NHL Slapshot review
The NHL series from Electronic Arts has prided itself on bringing the authentic hockey experience to your living room. NHL 11 proved to be a hardcore hockey-sim fans wet dream, but left the average sports gamer and the younger crowd in the dark. EA rectified this by releasing the more accessible NHL Slapshot. Does accessibility translate into mindless and bland gameplay?
There are several game modes you can take a shot at. The Peewee to Pro mode is a great starting point, allowing players to become accustomed to the gameplay. Starting out with children playing 3 on 3, eventually moving up to teens, young adults and eventually to the pro NHL, you would expect for the difficulty to get progressively harder, but the game remains relatively simple no matter what league you're playing in.
While the difficulty stays rather tame, it is important to know that NHL Slapshot doesn’t strive to be a sport sim, but rather an arcade title. The matches are fast-paced, often resulting in extremely easy goals. If the opposition does manage to get a goal in, it’s not hard to even out the score in the next couple of minutes with the uncomplicated gameplay.
The main draw to the game comes with the packaged in hockey stick controller. I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to plastic peripherals that somehow attach to the Wii remote, but to my surprise, it works well. Swinging it back and forth shoots the puck, while nudging the stick forward will check any nearby players. It’s a simple control scheme that is forgiving for gamers of any age, though it’s clearly targeted at a younger crowd, and will have everyone performing hat tricks in no time.
Aside from the main game, there are a few mini-games that can be a fun diversion, especially when played with another player. The shootout challenge will task one player with shooting the puck and the other defending the goal, using the wii remote to control one hand, and the nunchuk to control the other. The other shootout mini-game is similar, except now the hockey player must skate towards the goal, and attempt to score. The most unique, fun, and frantic mini-game is the free-for-all challenge. Up to four players are on their own, each trying to steal the puck away from each other and score a goal, often resulting in absolute mayhem.
Navigating the menus are an absolute pain when using the peripheral. Since the controller slips right into the hockey stick, it blocks the front of Wii remote, making point navigation through the menus impossible. Instead navigation is done through the use of the analog stick, which is often confusing, since you will be holding the stick at an angle.
The biggest disappointment with the game lies in the graphics. Players look alike, the check animations are always the same and the environments are also bland and uninteresting. Sure it’s a hockey rink but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve the care and attention to detail as the rest of the game. With games such as Metroid Other M and Super Mario Galaxy 2 pushing the envelope when it comes to visuals on the WIi, it’s a shame that other titles are not striving for the same. And don’t get me started on the cardboard cutout crowds that occupy the hockey stadium.
The sound on the other hand is authentic, even if it is limited. During peewee matches, the coaches (or parents) yell out supportive cheers, while moving up to NHL, there are two announcers providing play-by-play commentary. The downside of the commentary is that the furthest it goes for depth is calling out the name of the player currently in possession of the puck. Beyond that, the menu music selection is appropriate with The Final Countdown and Blitzkrieg Bop in rotation as to pump up the players.
NHL Slapshot is not meant to replace your copy of NHL 11, but rather act as an arcade counterpart that the younger generation of gamers should enjoy, or people like me who suck at every sports game imaginable, can actually pick up and play.