It's a tough time of year to be a hockey fan, what with all the warm weather keeping our ponds and lakes from freezing over in glorious sheets of ice. But even though the weather won't get truly cold for a while yet, EA's upcoming NHL games are set to arrive right around the corner at the beginning of September. New this year is a Wii version dubbed NHL Slapshot, which we just had a chance to try out at the EA Studio Showcase.
The first thing you'll notice about Slapshot is the hockey stick peripheral that comes bundled with the game. It's a miniature stick equipped with slots for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as a foam blade to minimize the damage of accidental high sticks to grandma's head. You swing the stick forward to shoot, pull back and really let it rip for a slapshot, and push it forward horizontally to bodycheck an opponent. Modifier buttons let you do things like pokecheck and deke your opponents, but those three motion gestures are the basis of the control scheme.
The game can vary from a free-wheeling arcade style of play to a more structured hockey experience depending on the mode you play. That progression is encapsulated by the Career mode, which takes you on a journey from peewee games sporting child players all the way up to your favorite NHL teams. The peewee experience uses lax rules and lets you play more or less how you like (even if that means checking a small child into the boards). There are fewer players on the ice, as well. When you get up to the NHL, you'll have to deal with penalties and more players. In our hands-on time, the two modes provided a much different experience, and we have to say that the free-wheeling peewee style lent itself much better to the goofy fun of swinging that hockey stick peripheral (though we'd imagine EA will let you tweak the rule set like in most of its other sports games).
The visual style in Slapshot isn't terribly cartoonish, like we've seen in recent EA Sports games on the Wii. However, at the peewee level you'll see cute little children versions of famous players. Yes, there's even a small-body, big-head version of Zdeno Chara if you can believe it. The NHL games sport a more traditional look, as well as announcing work by Gary Thorne.
All told, we enjoyed the brief amount of time we spent swinging a plastic hockey stick controller in Slapshot. But as with any sports game of the arcade variety, the big question is how long the novelty lasts over the long haul. You can expect to see NHL 11 available in stores September 7 for the Wii. Keep an eye out for our review right around then.