Once again, NHL 2K10 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is the hockey game for the other guy. 2K Sports' treatment of the sport is the yin to NHL 10's yang, boasting arcade accessibility for casual fans instead of its rival's rigorous attention to on-ice authenticity. While the game is unlikely to be taken seriously by members of the hardcore shinny set, it really wasn't made for them. This is a quick pick-up-and-play game for people whose interest in the real NHL doesn't go much beyond watching a few Stanley Cup final matchups every June after the primetime TV schedule has gone into repeats. There isn't a lot of depth--either on the ice or in the GM's office--here. Scoring is plentiful and pinball passing is a necessity. And, yes, there's a speed burst button. Still, as long as you know what you're getting, you'll make out fine. Even though this isn't a hockey simulation, it is an enjoyable hockey game for those who want to sit down and put the biscuit in the basket right away.
One of the biggest gripes about NHL 2K10 is that it hasn't changed much during the past year. Aside from a few tweaks, the new game is just about identical to its predecessor in terms of feature set. Game modes once more offer the usual grab bag of sports stereotypes. You can jump into a match immediately with quick game, go for the long haul with season or franchise play, head right into the playoffs, try some four-on-four pond hockey, or just mess around with few-minute frills, such as three-on-three action in a miniature rink. While all of these options offer exactly what you would expect and come without any big flaws, there isn't anything here as addictive as NHL 10's Be a Pro mode. Multiplayer has been more thoroughly integrated into the overall package of game modes this year, though. Alongside holdovers, such as online one-off matches and online leagues, you can now invite a buddy to play in just about any possible way. If you're starting up a quick-play game, for instance, you can send out a friend invite to get a pal lined up on your wing. It's a nifty idea that really builds on NHL 2K10's casual personality, making it a great party game whether your friends are with you on the couch or spread across the country. Lag can be a bit of an issue on both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, though it only really becomes noticeable when you're playing with almost full six-on-six squads.
Gameplay is also quite similar to what was featured last year. If anything, the feel on the ice is even more arcade-friendly. The emphasis here is firmly on flow and scoring. You can easily fly down the wing with speed-burst button pumping, turn a defenseman, and either move in for a great scoring chance on your own or flip the puck into the slot for what is almost always a killer onetime shot. Defense here is quite permeable. Even the best defensemen let passes go right between their skates on a regular basis. This isn't exactly realistic, of course, although it does go a long way toward making you feel like Gretzky with a gamepad. It is also a lot less frustrating than dealing with NHL 10's defenders, who can poke-check the puck off your stick with ridiculous ease. So it goes without saying that making highlight-reel passes is a cinch. Turning these feeds into goals is also pretty easy. Drive the net, and the goals will come. If you have traffic in front of the net, pucks shot from all over the ice will find the twine, giving the game a run-and-gun vibe somewhat akin to old-school arcade hockey, such as EA Sports' NHL efforts in the early- and mid-1990s.
Controls also afford you a lot of leeway. As with NHL 2K9, the emphasis here is on ease of use rather than lots of unfriendly fiddly bits that require very dextrous thumbs. Players wheel and turn on a dime, allowing you to easily pull off amazingly agile skating feats. The sluggishness that marred last year's game seems to be a thing of the past, although players still seem to have a pretty low top speed in comparison to the wheels on display in the real NHL. Special scoring moves and dekes are handled with quick button presses, too, allowing newbies to mimic Alex Ovechkin. Buttons are still the default options for passing and shooting (although you can use the right stick for shooting), which makes it a snap to become a credible NHL superstar. This makes for a huge difference between NHL 2K10 and NHL 10 because the latter has been built around using the right analog stick for just about everything related to the hockey stick. All in all, this is a much less demanding game than NHL 10.
The look and sound match NHL 2K10's old-fashioned style of play. The visuals are enhanced over last year as the bizarrely stretched jerseys and blocky Frankenstein-faced players have received an overhaul. Animations have also been smoothed out; a nifty picture-in-picture box now shows line changes, as well as players getting out of the sin bin; and Pond Hockey mode has been spiffed up with a background that looks like a real outdoor rink in any suburban Canadian neighborhood. But there's still a sense that the graphics have passed their best-before date, and new weirdness has been introduced to the mix, such as oddly big-headed goalies. The interface has also been completely reworked, although it just swaps last year's convoluted nested menus for a slightly less confusing method where choices pop up on your screen. Audio is also stuck on repeat, especially when it comes to the generic commentary of play-by-play man Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda. The only change seems to be more bizarre anecdotes from Remenda and a couple of insane jibes about on-ice mistakes, like "Hey, Stan, pick up my guy. No thanks, I don't like cappuccino." The music is much less obnoxious than usual for a hockey game, however. Instead of the usual nu-metal and three-cord rawk that turns hockey into a kissing cousin to the X-Games, the soundtrack is loaded with pop indie tunes from such bands as MGMT and Phoenix. Some might not find this fitting for a hockey game, although it's sure a nice change of pace.
Fewer demands come with fewer rewards. Even though NHL 2K10 is an improvement over its predecessor, its continued lack of depth means that experienced gamers will soon master it and look for greater challenges. You can increase the difficulty, of course, but that only appears to increase the speed of the game rather than test your hockey abilities. So this is really sort of a starter hockey game that you might play for a while before graduating to a more serious effort like NHL 10. There isn't anything particularly wrong with that, of course, although the game's long-term value seems limited to social gamers who want something accessible to play with their less hockey-inclined buddies.