By 2K's own admission, its hockey franchise has wandered away from the core principles that made hockey games fun to play. As a result, 2K has brought NHL 2K9 back to its Visual Concept studios in northern California. The hope is to rediscover the pickup-and-play nature of old-school hockey games. We had a chance to get a sneak peek at NHL 2K9 during E3 and saw some of the progress that has been made.
Speaking with Jeff Thomas, the executive producer of the game, it was clear that 2K wasn't pleased with the complexity of controls in last year's game. As a result, NHL 2K9 will feature an all-new control scheme built from the ground up. From single-button passing and shooting to the trigger used for turbo, the controls are designed to be as intuitive as possible, at least on the default setting. The hardcore fans may be pleased to hear that the more complex (and robust) controls of last year's game will still be an available option if desired.
Action has also been taken to enrich elements peripheral to the actual hockey gameplay. The fighting engine has been completely redone, and NHL 2K9 will even feature a Zamboni-driving minigame between periods. Steps have also been taken to bring out the pageantry of playoff hockey. Players will now grow playoff beards and, if you are lucky enough to win the Stanley Cup, you will have the opportunity to skate around the ice with the cup hoisted.
However, the biggest news regarding NHL 2K9 is undoubtedly its debut on the Nintendo Wii, which makes it the first hockey game for the console. In contrast to EA's approach to Wii sports games, NHL 2K9 maintains the look and feel of a simulation. Although the graphics aren't quite up to par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, the gameplay and game modes do seem similar (although we are unsure if this applies to online play as well). Of course, all of this is forgivable with the implementation of the Wii control scheme. Specifically, the Wii version of the game brings a new twist to the controls.
The Wii Remote functions essentially as your hockey stick while shooting. A quick forward swing will produce a wrist shot, whereas a motion including a backswing will cause your player to rifle a slap shot. One-timers can also be executed by beginning your backswing prior to a player receiving a pass. In addition to more interactive shooting, the Wii version introduces a new point-to-pass mechanic unique to the console. Although regular button-press passing is also possible, the point-to-pass option lets you direct your passes anywhere on the ice by simply pointing the Wii Remote. The control even makes it possible to chain multiple passes together for a quick give-and-go.
We'll continue to bring you all of the news on NHL 2K9 as 2K releases more information on the game. Keep an eye out for the demo, which will be available on the Xbox 360 in a few weeks.