Thursday, October 14, 2010

NHL Slapshot for Wii

My family is all about hockey these days because my 7-year-old son recently joined a hockey team. He is madly in love with the sport and really enjoying playing it.

He and my other two children were very excited to try out EA Sports' NHL Slapshot for the Wii. My kids love to play video games, but they have never played a team sports game like this one, so I was curious to see how they would like it.

The game looks fun from the get go, because players put their remotes and nunchuks inside a plastic hockey stick, so the play is much more hockey-like than if the player were just pushing buttons.

I'm also happy to report that the blade of the hockey stick is spongy, so if you get whacked straight across the face with it, like I did, it won't hurt very much.

The hockey stick also makes for an energetic game that you should probably stand up for, making the video game experience a more active one. Jack beat the system on this one, managing to play effectively from a sitting position.

You can play without a hockey stick, although it is probably less fun. If you get the game bundle, it comes with one hockey stick. Additional sticks cost $14.99.

Up to four people can play the game, which is great. I always appreciate when games let more than two people play at one time.

So how is the actual game?

The short answer is that it is fun. The long answer is that it is a little complicated. There are so many ways to play the game that adults and more adept gamers will really enjoy exploring the options. Kids are probably better off starting with the 2 vs. 2 option, as opposed to the full team option.

Thankfully there is a training option for the game because, not being someone who knows a lot about hockey, I barely understood the terms in the controls guide. Like, what's a poke check? Probably someone who knows more about hockey would get more out of the nuances of this game.

My kids love to play. They play the peewee league 2 vs. 2 option, but there is so much to choose from. You can play as a pro, you can play 5-on-5 junior league games, you can play a whole season, you can play starting as a peewee and work your way up to pro. You can play any of the mini games from shooter vs. goalie to free for all.

You can create your own player or assume the identity of your favorite player on your favorite team. You can even play as Wayne Gretsky. One of the cool features is that if your Wii is connected to the internet, you can access online updates to make sure you have the latest rosters and schedules.

All in all, it's a pretty cool game.

Here's my pet peeve about the game. The hockey stick? It comes in a lot of little pieces. Most of them are easy to figure out how to put together, but it is impossible to intuit how to stick the blade into the shaft of the stick. I almost gave up.

The game itself has a video on how to assemble and use your stick, but I knew that I couldn't put in the game disc to access that video without having all three of my kids come running in and yelling at me until I let them play. So I tried to assemble it from the instructions in the manual.

(UPDATED TO ADD: EA has put up a step-by-step guide with pictures on putting the stick together. Perfect!)

You cannot do that. It simply won't work. I was forced to search the internet for more details and was reduced to watching a 13-minute YouTube video on HOW TO OPEN THE BOX. It took until about minute 12 of that video before they gave me the tip that I needed for the hockey stick assembly:

The part of the shaft into which you put the blade opens. You can't just jam the blade into the stick.

Once you have the stick all constructed, you put the remote in—but you won't be able to point the remote at the screen after you put it in the stick, so make sure you set up your game first. There is room for everything to neatly coil inside the stick.

Voila! There is a little door that goes over the coiled wire. My kids need help to put everything all together, but older kids could do it by themselves.

All in all, NHL Slapshot is a fun game with a lot of room for my kids to grow into it. I like that it is wholesome and nonviolent, but that it can appeal to all ages, from my 5-year-old to my husband. Granted, my husband can play with more skill and will use more of the options than my children, who have as yet only mastered a few controls, but they all have so much fun. And, honestly, that is the real goal.

Really, the smile on this kid? That's all I need to see.

Honesty Clause: EA Sports sent me a review copy of the NHL Slapshot Bundle (with stick) and an additional Slapshot hockey stick.