Sharp controls and an ingenious hockey-stick peripheral make NHL Slapshot a great arcade hockey game.
- Miniature hockey stick peripheral makes for great controls
- Loose, fun arcade hockey gameplay
- Excellent Peewee to Pro career mode
- Attractive visuals and atmospheric sound.
- Too arcade oriented for hockey fans looking for a rigorous simulation
- Limited modes of play, and no online support at all.
It comes with a big plastic hockey stick. OK, there are a lot of other observations you could make about NHL Slapshot right off the top. Most notably, the game brings Wayne Gretzky back to a hockey game for the first time in a few years. But nothing about this EA Sports Wii exclusive stands out as much as the fact that you play with the remote and nunchuk crammed into a black contraption that sort of looks like a real hockey stick. Of course, this makes the game sound awfully gimmicky, which it kind of is, especially given its status as the little brother of the more realistic and full-featured NHL 11 available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But this Wii game is also a whole lot of fun. Accurate motion-sensing controls can tell the difference between a slapshot and a body check. An arcade-first feel makes this the ideal hockey game for the whole family. And the range of gameplay options includes a fantastic Peewee to Pro mode that lets you take a tyke all the way from a backyard rink to the show. While there might not be enough depth here to satisfy serious hockey nuts, this is a great arcade game for all ages.
At first glance, however, NHL Slapshot looks like a cut-down version of NHL 11. All of the game options have been trimmed back. You can get into one-off games, journey through full seasons, play for the Stanley Cup, indulge in minigames, and even take on a career mode called Peewee to Pro, but there is no way to be the GM of a club, no Ultimate Team feature, and no online play at all. The game emphasizes a kid-friendly approach. Opening videos show Wayne Gretzky playing minor hockey, and then junior with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and then pro with the Edmonton Oilers. All of the instructional videos lean toward the preteen set, too, with nothing but clips of kids playing on backyard rinks. It's all pretty cute and well done, but at the same time, the limited feature set comes off as chintzy.
After playing for a while, you won't care about the skimpy game options. The controls really make NHL Slapshot something special. A big part of this is the hockey stick peripheral that ships with the game. It's a cheap-looking contraption, a hollow plastic shell with a foam rubber stick blade sticking out of the bottom of it. At first glance, it looks like some weird gun or slingshot. It's only after you wedge the Wii Remote into the middle of the stick and the nunchuk into the top that you start to appreciate the whole innovative setup. Essentially, the stick controller allows you to control the game as if you have a real hockey stick. You take it in both hands, with the lower near the buttons of the remote and the upper with your thumb on the nunchuk's stick. From there, all movements are pretty intuitive. To skate, you use the nunchuk stick. To shoot, you move the whole hockey stick, flicking forward for a wrist shot and winding up and then pushing forward for a slapper. Passing is done with quick taps of the A button, and you can deke by either moving the stick or hitting the B button. Hitting and poke-checking are handled by either shoving the hockey stick forward in a cross-checking motion or pushing the stick forward as if you were trying to spear somebody.
That might sound awkward and even a little complicated, but it's not. The controls feel totally natural after no more than five minutes of play. All of the controls are also incredibly responsive. When you want to shoot, you shoot. When you want to hit somebody, you hit somebody. Manual deking is a touch finicky because it's too easy to accidentally take a wrist shot when trying to just slip past a defender. EA has obviously considered this, though, and included B-button deking so you don't have to bother doing it manually. It's also a little too easy to accidentally hit the A button when winding up for a shot, which instead results in having you pass the puck toward the net. Other than that, everything is finely tuned. The only drawback is that you need a fair bit of room to swing the hockey stick, especially if you're playing with a friend. Without a lot of space in a pretty big living room, you'll undoubtedly wind up clocking each other with your sticks and maybe wind up in a real hockey brawl.