There was a question as to whether 2K Sports would be bringing out an NHL game in 2010 at all. The long-running NHL 2K series has been struggling from a sales and critical reception standpoint on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and lagging behind its direct competitor at EA. NHL 2K11 isn't dead, however; it's just a Wii exclusive. 2K Sports announced the year-long hiatus of the 360 and PS3 versions of the NHL series earlier this year as it revamped the game, presumably for NHL 2K12. Yesterday, on the show floor of E3, we got a look at the Wii-only NHL 2K11 to see what 2K puck fans will have to tide them over before the series returns to the 360 and PS3.
As with 2K Sports' other big game--NBA 2K11--we didn't get a chance to play NHL 2K11 for ourselves. We did hear about the upgrades to the Wii MotionPlus controls (which producers are dubbing "Wii MotionPlus 2.0") and that it promises more one-to-one motion between player movement and onscreen stick control than ever before. Standard movements will be easy enough to pull off, but 2K is also promising the ability to pull off more advanced moves like poke checks, stick lifts, juggles, and even holding the puck on the end of the stick in midair. We saw the latter in motion during a one-versus-one practice session--it looked cool enough but we doubt there's much room for this kind of flair in a full six-on-six match.
From a presentation standpoint, NHL 2K11 will feature a more vibrant color palette with improved lighting in stadiums, touched-up player models, and improved jerseys and sticks. Speaking of lumber, broken sticks are in NHL 2K11. We didn't see any in our demo, but producers said players will skate to the bench to retrieve a new stick.
Love them or hate them, minigames have been a part of the NHL 2K series for years now. In NHL 2K11, minigames have been organized into a new mode known as Road to the Cup. Built off the superskills events from previous games, Road to the Cup has you traveling through NHL cities, trying to gain fans as you complete in a number of skills minigames. These minigames run from standard "hardest shot" competitions (where you swing the Wii Remote to take the shot, naturally) to more esoteric games, like a skating game where your goal is to avoid yellow barrels that are moving at random all over the ice. Each time your player is hit by a barrel, you lose a life and the last man standing is the winner. Winning a game will earn you fans on your Road to the Cup and the first player to reach 1,000 fans in the mode is declared the overall winner.
2K Sports producers pointed out that this is the third year of development for NHL 2K on the Wii, a point in the annual game cycle where developers typically really find their stride with a series. It remains to be seen whether or not NHL 2K11 will be an improved effort over last year's game or merely a bridge to whatever comes next from 2K Sports on the 360 and PS3, but we'll be keeping an eye on the game up to its release later this year.