NHL 2K9 review
Available for
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PS2
Publisher
2K Games
NHL 2K9

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

()

H

ey, I make no bones about which hockey video game experience has always been my favorite. 2K Sports has repeatedly won me over, over Electronic Arts’ long-running franchise. While 2K’s version of the game hasn’t always been the prettiest (it looks gorgeous this year), it has always been the more accessible. Some of the more hardcore gamers may say that just makes the game a dumbed-down experience, but I say why not have a game that anyone can basically pick up and play and have a good time with? After all, isn’t that what video games are all about?

And anyway, “NHL 2K9” isn’t dumbed-down at all. Declaring on the packaging that “The FUN is back,” this game is indeed lots of fun. It’s pretty much playable right out of the box, without having to learn a bunch of complex controls and sub controls just to be able to play a good, healthy game of hockey. 2K Sports is definitely great at making their sports sims fun, even if they don’t cram all the extras into each year’s version (honestly, they don’t seem to always make the best game, anyway).

Where players will certainly first notice the difference between this game and EA’s “NHL 09” is in the game presentation. Here, the pre-game festivities are full of eye candy and really go the distance in injecting excitement into the game before the first puck is dropped. Add the cut scenes between plays that don’t show off bad graphical slowdowns, instant replays that don’t make you want to hit the skip button, and great color commentary by Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda, and you’re already looking at a top-notch experience.

 Yet it’s the control of the game itself that makes “NHL 2K9” so much fun. Fans who still love their speed burst button (that EA swiped from its game) will feel right at home here. Say what you will about the turbo button, but the fact that it’s been in video game hockey for years (and video game football, too, for that matter) has just made it an element that feels right. In addition, controlling the team members is a smooth experience. A lot of the older canned animations were chucked out the window, and 2K Sports created 1,400 new ones just for this game. The difference is notable, too. Finally we have a hockey game that looks about as real as it can, when it comes to the players’ motions.

Fighting is also much improved this year. Everyone loves to see a fight in a hockey game, but it has never translated well into its video game counterpart. Thankfully, this has pretty much been fixed, with players being able to switch between two buttons (hard and soft punches). What’s more, the fights don’t feel clunky at all, and look pretty smooth, too. The only nitpicking I have is that the color commentary is usually always the same when the fight is over, but that’s a minor quibble.

When it comes to the online game, this year 2K Sports boasts multiplayer action banded together by up to 12 consoles online. It’s sort of like EA’s six-on-six feature in their game this year, but a bit different enough to notice. Comparing both experiences, once again I had more fun with this title. It just felt like the overall online experience was more fun, accessible and didn’t have the tendency to melt down into arguing among players.

“NHL 2K9” also has its wacky “drive the Zamboni” mini game, that Xbox 360 users will want to play for the Achievement and probably forget all about afterwards. It’s fun enough, but not essential. There are also user-controlled Stanley Cup celebrations, and players can even thrill to their fave players sporting playoff beards. Yeah, OK, maybe some of this stuff is goofy, but 2K definitely covered all the fun sides to the game here. My only real complaint is the crappy music. Do we really need bands like The Offspring, Pennywise, and Bad Religion still being the backdrop for these sports games? It got old years ago in Tony Hawk skating games, and feels even more stale here.

So which new hockey game is the right one for you? Well, if you’re more about the nitty gritty, EA’s “NHL 09” might be the better choice. But don’t be fooled. “NHL 2K9” can be a really deep experience as well. Unlike its counterpart, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming when you first pop it in. 2K Sports has found the near perfect balance between arcade fun and simulation. The presentation is top notch, the game play smooth as silk. If in doubt, rent both, but don’t be surprised if “NHL 2K9” winds up winning you over in the end.

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