From: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (10+)
Funny thing about the NHL 2K series: the franchise from 2K Sports used to compete directly with EA Sports' hockey titles, differentiated for the common man only by a "K" in the title, as in 2K Sports' NHL 2K
10 vs EA Sports' k-less NHL 10. But back in the day, 2K opted to fiercely compete with the juggernaut brand of EA first by releasing its annual hockey title at a bargain basement price point, usually $20 to EA's NHL game at $50, and also by making the better hockey sim, with critical acclaim and accolades always favoring 2K's innovation and progressive quality while EA's annual outings came off as overpriced derivatives.
It seems that the winning formula couldn't last, however - perhaps poor ROI at $20 left 2K with little in the kitty to keep up with the whole "progressive" development thing - and over the last two or three years EA's hockey games got better and better and it was 2K's turn to churn out derivative annual sequels.
This year, 2K didn't even bother to release a hockey game for the PlayStation3 or Xbox 360, the high definition, online intensive platforms with a high bar, especially considering EA Sport's latest string of hit hockey titles. Instead, 2K Sports is doing hockey this year for Wii only, a standard-def, mostly-offline console drowning in low budget titles so that when a good game comes along, it really stands out.
So yes, as a Wii game - a rarer-still Wii sports simulation, for that matter - NHL 2K11 is a noteworthy offering. It offers a robust and decently-delivered gaggle of modes and options, Mii on Mii niceties, pond to pro settings, road-to-the-cup career convolutions and multiplayer hockey hoopla to spare - and you'd expect no less. Within the various settings and adjustables, the game can be set to as goofy and family friendly as you like, but it can also deliver a fairly intensive sports simulator demanding your best hockey moxy (puck juggling on-the-fly, anyone?), as you wish.
New is sticks that break. Turns out, that's not as cool or relevant as you'd think, mainly because it's not an aspect of bad finess, more like a randomized hassle. One wrong twitch or two wrong waggles and bam! Busty, buddy. Sucks to be you. Keeps it real, anyway, but man, fun? Nope.
Graphically adequate in the Wii way of chunky blocky lines and limited minutia, NHL 2K11 is not hard to look at, but it's not particularly dazzling either. Serviceable, in a word.
Controls are uniquely Wii-ish, of course, with thumbstick player control on a Nunchuk attached to the Wii Remote (Wii-mote), which attempts to offer motion controlled stick handling, but really just sequences waggle and twitch motions alluded to earlier to affect shooting and passing. Aside from a newly added "deke" mechanic with the Wii-mote's d-pad and an attempted enhanced to stick-swing motions, it's not at all unlike last year's NHL 2K on Wii, and that saying something - and it's not saying "this is more awesome." Just more of the more-or-less sameness. Serviceable.
And wouldn't you know it, EA Sports has gone and released its own Wii-specific hockey game this year, NHL Slapshot. And wouldn't you also know it, it's the better game, with better "air stick" motion control thanks to a bundle peripheral housing both the Wii-mote and the Nunchuk in, like, a stick. And it's got Wayne Gretzky in the game and on the box. Yes, Slapshot costs a bit more than NHL 2K11, but it's better suited to the Wii crowd nonetheless, and really a more rounded, more accessible experience. NHL 2K11, on the other hand, is last year's good game tweaked and juked and made just good-with-caveats again, and that's just not good enough. It's not a fail, but enough with the flail already.