Most seasoned gamers will tell you that bundled pieces of plastic do little to increase the enjoyment of a Wii game. The polystyrene pieces which are packed in with copies of Mario Kart Wii and Link’s Crossbow Training are fairly ineffective at convincing adults they are commandeering a go-cart or firing a quarrel into the television screen. Yet, kids seem to love them- the contrivances can turn a humdrum controller into an charming plaything.
When word spread that EA’s NHL Slapshot included a miniaturized hockey stick, I assumed the title was aiming for a strictly grammar school demographic. Early shots showed both the Wiimote and nunchuck buried within the stick, potentially indicating an abbreviated amount of interactivity. After reveling in the depth and finesse offered by the now-gen iterations of NHL 11, Slapshot looked destined to be relegated to a career in the Junior B leagues, the game’s sole claim to fame being a gimmicky peripheral. Luckily, that’s not the case- while the game is decidedly more arcadey that its high-definition brethren, NHL Slapshot offers a surprisingly gratifying experience which might surprise virtual rink veterans.
Although the game’s AI is no pushover, one of the primary challenges facing players is assembling the multi-part hockey stick. The chief impediment is the game’s instructions asking to attach a piece which is already fastened (protip: remove the hatch near the bottom of the stick before trying to insert the blade). Secondly, the hockey stick leaves just enough room for a unsheathed Wiimote and nunchuck. Expect to remove the jacket, any Wiimotion+ units, and secure the cord and wrist strap each time you want to play a game that doesn’t use the peripheral. Fortunately, Slapshot doesn’t forces players to use the device, asking participants if they are using the stick each time they start a match or mini-game session.
Whether players decide on using the plastic or not, the title controls are unexpectedly robust. While participants may take the Wii Sports Tennis route, and have the CPU direct their skaters around the rink, using the nunchuck to guide players around will probably be the preference favored by most gamers. Taking a wristshot is an intuitive as swinging the hockey stick or Wiimote forward, while a slapshot requires a windup before release. Sporadically, the game misinterprets a shot motion, resulting in a botched shot; it’s uncommon enough to not aggravate players. Checking is handling by pushing the controller away from your body, which if timed correctly, can send an opposing player reeling. In general, the game’s on-ice control feel consistently fluid, thanks to the title’s proficient animation and sixty frames-per second delivery.
To complement the game’s streamlined 3-on-3, or 5-on-5 matches with CHL or NHL teams, NHL Slapshot offering the ingenious Peewee to Pro mode which follows the career trajectory of a budding superstar. As gamers move through the ranks, their on-ice performance in converted into experience points which are used to augment their virtual player’s abilities. Unlike games which have offered a similar vocational component, Slapshot‘s mode is undeniably endearing- with small touches like celebrating each Peewee goal with a car horn. Additionally, the game offers four mini-games to challenge players, which helps offset the lack of any online competitions.
Wii owners have two choices this season: 2K’s stalwart simulation NHL 2K11 and EA’s friendlier NHL Slapshot. After an extended period with both, Slapshot is the unlikely victor- while the game may not support detailed Wiimotion plus-enhanced puck handling, it’s a far more instinctive, and ultimately- more enjoyable experience. Potential purchasers shouldn’t let a few pieces of plastic prevent them from enjoying the a thoroughly enjoyable hockey game.