Athletes, both amateur and professional, have different ways to prep themselves for a game. Some listen to loud music, others take a nap. But for me, there's nothing better than playing a simulated version of the game I'm about to step on the ice and play.
With the National Hockey League's regular season starting next week, I took the opportunity to see which of the latest hockey video games I'm most likely to keep playing before lacing up my skates this adult league season.
— "NHL 11" (EA Sports, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $60): This season, EA's hockey game is the only one available for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Fortunately, as in the past, it's a dream game for fans and players alike.
For "NHL 11," EA Sports has updated its physics engine, making on-ice action like face-offs and body checks more real. Other features, like new ways to take face-offs or hit an opponent, are among the more than 200 enhancements, along with realistic details like broken hockey sticks and video goal reviews by the referees.
EA has also updated its Be a Pro mode, expanding the number of other hockey leagues your custom player can join before moving up to the big show. It has also added the Hockey Ultimate Team, in which you collect trading cards, set lineups based on those cards, and then pit your team against the computer or another opponent online.
"NHL 11" remains the gold standard for authentic hockey. Four stars our of four.
— "NHL Slapshot" (EA Sports, for Nintendo Wii, $60): EA's hockey game for the Wii may not have the graphic flash of its Xbox/PS3 cousins, but it does include some of their best features. More important, it lets you use the Wii controller as a hockey stick. The Wii remote and nunchuck slide into a plastic casing, complete with a foam blade. You use the hockey stick to take shots on net, move around players, check opponents into the boards or lift another player's stick. You can also play as goalie, using the Wii controllers as the glove and blocker.
Other highlights include the split-screen and minigames, as well as the "Pee Wee to Pro" mode that lets users create a 10-year-old version of themselves playing on a backyard rink and work their way up to the NHL. Players can also choose to play as a "peewee" version of Wayne Gretzky and some of hockey's other great stars. Gretzky also serves as a coach in the "Pee Wee to Pro" mode, giving players tips on how to get to the NHL.
As with most Wii games, the graphics don't compare with PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games. But using the hockey stick accessory really puts you into the game. It may be a bit difficult to get the hang of the controls, but it is fun to move the stick to take shots and hit other players. Just a tip: Don't put the controller together until you've launched the game because you cannot navigate the Wii menu once the hockey stick is put together.
— "NHL 2K11" (2K Sports, for Nintendo Wii, $50): Graphics are always a sticking point for gamers. So when you're used to true-to-life sports simulation games, the Wii has never been the best platform to showcase those type of titles.
But what games like 2K Sports' "NHL 2K11" lack in graphics is redeemed with simplicity of play. The Wii remote and nunchuck serve as your controls to skate, hit, pass and shoot. And if you're using the Wii MotionPlus, you can step up your game to do more complicated moves, juggle the puck and do trick shots with your Wii remote. You can also use a classic controller.
2K Sports updated its player models and redesigned the arenas, jerseys and equipment with more detail. Producers also added other features like broken sticks and improved the skating.
By far my favorite feature of "NHL 2K11" is the Road to the Cup feature, a series of minigames, trivia challenges and skills competitions that make use of the Wii motion controls. The minigames use your Mii characters to compete against friends or the computer.
If you're looking for a hockey game for the Wii, "NHL 2K11" can be a fun option to pop in, to get off the couch and play with friends, or play online against other opponents.
2K Sports also makes an iPhone/iPod Touch version of the game for $7. The graphics, once again, leave something to be desired, but for the price and portability, it's worth the download.
For the Wii version, two-and-a-half stars.
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