The Play offs have started.
The last hockey game I bought for full price was Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey for the N64, since then I haven’t really fallen in love with any new hockey games. Sure, I’ve played my share but nothing has captured the frenzy of the old hockey games and has left me wondering if maybe my expectations are a bit too high. No, I haven’t been under a rock or anything, I’ve played and kept up to date on the newer NHL games but nothing has really stood out enough for me to merit a purchase.
When talks were brewing about NHL 2K10 utilizing the Wii Motion Plus accessory I was really excited to see how evolutionary this title might turn out to be. This excitement was due to the fact that the last sports title I played that utilized the Motion Plus was the excellent Tiger Woods 10. In the end it’s the actual utilization of this little gizmo that will either make or break this title.
So does NHL 2k10 have what it takes?
I’m rather glad that we have this healthy competition going for NHL games. When two or more developers take on a sport you really get to see the creativity come out in each iteration. Where I would call the “other developer” one that goes to fine tuning the gameplay experience, I will give 2K the edge in providing sheer value. Bonus points for 2K for being first to bring hockey to the Wii. What clearly separates the 2K series in the end is its pick up and play arcade-like feel, where as I find the other hockey game out there has become more of a hockey simulator. Now don’t get me wrong, if you feel that the sim approach is what you love then you can certainly replicate that here. One of the features is the ability to tweak every aspect of the game (the 2k sliders) which makes the 2K10 a more robust offering.
In terms of modes you have your normal assortments- starting with season mode, franchise, mini rink, play offs, online, and pond hockey. With the option of having a no hassle quick match online or off, things are kept simple for those of us who might be overwhelmed with the options. There is even a mode to have your Mii become a seasoned hockey player. The actual bevy of play modes are sure to keep the fans of the sport hooked. The game does a great job of offering an auto sign in option the moment the disc is booted but despite all its intentions I found match making to be a frustrating waiting game almost any time of the day. I suppose the real blame lies in the fact that a large majority of Wii owners are not online nor divulging their attention to other fine games on the platform. Elaborating on the Mii integration the title offers themed motion controlled games that focus on the actual play mechanics of hockey. Modes that showcase goalie skills, shoot outs, passing, and dekeing get their own motion controlled challenge. I hate to call any of these mini games since they are far from a party offering; the reason being most of these motion controls are not as simple to grasp and master as you would want for a mini game. Add in also the fact that really there are just 5 different types of games that don’t beckon multiple replays. I know we all hate mini games as a stand alone concept but I believe almost any sports game on the Wii could benefit from a couple of light party style mini games thrown for variety online or off. Online wise there is nothing better than having a league match where you control just one player. Having ten people play with you is a rare achievement in online hockey. It’s a shame though that the Wii Speak isn’t being bundled with this game since most people online are mute.
What this title lacks in the game play department is a true identity, it begins as an arcady experience that tries to dive into sim territory with somewhat fair motion controls. It’s a decent effort but nothing really revolutionary let alone evolutionary. The real drawback is that the package is almost identical to the other consoles offerings save for the small Mii features and that just won’t do.
The controls require the use of a nunchuck as expected with the alternate option going to the classic controller. New this year is the Wii Motion Plus which technically should offer added precision and take this game to exciting heights.
The key word there was “should” since the application of the Motion Plus peripheral is a mixed bag. Flicking the controller to pass is horrendously inaccurate and trying to poke check and tackle someone by thrusting the controller feels ridiculous. What they did manage to nail is the goalie controls that have you face the Wiimote and nunchuck at each other to stop some speedy shots. Granted it’s not as fast of a reaction time as I would have wanted but does the job well. Taking a shot however feels amazing, the further you draw back the remote the more power you can expect to utilize. It is very subtle but just enough to make you appreciate it.
Another good application is the slight stick control you achieve by holding down on the D-pad and using the Wiimote to move your stick to evade incoming attackers. This creates a type of dekeing that is unrivaled on any console. No longer are you limited to idiotic button presses, now your control of the puck is all in your wrists. These applications are far from excellent but do lay out the framework which should help create a more immersible experience next year. The rest of the controls are fairly well laid out with movement allocated to the control stick while shooting and passing respectively being kept to the A and B buttons; finally turbo and backward skating are assigned to Z and C. With respects to passing and shooting you still have to hold the button down and flick the Wiimote to complete the move, honestly I would recommend you turn on pointer passing for your offline sessions since it feels more like an evolution than the motion controls.
At the end of the day it seems like the game really can be played with the same level of immersion without the Motion Plus however the dekeing controls are just so delightful that you might as well try it for yourself.
For the next iteration they should focus on the soccer control blue print ala the fine Winning Eleven series. There are small elements of that here such as pointer passes but unless they treat this sport for what it is (fast paced strategic game play) these problems may repeat year after year.
I will warn you about the Wii Speak utilization, the peripheral is tied to a 16 digit code so go ahead and invest in it. Chatting during a game is smooth and the Wii Speak channel gives you all that in-game access. You’re never really disconnected at any point during team selection to the moment the puck drops. The best moment seems to be when you’re in an online 10 player league match and then are sent to the box to chat with your rival for fighting. Online hockey deserves voice chat! It’s a shame that the peripheral is tied so strongly to a serial code.
Things are kept really simple here which is somewhat sad. I find it amusing where other sports titles go out of there way to push the graphical limits of the console, the only game that truly lacks behind is hockey. I’m not just speaking just of the Wii offering, I’m talking about all the console versions. We have seen football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and countless other sports improve drastically each year but the hockey games just seem to get a better reflection mapping on the ice.
The Wii version seems to have horrendous cut out crowds and horrible reflection maps. Players do look like the real life counter parts albeit some stiff facial animation. Moving on the positive side of things the shadow works and player animations are very impressive. In fact all those gripes are forgiven once you see and entire arena in motion. For what it’s worth the animation saves this title from looking truly last gen. Still this is a bare minimum and things need to be stepped up drastically next year.
The standard array of sound effects you’d hear in any hockey game are here. With decent crowd reactions and fairly well done commentating. I found it impressive that they do a recap at the end of each period, despite sounding a tad bit vague it’s definably an extra effort that is appreciated on the Wii. The sound effects are sharp and well done except for the post ricochet which ends up sounding a bit too loud and fake. Musically the game has a decent selection of tracks that are catchy and mainstream. Nothing like hearing Lupe Fiascos’ Superstar the moment you score the first goal.
The sheer amount of things to do will keep you occupied for some time, with tons of modes designed to test your hockey skills. Obviously creating a well rounded online experience with leader boards insure this is an exceptional offering on the Wii. I only wish there were creative Motion Plus themed mini games designed outside the constructs of the game that were more geared towards a party expierence (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Maybe I just expected a bit too much but a good example was how Tiger Woods 10 handeled these options. It’s just about the quality of the offerings.
Another mention to the spectacular online mode despite its horrendous match making option. If you know 10 people who own a Wii (by now we all know at least 50) get them to buy this game and play as a league, I believe this is the greatest online experience on the Wii since Smash Bros. Brawl.
NHL 2K10 is a hockey game without an identity. It dances around the fine line of arcade vs. sim without leaning to any one side. It’s a big deal they broke ground on the Wii with a more than decent effort but things need to improve as far as controls and graphics. The list of options and production values won’t win any awards but do deliver a good hockey game. If you own just a Wii and are a hockey fan then this is a must buy; however if you own any other console you might want to rent and see if the 2K series is right for you. Either way give this game some of your attention.