EA Sports brings a hockey game to Wii nearly four years after the system comes out. Was it worth the wait?
NHL Slapshot, EA's debut hockey title on Wii, looks to be an extremely casual title at the outset, and the game's packaging echoes that. It comes with a plastic peripheral, and there's an old Wayne Gretzky on the cover of the box. However, once you dive into the game, and in this metaphor, the box, you find a regular hockey game cover with a young Gretzky holding up the Stanley Cup, and a good game that is a little short on depth.
It doesn't feature the cadre of options that NHL 11 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 has, but you can play a realistic game of hockey in NHL Slapshot. At the same time, it also does for hockey what Wii Sports did for its sports, meaning it offers simple, understandable motion controls that work.
The big focal point of the game is hockey stick peripheral that comes with it. It's overly complicated to put together, and fitting in the Nunchuk cord can be a chore, but it works in game. The motion controls on the controller are easy to understand. You can perform wrist shots and slapshots easily, depending how far back you take the stick. Checking members of the opposing team can be executed with a simple thrust of the stick. If you're not a fan of this control scheme, you can use Wii Remote and Nunchuk, or Wii Remote by itself. Sadly, there's no Classic Controller support.
Aside from the peripheral, the other hook of the game is that you can play in different levels of hockey, including Peewee, Bantam, CHL, and NHL. Peewee and Bantam offer arcade-like 3-on-3 gameplay that features adolescent versions of NHL stars. The CHL and NHL are the next two steps up, both featuring 5-on-5 gameplay with minor differences in rules. It's nice to have the variety of each mode, as each one features a slightly different strategy.
The game's main mode is Peewee to Pro, where you create a player and take them through the ranks of hockey. The natural inclination is to start off in Peewee, which makes the mode slow-paced as you inch forward in your budding career. However, you can start right away in the NHL, which makes it more like similar modes in other sports games where you create a character and control only him on professional teams.
There is also a season mode, where you can play a full-length single season. Unfortunately, there are no franchise mode-like touches here, so it is a little limited. NHL Slapshot offers some mini-games as well, with some cool ideas like 2-on-2, but they're underdeveloped and don't amount to much more than a distraction.
NHL Slapshot is an awesome inaugural Wii hockey game for EA. It plays to the strengths of the system with fun, easily accessible, motion-based gameplay. It leaves a little to be desired in terms of long-lasting modes, but the basic game of hockey is executed well, and the controls are great. If you've been playing EA's other NHL game for years, you'll probably continue to play that on other systems, but if you're looking for a light-hearted hockey game that has more in common with hockey games of yore than it does NHL 11, then this game is right for you.