Hockey might not be the most popular sport around these days, but it’s got some pretty diehard fans around the country and, just as important, has inspired some really great video games for the sport. The Wii has seen iterations of most major sports franchises already, from Madden to NBA Live, but, until now, hockey has been conspicuously absent. 2K breaks that trend with NHL 2K9, but, sadly, it’s not quite up to snuff.
It’s not that NHL 2K9 is poor, and for a first hockey effort on the Wii it’s not bad. There are some good ideas here, but for every positive point, the game has an equally poor aspect that can make this game hard to enjoy. Hockey fans looking for their favorite sport on the Wii might be happy with this title, but most everybody else should probably stick to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of this game or spend some time with EA’s hockey franchise on those consoles.
For starters, NHL 2K9 on the Wii feels surprisingly dated for a game of this generation. It really feels more like a GameCube game than a Wii game, and titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3 have shown us that there is a significant difference in the graphical capabilities of the two consoles. Graphics are the most noticeable way in which this game feels older than it is, but even in terms of gameplay and interface, NHL 2K9 is just not particularly impressive.
In terms of visuals, though, NHL 2K9 is really a let-down. Character models are all very similar and many are even identical; you really get the sense that corners were cut here. Additionally, the crowd visuals are similar to those we got several years ago; the ones that looked like 2D cardboard cut-outs. Finally, there can be a few issues with the framerate which doesn’t make much sense, because even with lots going out at once, the screen never gets extremely busy.
In terms of actual hockey mechanics, NHL 2K9 does a pretty good job getting things right. It certainly feels more like an arcade game than EA’s take on the NHL, and, as a result, you tend to get higher scores and a more exciting, fast-paced hockey experience. That’s either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. hockey purists may be more satisfied with EA’s slower-paced focus on strategy and setting up plays, but NHL 2K9 is quite an accessible game and easy for anybody to have fun with.
Additionally, the control is well-conceived. The motion controls that are incorporated into the game feel good and don’t seem tacked on; they actually feel integrated into the game and they’re intuitive and easy-to-use. Shooting and passing in particular work best; button presses are combined with motion controls, and, as a result, you’ll find less of the accidental actions that sometimes characterize sports games on the Wii.
Passing is done via cursor system, which feels tight and intuitive, especially compared to more traditional button presses to pass the puck. Pointing and clicking work nicely with the fast-paced game of hockey the title tries to provide. The downside here is when the framerate takes a dip (something that happens fairly often, sadly) the cursor also starts to lag and can be very disorienting.
For the most part, the core gameplay mechanic is solid. But there is a number of little issues throughout that make it hard to have fun with this game. For example, the A.I. is quite horrendous, even on higher difficult settings. I understand an attempt was made to make this game accessible, but there are better ways to do that than dumbing the game down. The passing cursor, for all the good it does, feels a bit loose at times and it’s easy to overreact and perform a bad pass. It’s not a big deal and it’s not going to cost you a game playing against the poor A.I., but it’s still annoying.
Additionally, NHL 2K9 is lacking in the modes department; there’s just not much of an offering here. Quick play and local multiplayer are all fine and dandy, but online is an absolute no-brainer for this game. There are also a few Wii-exclusive modes in this package, such as pond hockey, but these aren’t particularly fun, nor do they provide a different experience from the traditional game of hockey, so you’re left wondering what the point is.
NHL 2K9 isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t manage to stand out either. EA has done a fantastic job with their sports franchises on the Wii, providing fully fleshed-out experiences while taking advantage of the Wii’s capabilities and providing all the features that you’d expect from the game on another more “hardcore” console. Sadly, 2K Sports doesn’t seem to be taking the same approach to the Wii, and NHL 2K9 has a churned-out, back-for-more-next-year kind of feel. There is potential here, though, and the series could improve over the next year or two. I certainly hope so, because NHL 2K9 has some good ideas. But, execution is shoddy and you’re probably better-off checking this game out on the PS3 or 360.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.7 Graphics
An unpredictable framerate, poor character models, and a visual sloppiness constantly plague the title. 3.8 Control
They don’t work perfectly, but, for the most part, the Wii-specific controls are fun and easy to use. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The commentary is somewhat boring, but the game’s soundtrack is surprisingly good. 2.2
If you can get over some annoying problems during gameplay, you’ll probably have fun with this game. But a lack of online play is particularly glaring.
2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.