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NHL Slapshot first impressions

by: Ben Berry -
Hockey season is here. Well, not officially for another few weeks, but with yesterday being the release date of both EA's NHL 2011 and NHL Slapshot, it's only weeks now until the puck drops for real. And while I anxiously await my review copy of NHL 11, I picked up NHL Slapshot yesterday to get my hockey fix until the other game arrives. I went to Kmart to get my copy of NHL Slapshot because for a limited time, they will give you an extra Slapshot controller accessory with the purchase of the game. That saved me $15 as my wife is sure to want to play given her love of all things hockey.

The game loads with instructions on how to assemble the hockey stick accessory and load the Wii remote and nunchuk into the stick. I definitely recommend following the video rather than trying to build the stick yourself, as it provides some nice hints that make building it a lot easier. The game then goes into the control scheme, which is really what you're buying a game on the Wii for in the first place.

EA opted for a mix of buttons and motion for the default control set, which seems to work out pretty nice. The analog stick on the nunchuk takes the place of the left analog stick from the NHL title for 360 and PS3. The A button allows you to pass or call for the puck, while tapping the B button causes you to do a spin-o-rama. The rest of the controls are motion based and that's where this game starts to differentiate itself from EA's other offerings as well as 2K Sports NHL 2011 for Wii.

What I really like about the motion controls is that they'll feel intuitive to anyone who has ever played hockey. Taking a wrist shot simply means flicking your wrist when your player has the puck. Winding up to take a slapshot comes from the same pulling back and flicking forward motion that you're used to. While you can do smaller motions to replicate the effect, I found doing the full motion that you would while playing hockey to feel really natural and work just as well. Finally, there's the action of body checking, in which you take the stick parallel to the ground and push forward as if you were going to cross check your opponent. (This motion will feel particularly natural to Chuck, as anyone who's ever played hockey with or against him will tell you. Some people track their time on ice, Chuck tracks his time in box).

While it's clear this game is based on a very similar engine to the standard EA NHL series, the control set gives it far more of a rough and tumble arcade hockey game as opposed to the full blown hockey simulation. And while it contains all of the NHL and AHL teams, there isn't that same feel of realism you get from playing the 360 counterpart. And that's just fine. Because this game is meant to have a different feel, and it seems to be very succesful at what it's trying to be; fun. In fact, when you get into the Be A Pro mode, a personal favorite of mine from the NHL franchise, you can choose to start all the way down in PeeWee hockey in NHL Slapshot. Playing in PeeWee has a definite "cute" factor to it, playing hockey in a style similar to the Backyard games series, but with most of the capabilities of the high end hockey titles. I definitely recommend playing a few games in the PeeWee mode.

I still have a lot to explore in the game but I'm already confident that this game is going to be a winner on the Wii. And if NHL 2011 has half the goodness of this game going for it, it's going to be one heck of a virtual hockey season.