It might be time for 2K Sports to think about giving NHL 2K10 for the Nintendo Wii a different name. Even though the arcade hockey game looks to be the same as its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 siblings, it is actually an entirely different production. Unique Wii Remote controls and a more meticulous treatment of hockey on the ice make this one challenging trip to the rink. The Wii version has clearly received a lot of attention this year, benefiting from enhanced Wii Remote control options via the Wii MotionPlus, the inclusion of all modes of play from its Xbox 360 and PS3 big brothers, fantastic online features, and greatly improved visuals and sound.
The big draw here is the control scheme. NHL 2K10 takes full advantage of the Wii's motion-sensing controllers. As with last year, the default control option uses the nunchuk to skate and the remote to handle shooting, passing, and hitting. Everything has been ramped up with the addition of Wii MotionPlus support, however. This is most noteworthy when it comes to using your stick; plugging in the Wii MotionPlus add-on allows the game to track movements so accurately that you can now poke-check, sweep your stick, fire off a snap shot, or wind up for a huge slapper with a flick of the wrist. There is just a touch of lag here, with movements a bit behind the in-game play. Still, it's kind of neat to whirl around like Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken, even if you can't seem to club opponents over the head in true Slap Shot fashion. And the improved controls are certainly noticeable when shooting. Slap shots now have real oomph behind them because their velocity depends on how much you pull the remote back when you wind up for your shot. It's incredibly satisfying to break down the wing and put your all into a howitzer off the stick of a guy like Rick Nash. Well, as long as you have the forearm for it. Oddly enough, shooting with the Wii Remote actually gives you the same muscle ache you'd get from shooting a real puck with a real stick. The same can be said for hitting; you need to strain your shoulders a bit when pushing the remote forward to try to hammer an opponent into the boards. All in all, you get a real hockey-lite workout.
Overall play on the ice remains more arcade-oriented than a simulation of the NHL. As in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of NHL 2K10, this is a slam-bang hockey game that is all about making big-time shots and arriving at the net in ill humor. Yet the on-ice action seems more realistic than its counterparts. Everything is more measured, perhaps as a concession to the more demanding Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Defenders can't be turned as easily coming down the wings as they can in the other editions of the game. Plays develop more realistically because you can't fall into a rut of sailing down the wings and setting up a one timer in the slot during every rush up the ice. Scoring also seems more authentic. The Xbox 360 and PS3 games feature a ton of offensive output thanks to easy-to-use gamepad controls, with pucks winding up in the net from all over the ice. But here, you have to work at it, and the end result is a lot of 2-1, 3-2 sorts of games. Maybe this is because the Wii controls make shooting a little trickier, but the goalies also seem smarter here than they do in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.
One real plus this year is that you don't have to make any big compromises when choosing the Wii version of NHL 2K10. The developers at 2K have managed to cram in every aspect of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game. All of the modes of play offered on the other consoles are also featured here. Even the new online multiplayer that allows you to invite a buddy to join in at just about any time in just about every possible way is included. This further emphasizes NHL 2K10's personality as a great party game--whether you're hosting a gathering in your living room or hooking up with friends spread all over the continent. Games are pretty much lag-free, too, with choppiness only rearing its ugly head when you get into matches with more than four or five remote human players. And WiiSpeak support allows you to indulge in all the trash-talking you want.
Of course, you also have a wide range of options outside of multiplayer. Solo players can get into quick games, take on the entire NHL in season or franchise play, focus in on the Stanley Cup playoffs, or indulge in a range of gimmicks, such as four-on-four pond hockey, three-a-side shinny in a miniature rink, and shoot-out. An exclusive Wii mode is featured here as well: The Mii SuperSkills competition lets you take your Mii avatar onto the ice. It's a trifle, but it's kind of a cool to do things like clock your time skating around the ice by pumping the Wii Remote and Nunchuk up and down.
Even the visuals and sound are impressive. While you'll never confuse this game for its Xbox 360 and PS3 equivalents, the player models, faces, arenas, and animations are sharp and lifelike. You probably don't want to look too closely because the jagged lines and cardboard crowds aren't pretty from a tight vantage point, but the graphics are still awfully good. Audio has been stripped down somewhat because of console limitations, although not by much. Both Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda call games from the broadcast booth, and you even get ice-level updates from a guy hanging out between the player benches. Play-by-play has been reduced to point-form observations in place of longer anecdotes on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and this is actually a good thing. Brevity is a real virtue here because the commentary in this series as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Finally, the indie pop soundtrack has been maintained, so you can groove to the likes of MGMT and Lupe Fiasco while cruising menus and waiting for the puck to drop between whistles.
If you want to play NHL 2K10, play it on the Wii. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game feature good arcade hockey for hanging out on the couch with friends, the Wii Remote controls bring a new dimension to play that ups the challenge and provides added realism.