From Peewee to Pro, EA Sports delivers some NHL love to Wii owners with the Wayne Gretzky approved NHL Slapshot.
Featuring "the great one," Wayne Gretzky as NHL Slapshot's virtual coach and EA spokesman was an excellent idea. Not only does he deserve to be back on the cover of a videogame, Gretzky's legacy will help draw people into EA Sports venture onto the Wii. Of course the name of one man isn't enough to carry NHL Slapshot into the spotlight like EA's "other" NHL fanchise, but EA won't have to worry about that. Gretzky might draw them in, but it is the gameplay that will keep them there. Crafted from the sport Canada loves, let's check out what this slap happy hockey game is all about.
How cute, a little Hockey Stick
The first thing you should know about NHL Slapshot is that it comes with its own plastic hockey stick peripheral that encase both of the Wii's controllers. Assembling the stick is easy to do, only taking a minute or two. If you need help (which you probably won't) a tutorial helps you along in the opening segment on the disc, something I wasn't aware of until I already peiced togther my stick. The hockey stick peripheral isn’t required to play the game, although it is how the developers designed the game to play, and since it comes bundled with the game, I would encourage everyone to give it a shot.
Flick the Stick
Using the stick as a controller is easy to understand, simply because you move it like you are playing a real game of hockey, well kind of. Flicks of the wrist activate wrist shots, and slap shots are done like you would expect--- pull back on the stick and let her go. Deking is also controlled by the stick by holding the “B” button and wiggling the stick around like you would do on ice. And finally, and possibly the most fun is using hits, done by moving the stick horizontally near your chest. It’s very effective, making you want to taunt the game when you perform a big nasty hit.
Now this is all good, but you are probably thinking how do you move your player? Moving is done by wiggling the nunchuck's analog stick around. It is also used to aim your shots, similar to Slapshot's cousin 'NHL 11.' Like NHL 11, Slapshots' controls take a few matches to feel really comfortable, but once "get it," it's majestic. The only major problem I have with the stick peripheral is that it might not be long enough for all gamers to get a good grip on, an extension to fit taller players would have been a great addition.
Alternatively, you can play the game without the plastic controller holder, which works in two ways. Remove the two controllers from the holder and learn the new controls designed for a Wii-mote/nunchuck set-up, or don’t tell the game what you have done, and let it think you still have the controllers in the stick. What this does is free up your movement without the loss of the “flicking” feeling. Out of each of these schemes, I enjoyed the liar’s path of having the controllers out of the holder, while the game believed I did. I am not sure if EA Canada designed the game this way, but I like how it plays.
A Little Too Easy
Keeping things geared towards the casual gamer, NHL Slapshot is half the beast of NHL 11. This game is extremely easy even when you pump up the difficulty. This is partly because it was designed for the casual market and because of its basic "shoot, hit, shoot" mechanics. Poke checking and deking can be done. However, you rarely need to do either because it is too easier to simply pass the puck, or smash into someone without repercussions. This is fine if you don't mind a game that is simple to master, but you really loose a lot of that championship feel. Expect the majority of games to hit the double digits, something that is great when playing a friend, but when you are going solo, not so much. It's too bad the difficulty wasn't ramped up. Slapshot rarely brings its “A” game.
Peewee to Pro
Along with the lack of difficulty, the game modes have been dumbed down as well, but this is ok. The “season” mode and “battle for the cup” are more or less exactly what you expect, but it is Slapshot's “Peewee to Pros” mode that is its bread-and-butter. This mode play off of NHL 11's “Be a Pro” mode that follows a player from the Peewee division all the way to pros. Added into this mode is the ability to earn points by playing well and completing challenges. The points are then used to upgrade your player’s abilities and attach fun power-ups. This gives Slapshot an addictive quality that will likely keep you playing longer then you expected.
Playing as the little squirts is super cool with its 3-on-3 gameplay. Working your way up is also a lot of fun and while it’s not as hardcore as NHL 11, it has a little more charm with its “simpler” look and feel. Of course when things advance to the Pro level, it would have been nice to have more of a challenge, or at least make you feel like you have moved up to the big leagues. Sadly, this isn't represented properly and the techniques you use on the ice as a Peewee is all you need as a pro.
More Mini's Please
As you might have expected, Slapshot also features several mini-games that let you get in some alternative hockey actions, but it feels like they could have expanded this area a little more. The provided modes are ok, but I expected a little more. Lets get that Wii mini-game philosophy rolling and see some innovate in these modes-- I guess there is always next year. Until then you can join in a ‘Free 4 All’ (try and score the most goals) Shooter vs. Goalie challenge, 2 vs. 2 Mini-Rink match-up and the always classic, ‘Shootout’ mode.
It was a smart move for EA Canada to distance their hallmark NHL experience from the Wii, for the simple fact that they would never cram it all in, and if they did, well, it wouldn’t play as intended. This makes this alternative arcade flavoured hockey experience the way to go, and something that is missing from their repertoire. NHL Slapshot is fun, easy to get into, with just enough depth to keep all those who don’t play NHL 11 interested. If you have younger gamers in the household, they might just prefer wiggling around a plastic stick more then you could imagine. NHL Slapshot is great start, and who knows when Slapshot hits its 20th edition maybe it will play just like NHL 11 does. Now, lets just get a longer controller.
Gameplay:7.0, Graphics:7.5, Sound:7.0, Innovation:7.0, Mojo:7.5 Final: 7.2 / 10
Play from the Peewee Division up
Simplistic controls that are easy to learn
Fun point system
Plastic stick peripheral works
Production is fairly solid
- Half the depth of its NHL 11 cousin
- Too easy, needed a higher difficulty setting
- Not for the hardcore hockey fan
- No Wii-motion plus
- More mini-games, please
- Stick needs to be longer, or adjustable
Similar Games: NHL 10 (8.5) | NHL 11 (9.2)