Wii owners were without hockey for quite a long time, and it looked like things weren't ever going to pick up as far as the "coolest game on earth" and Nintendo's "everyone can play" system was concerned. Some shovelware sports compilations had brief snippets of "hockey" in them – though calling that hockey is like calling Ninjabread Man an "action/adventure epic" – and even 2K's own NHL 2K9 for Wii was a bit of a disappointment.
Well, things change, and evidence of that is found in 2K's new take on NHL for Wii in the form of NHL 2K10. The game isn't perfect, and there's plenty to work out for 2K11, but this package is evidence that someone out there cares if Wii owners have a good game of puck, and 2K made good on their original statement that players would be shocked at the amount of content. This game has all the makings of a downright amazing game of hockey; it's just missing a bit of polish all around.
2K insists that the game we're all picking up for Wii is a downgrade from the 360/PS3 engine, but to be honest I'm still not convinced; not that it really matters where the game comes from, but just that it's good. Visuals are still lacking in my opinion, looking like PS2 with maybe a bit more detail on the players, and while things like arena intros and plenty of great commentary from Dan Rusanowsky – the voice of the San Jose Sharks – are great, there's evidence all over the place that Wii's horsepower is an issue. The framerate locks around 30, though I've seen a few dips (which have an impact on player movement and IR-based cursor passing) and things like the arena crowds just look terrible. The team strives to get everything in the game, be it the animated menus (that look great, by the way) and all the options and features, but the visuals themselves could be stronger. If 2K is serious about bringing an amazing game of hockey to Wii, I highly suggest they pull the camera in a bit, go with a more arcade-like look – not casual, but maybe a grounded take on something like NHL Hits for example) and focus more on the pick up and play fun, and less on trying to get everything you see visually in the 360 version. I'm not suggesting the company goes for a Madden-like casual morph, but a more arcade-inspired game that focuses on player models, slick animations, and a high framerate would do wonders.
As for the rest of the package though, NHL 2K10 is a great offering, and a huge step in the right direction on Wii. This game is packed, and most players won't even find all the options or creation elements until they sink a good dozen hours into the game. 2K10 supports auto sign-in from boot, which means you can always see what friends are online, the quickplay screen (basically the game's main menu) has quickmatch just a click away, instantly bringing in someone from online to play, Wii Speak is included for friends, and Wii MotionPlus is also used. As for options and modes, everything (yes, everything) you find in the 360 and PS3 versions is there, so you get pond hockey, quick play, all the 2K sliders, practice rinks, season mode, franchise mode, create-a-player, create-a-team, a new team-up mode where up to 10 consoles can link and play against each other, online leagues, and so much more. All the 2K Share elements are also supported, so you can change sliders and then upload them to servers, sign up for online leagues and play, create teams or players and upload those, or customize rosters (or make new draft rosters for year-over-year play) and upload that info as well. Of course if you aren't big on the creation aspect you can just hop online, see what the most downloaded content is, and grab it all in a matter of seconds. If someone else makes Wayne Gretzky as a created player and you want him, just download him onto your system. The amount of connectivity with users – either via content, leagues, quick matches, friends, or team-up mode – is just staggering.
As for performance, online is a serious case-by-case basis. I've had matches that ran nearly as well online as they did against computers, and I also had games where there was obvious control lag. This is another area where 2K needs to polish, polish, polish on Wii, as the game has dozens of online options, but nobody will want to play them if some low-speed competitors bog down the experience. I've also had some great matches online though, so this is far from a crippling issue – just an annoying one.
As for the control options, 2K has everything from classic controller play (if you want to go traditional) to Wii-mote/nunchuk and also the addition of Wii MotionPlus. MotionPlus is hands-down the way to play, and while it isn't perfect it's obvious the team is again moving in the right direction with it. When playing with motion controllers you'll move with the analog stick, pass by either tapping A and holding a direction (classic mode), flicking the controller (not a fan of this one), or using cursor passing like 2K9, which is my favorite. As a quick note, cursor passing doesn't work in online games, and that's a bit of a shame. Shooting is done with B, and if you've got MotionPlus it'll actually track how far back you pull, changing the skater's stick height as you move your hand. I love shooting with MotionPlus, by the way. Flicking your wrist will do a quick shot, but pulling back is very rewarding, and you can dial in a mix of speed and accuracy based on how far you decide to wind up and let loose. Checking is done by pushing both the Wii remote and nunchuk forward at the same time, and while that may sound lame it's actually kind of nice, since it takes a bit of prep, and games don't turn into a big hit fest all the time.
What it also does is ensures that you'll use other moves included in the game this year. You can stick lift, poke check, and even hold down on the d-pad for free stick movement with MotionPlus. That final option is awesome, but there's too much of a delay between moving your hand and the stick, so using that to sweep away the puck (or as quick custom dekes on offense) just isn't as responsive as it could be. It fits the rest of 2K10 though, as it's a first-pass take on the design, it's great that the team is pushing what it can do, and I'd expect way more polish next time around. Framerate is going to fix a whole lot of those issues as well, since you'll have better cursor passing, quicker controller response, and more of a sense of control when fixed. For those that aren't into all the motion though, the classic controller is supported, and it plays just like the other versions of the game. Since 2K gives you full control of the sliders as well, players can speed the game up or crank to a more arcade-like feel whenever they want, and I certainly prefer a faster, more intense game of hockey.
2K also added in a new mode called Mii Superskills, and while I get the reason for adding it, resources certainly could have gone elsewhere. Superskills is all about taking your Mii into the game (something most games can't do, as ordered by Nintendo) and participating in All-Star inspired challenges like shooting accuracy, breakaways, and goalie mode. The mode might be nice for picking up casual users, but there's also a lot of inherent complexity with MotionPlus, so I'm not sure how many kids will really get into shooting around in this mode. Even so, most of the events play great, and while I wouldn't personally spend much time here I can see the appeal. If it was between a better core engine and gameplay mechanic though, I'd put resources there instead for next year. My only real gripe with Superskills mode (outside of the still-lingering visual issue; everything looks too muddy and PS2-like) is the goalie mode, which just isn't as responsive as I'd like. I feel like I'm making the movies, and it just isn't reading me. As an extra little mode that shouldn't effect whether you jump on board or pass up 2K10, however, it's just another feature in a long list of modes to check out. Not my cup of tea, but it's more content for those that want it.
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