into the included plastic mini-hockey stick. There is a brief video when first firing up the game that takes you through the steps of stick assembly, and putting the Wii Remote and Nunchuk where they belong. After getting that done, you’ll be taken through a tutorial on how to play the game with the new hockey stick peripheral.
You control your player with the analog stick and you pass using the A button. Shooting is done with a flick of the stick for a wrist shot. Pulling back and swinging through will result in a slapshot. You can body check by moving the stick in a cross check motion, you poke check by making a poking motion, and you can lift the stick of your virtual opponent by moving the hockey stick as if you were really lifting an opponent’s stick. These motion based controls are well implemented and I cannot think of any other developer who has pulled of these types of controls with the features of the Wii Remote. Of course there are some other button based controls such as switching your player, speed burst, and spin, which you will learn as you play the game more often.
For those newbies out there, or the real young ones, you can just use the Wii Remote to pass and shoot while the game handles everything else. There is no doubt that NHL Slapshot makes an effort to allow everyone a chance to play this game, in any one of the modes available. Kudos to EA Sports for allowing everyone in the family a chance to play.
As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few modes to keep all the hockey nuts interested. I am going to try to sum them up in a manner that won’t have you reading all day, while being able to let you know what the most important modes are.
EA’s NHL games on the bigger consoles allow you to play “Be a Pro” which is their career mode. Not to be outdone, NHL Slapshot has a mode called “Peewee to Pro”. This is essentially their Be a Pro mode. Here you start out as a 10 year old kid and take him through the life of Peewee, Bantam, CHL (Canadian Hockey League) and/or the Pros. It is actually quite fun. Starting out as a Peewee brought back memories of my own days learning to play hockey. The controls are the same throughout each level. As you play you will age and you will see your player improving and becoming a better player. Given that this is NHL Slapshot’s career mode, there is longevity to it as you climb the ranks and finally enter the pros for a full season of play.
To add further depth to the Peewee to Pro mode, you can create our own player from scratch, or you can use any existing Pro, but he will start out as a Peewee player who has to start from the childhood beginnings. There is nothing more enjoyable then watching a 10 year old Sedin, Doughty or Toews skate around an open rink as an innocent little kid just learning the play. And of course given that Wayne Gretzky is on the game’s cover, you have the option to take him from Peewee to the Pros too.
As you play through the various years, you will get real time feedback from the computer, and the better you do the more results you get, and you will start to make your way through the ranks. As you make it from level to level (age to age) you will unlock boosts to improve your player’s skills, you can win team awards, and you can eventually enter league drafts and even be eligible to be traded.
There are other modes in NHL Slapshot as well. Aside from the Career mode, you can opt to play a full season with your favourite team (CHL or NHL), you can play in the Stanley Cup Finals only, you can play a quick game in the Play Now mode, you can play around in the Training mode to improve your skills, or you can play any of the Mini-Games available. In terms of the mini-games, you can play Goalie vs. Goalie, 2 vs. 2, Classic Shoot Out, or Free for All. These mini-games are a great break from the standard hockey fair and you will probably find yourself playing these more than you think, especially with a group of friends.
So now you know the details of the game, but how does it play? My answer is simple, it plays darn well. There is a very slight learning curve to using the included hockey stick as we have become so accustomed to playing hockey games with buttons and analog sticks on a controller. Having to learn to actually shoot the puck or check a player by moving the hockey stick in a cross checking motion takes a bit of time, but once you learn the nuances of such it becomes more natural than I thought it would. I had A LOT of fun with this game. Playing the 3-on-3 Peewee mode on an outdoor rink remade for an arcade experience that I enjoyed, while playing any of the CHL, AHL or NHL teams in a full 5-on-5 full sim-mode was just as deep as any other NHL game I have played, except with a bit more of an arcadey feel. Bottom line, the control just works and it adds more than one would expect to this game.
Multiplayer is local only and there is no option for online play. This is too bad, but it seems to be the way for Wii gamers.
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