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REVIEW: NHL Slapshot Wii

REVIEW: NHL Slapshot Wii

Postby Xolture » Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:26 am

NHL Slapshot Wii


As soon as EA Sports revealed the Wii-exclusive extension of its NHL franchise – and the fact that it uses a specially bundled "assemble it yourself" plastic hockey stick peripheral – I was immediately skeptical that this game would be worth the plastic it'll bundle. Apart from Nintendo's own Wii Sports franchise, designers have yet to nail Wii remote/nunchuk motion for an immersive experience, and EA Sports' solution – docking a Wii remote and nunchuk in a hockey stick – seemed highly dubious. But after playing the game extensively, I'm sold. NHL Slapshot isn't going to take the place of a true video hockey experience for the die-hard sports fan, but it's hard to deny that it's a whole lot of fun swinging a stick for high powered shots and devastating body checks.

Calling this game NHL Slapshot immediately lets EA Sports off the hook. While the game is clearly using the classic NHL design as its foundation, because the game is a hockey spin-off it doesn't have to stick with what the NHL 11 team's doing on the other consoles. Instead, it gives this game's team members a bit more freedom to take its hockey design in a different direction and appeal to a broader market.

The core experience is the hockey design that EA Sports is known for: five on five, heavy hits, smart computer AI algorithms…the works. But it's the control and the tuning that makes NHL Slapshot a fun game of hockey, and it's done in a way that makes it accessible to the newbies while still making it engaging to players who eat, breath, and sleep hockey. This is a great looking game of hockey, and EA Sports has its strong NHL foundation to thank for that. The engine runs at 60 frames per second for lightning fast gameplay, players move with realistic fluidity and animate just as their realworld counterparts would, and every goal feels like an event with great TV style presentation. There's a decent amount of play-by-play to follow the action, though the script stays generic so that calls don't get too specific.

But the real meat of NHL Slapshot is in the way it's played. Bundled with every copy of the game (and hopefully sold separately on day one) is a hockey stick where a Wii remote and nunchuk lock into place. I can't explain the science of the stick because I didn't invent the thing, but know that it's not just an unnecessary plastic shell in the way half the Wii gun peripherals are. You can certainly play NHL Slapshot without the peripheral but it's a completely different experience – it's still motion based, but it feels much more natural playing with two fists wrapped around a single stick for all the game's motions.

What's more, the stick actually works and makes it a fun experience. Flick the stick forward with the puck and you'll wrist shot it. Pull back before flicking and you'll slapshot. And while skating near a player, giving the stick a horizontal shove will perform a check move that'll, with the right timing, send the player to the ice. You'll be shoving that stick a lot in NHL Slapshot.

For the newbies, there's a setting to just handle shooting the puck without controlling the skaters, but honestly that's not a whole lot of fun. You're in full control over your players via the analog stick on the nunchuk, so you'll skate him around with the same tight movements as a standard NHL game. Passing's handled with a tap on the A button, and yes, you can one-time the puck with a well-timed pass with the A button and a flick of the stick. You can deke, you can drop down to the ice for a body block, you can even spin-move to psych out the goalie -- even though you're playing with a stick you still have all the standard moves of an EA Sports hockey experience.

Admittedly, there are small occasions when the controller will get confused, mostly during slapshots – if you pull back your stick your on-screen persona will do the same, but if you don't follow through in a second he'll drop his stick as a fake…leaving you with your stick still back in preparation for the shot. Sometimes wrist shots fail to register, but this happens very infrequently. It's just annoying when you try and flick in a quick wrist shot only to have the player simply skate with the puck instead.

And there's the issue of the controller assembly. Not only does it come in parts and needs to be put together (the video played at boot-up does a pretty good job walking you through it, even if it skips over an important part), you have to wedge the remote and nunchuk in there while keeping the cord tucked inside at just the right way. Once the controllers are in they're tight and secure, but there'll be times when that cord and Wii remote wrist strap will make it difficult to get it in on the first or second try. With the amount of time spent putting the controllers in, you might never want to take them out again.

NHL Slapshot is a bit more arcadey in feel than the current generation EA Sports NHL series due to its intentionally more forgiving controls and looser player behaviors. That's its charm. But you do get a full-on hockey experience with true season, playoff, and Stanley Cup finals modes, as well as a Peewee to Pro mode where you can take a single player from the kiddie leagues to the minors all the way to the big boys. You don't need to raise a player up from the backyards to play in these modes; in fact, it's a lot of fun playing as the youngsters since there are no penalties or rules. This mode feels like the good ol' days of Wayne Gretzky Hockey on the Nintendo 64.

Probably the only noticeable omission, aside from missing online mode (let's face it, Wii owners, it's just not a priority) is the lack of fights, but when you consider that each player could be -- and probably is -- wielding plastic weapons, I think it was probably wise for Electronic Arts to skip out of the on-ice brawl for NHL Slapshot.

I don't think that NHL Slapshot will ever replace the real-world standard controller hockey of NHL 11 or its 2K11 competitor, but EA Sports produced an impressive and fun hockey experiment for Wii owners. Even the truly die-hard hockey fans will enjoy this immersive stick-in-the-hand experience, even if they're playing the "real" NHL 11 on the HD consoles.
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