NHL 2K11 Review for Nintendo Wii

NHL 2K11 Review for Nintendo Wii

This year, 2K Sports bet the success of its NHL series on its ability to make MotionPlus work for hockey. Unlike its multiplatform predecessors, NHL 2K11 is a Wii exclusive, and far and away, the biggest change since last year’s entry is the improved support for the Wii-mote’s tiny but powerful extender.

NHL 2K11 screenshot

Is the experiment a success? It depends what you’re looking to get out of it, and whether you even have the option of turning to EA’s NHL 11, which is scheduled for release only on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Those looking for a truly realistic and user-friendly experience, one where players intuitively move their hands like they’re playing hockey and the on-screen players move along, won’t be happy. MotionPlus does not make this game any simpler or easier to learn. Hockey, when played with any degree of seriousness, simply requires too many different moves, and even a souped-up Wii controller can’t detect them all by motion alone. So, if you want to go with MotionPlus (you can still use the Classic Controller or an unmodified Wii-mote), you’re forced to learn a fairly complicated system. A decent tutorial is provided, and we highly recommend it.

If you’re on offense, for example, you’ll need to draw from this massive list of moves. The Nunchuk’s joystick moves your player. The A button, combined with a direction on the joystick, makes you pass the puck. Holding down the B button puts you into shooting mode; winding up to the left and swinging fires off a wrist shot, and winding up to the right and swinging performs a slap shot. Letting the B button go before your follow-through makes you fake the shot. Waving the Nunchuk performs a “contextual open ice deke,” except when you’re skating toward the goalie, when it makes you deke and then automatically shoot. Up on the D-pad dumps the puck, and holding it performs a slap-dump. Left on the D-pad drops the puck to the player behind you. Holding down on the D-pad lets you deke the puck with MotionPlus without shooting it. You can even juggle the puck in the air by holding C and moving the Wii-mote up, and you can take special kinds of shots by moving the Wii and the Nunchuk up at the same time.

NHL 2K11 screenshot

Got all that? You’d better, because there’s a similarly complicated move set for defensive players, and still more moves to learn for goalies. Fortunately, driving the Zamboni between quarters is much simpler, though the ice-cleaner doesn’t handle well.

The upside is that while the motion controls don’t make the game more accessible, they do provide a bit more immersion. Once you’ve mastered all the moves, a process that takes an hour or two at minimum, you’ll realize that you’re just a little more “into it” than you normally are with hockey games. Once you get the timing down, it’s especially exhilarating to thrust both your hands forward while on defense, slamming an opposing player into the boards.

NHL 2K11 screenshot

That’s not to say things are perfect, however. We felt the skaters took too long to change directions, and once in a while, our inputs weren’t translated properly into on-screen action. The more we got the feel for the system’s quirks, however, the less these things were a problem, and those who can’t get past the occasional imprecision can resort to the other control methods (which work just fine).

A more serious issue is that while the goalie AI is strong against most strategies, it sometimes exhibits incredibly stupid behavior in the face of what should be easy-to-block shots. Playing multiplayer, it feels as though your score depends not so much on your performance, but rather on the whims of the computer-controlled guy who’s supposed to be standing between your opponent and the goal.

There’s also a new game mode called Road to the Cup. Fittingly for the Wii, this mode comprises a variety of minigames you can play when your casual-gamer friends visit. Using your Miis, you do things like answer trivia questions, play shootouts, and navigate mazes on the ice. It’s not the most compelling gaming experience you’ll ever have, and it’s quite boring when played single-player, but a group of kids, or a group of adults at a party, could find it amusing in short bursts.

NHL 2K11 screenshot

Also, we were impressed with the game’s online multiplayer. There’s much more lag than we’d like, and the quick matches can take a few minutes to set up, but when so many Wii games lack online functionality entirely, it’s nice to be able to battle friends and random people long-distance. The game supports Wii Speak, and with the Team Up feature, you can even play games entirely without AI players.

Aside from all that, the game isn’t much of a departure from previous entries in the series, but it’s worth noting just how much content there is. You can play seasons and playoffs, build franchises, fight through the Winter Classic (Bruins vs. Flyers), and play in online leagues. For beginners, in addition to the tutorial, there are several preset difficulty levels, as well as the ability to tweak various facets of the difficulty (such as skating speed) manually. There’s even pond and mini-rink hockey. Sure, these features are basically just a roster update away from NHL 2K10, but those who haven’t played the series in a while will appreciate the wide range of options.

Obviously, in making NHL 2K11 a Wii exclusive, the developers sacrificed a bit in the graphics department. The visuals make good use of what the Wii has to offer, with top-notch animations and some great character models, but there won’t be any of the near-photorealistic imagery you might have seen on Xbox 360 or PS3. We hope that next year, with Kinect and Move on the market, the developers can combine this game’s motion controls with more believable visuals.

The sound, meanwhile, is quite good, with announcers who sound completely natural and some modern rock tracks from groups including Three Doors Down, Alice in Chains, and Wolfmother (run through an effect to make them sound like they’re being played in a stadium, of course).

Though they did include some minigames, the developers obviously intended NHL 2K11 to be that rarest of creatures: a third-party Wii game for dedicated players. With a few reservations, we have to say they pretty much hit the mark. Those who buy NHL 2K11 should be under no illusion that the new controls are easy to learn, but by adding MotionPlus to an already solid franchise, 2K created a video game unlike any other.

Does it beat the competition? Once again, hockey fans who own a Wii console and no others don’t have much of a choice; EA’s NHL 11 isn’t slated to appear on Nintendo’s machine. Multiplatform gamers, however, must make a hard decision: would they rather stick to the familiar interface and high-quality graphics of NHL 11, or give a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, new setup a chance?

They’re good for the Wii, but one can’t help but think about what gamers are missing out on by this being a Wii exclusive. 3.7 Control
Unfortunately, the improved MotionPlus controls don’t make the game more accessible, but they do give it a sense of realism. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
NHL 2K11 has realistic-sounding announcers and good modern rock tracks. 3.9

Play Value
Once you get a hang of the new controls, there’s a ton of content here, though most of it is taken directly from the franchise’s previous installments.

3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Increased control on Wii MotionPlus: Maximize your skills with the Wii Console’s trademark motion controls. Have more control of your stick with real-time puck handling, dekes, poke checks, and even juggling moves.
  • Authentic gameplay: New broken sticks, more responsive skating, improved A.I., and more add to the most authentic hockey experience on Wii.
  • Road to the Cup: This interactive multiplayer mode pits Mii characters head to head in mini-games, trivia challenges, and skills competitions. Does your Mii have what it takes to hoist the Stanley Cup?
  • Soundtrack: Rock the rink with Alice in Chains, Wolfmother, The Bravery, Rise Against, 3 Doors Down, New Found Glory, OneRepublic, and more.
  • Enhanced graphics: Improved player models, freshly lit and redesigned arenas, and highly detailed jerseys and equipment bring to life the best looking Wii hockey game to date.

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