EA is set to make its NHL debut on the Wii this week with NHL Slapshot. This game was built specifically for
the Wii rather than being ported from the PS3 or Xbox 360. It even includes a special hockey stick controller that holds your Wiimote and Nunchuk. This special Wii NHL game was built with this controller in mind, but standard control schemes are also supported. Sure, the hockey stick accessory looks gimmicky (most Wii accessories are), but if you're looking for a hockey title for a younger or more casual audience, this is a good route to go. Even more seasoned players may get something out of it but nothing really beats the granular control of a gamepad.
Take Your Best (Slap)shot
Even though this is a Wii game that is arguably focused on a more casual or younger audience, this title
isn't lacking in licensed material or game modes. Not only do you get the full NHL license, but, EA is also
including the AHL and CHL leagues, and even Peewee and Bantam teams, giving you over 150 authentic teams. That's likely far more than anyone will ever use, but it's nice to see the developers didn't skimp there.
Plenty of licensed teams, gear, stadiums, and music, not to mention Gary Thorne and Bill Clement with the call, are all complimented by a solid selection of gameplay modes. Available modes include Peewee To Pro, Season, Exhibition, Stanley Cup Final, and four mini-games. The Peewee To Pro mode is the deepest of the bunch and the most interesting. As you may know, "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky is literally the cover athlete of this game and his likeness and inclusion in this game are evident. In Peewee To Pro, you can either play as Gretzky or be coached by him (if you create your own player) as you literally traverse the ranks of five leagues starting at Peewee and culminating in the NHL. Eventually, players will be drafted and traded, and maybe even participate in a lockout (kidding).
With the ability to play from Peewee to Pro, you may be wondering how the AI changes from one league to another. EA provided me the answer to this: in Peewee, there are no rules and the game is more focused on raw action. Animations are based around kids and the game is played 3-on-3. When you move up to Bantam play, players get bigger, skate better, take more accurate shots, and goalies also improve. CHL play includes all of the rules and regulations of the CHL and gameplay is just shy of the Pros. In the ANL and NHL, you will experience EA's impressive AI that has made the NHL series on the 360 and PS3 the best hockey available since NHL 08.
The other modes of play are a little more self explanatory, although the mini games are worth a closer look. I quickly discovered that these games are best played with up to three local friends (although out of the box, there is only one hockey stick controller included). The mini-games include Shooter Vs. Goalie, 2 Vs 2, Classic Shootout, and Free For All. My favorite of these turned out to be Free For All which can be pretty hilarious when played with friends as you each bump each other off of the puck to try and score. There's little sense in playing these games alone, but, if you can get a friend or two playing, they're worth a look.
Also of note is that the game does include the ability to update its roster and schedule online which is nice to see on the Wii.
It doesn't matter how many teams or players the game has unless it controls well and is fun to play. For Wii games, that is often the biggest hurdle. In NHL Slapshot, I thought the dev team did a great job in getting players accustomed to the hockey stick controller quickly. When you first boot up the game, one of the developers appears and gives a brief tutorial on how to put your Wiimote and Nunchuck into the stick controller.
The stick controller itself is okay -- I had to remove my Wii MotionPlus to get it to fit, and, my wrist strap combined with the Nunchuk cord was too thick for the little black 'door' on the stick controller to close. So, I had to have my Wiimote wrist strap hanging over the side and the cord for the Nunchuk as well.
For the Nunchuk cord, there is a small pathway cut out on either side of the stick controller. Both controllers fit snugly into their spaces, but one annoyance in the design (that arguably would have been
difficult if not impossible to amend) is that you cannot use the Wiimote to control the pointer icon in the game menu while its tucked inside the stick. This is because of the rubber portion that covers the IR port.
By the way -- that rubber piece hanging out of the end of the stick -- don't let that get removed from the stick controller itself. If it does, good luck getting it back into the stick. Fortunately, it's not very easy to remove the rubber extension, but, once it's out, it's very difficult to put back (I've not yet managed it).
As far as how the stick controller feels, no major complaints other than the straps/cords dangling out the
side, which only were noticed when I flicked the stick quickly to shoot or throw a body check. The stick with Nunchuk and Wiimote is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to maneuver, not to mention easy to
store when not in use. There are some great videos included in game that you can watch at anytime from the main menu to learn both Basic and Advanced Controls.
Controls include using the control stick on the Nunchuk to move around, A to pass, Z to speed burst, and B to spin and deke, depending on whether or not you're moving the hockey stick controller side to side. Wrist shots are performed with a short, quick motion mimicking a wrist shot, and it works rather well. For slap shots, simply draw the stick controller back more as you would a real hockey stick and let it rip. It's important to get used to using the control stick on the Nunchuck to aim your shots, especially in the higher leagues.
Other stick controls include holding B and moving the stick in a poke check motion to, you guessed it, poke check. Body checks, the more satisfying and effective method of defense, are performed by putting the stick closer to your torso and extending your arms outward, not too unlike what you would do for a real body check. I did find that the controls had some 'give' to them as I could do a body check with essentially the same motion as it took for a wrist shot, for what that's worth.
Overall, the hockey stick controller made the experience a little more immersive and a little more fun, but
to be honest, I still prefer the control and presentation quality of the PS3 or 360. NHL Slapshot does a respectable job and I appreciate that they added something (the stick controller) to make the title a bit different and also more accessible and appealing to a wider audience, but, for those of us used to gamepads and more capable consoles, it's a hard adjustment to make.
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