At first blush, EA's NHL Slapshot for Wii has all the earmarks of an arcade sports game for the kiddies. And while it is just that, by and large, it's also genuinely fun for "kiddies of all ages," mainly because it's the only hockey game out there to come with a hockey stick. Booya!
Not a full blown, 5 foot long hockey stick, of course - think how awkward that packaging would be - but a little black plastic hockey stick just big enough to house the Wii Remote controller (Wii-mote) in the middle and the Nunchuk in the hilt while down at the business end is a soft stick blade.
Slapshot does provided for old fashion, anti-kinetic, sit-on-the-couch controller-only configurations, but there's little magic in it. It's all about the stick.
Conveniently, the thumbstick of the Nunchuk is used to move your player around, and it sits in just a spot conducive to holding a hockey stick - thumb-down with your left hand, if you shoot right, or vice-versa. Likewise, the Wii-mote's placement mid-way down the shaft give effortless access to the buttons thereon while maintaining a correct (albeit foreshortened) grip on the stick.
Thus equipped to control both player movement on screen along with actual stick flick and swing motions conveying on-screen stick control, shooting is as unaffected as it sounds: wind up like you're about to take a real slap shot, for example, swing away and bam, done on screen. It's best to be up and off the couch, of course, and within a wide, wide swath of empty space.
Body checking is just as intuitive: make a cross checking motion with your plastic contraption in hand (i.e. a two-handed pushing motion with stick in between to impart a bit of demoralizing pain in the process) and that's what comes off on screen, along with a bit of crunch and tumble if you hit your man right.
The actual game of NHL Slapshot is essentially a kid friendly version of the EA's high-definition hockey simulator, NHL 11 on PlayStation3 and Xbox 360, except with over-exaggerated hits where players literally go flying when you hit them, where flames come shooting out of the puck as it's slap-shotted at the goal, and where the tempo of any given matchup is clearly and permanently caffeinated.
Nevertheless, NHL Slapshot still provides a surprisingly robust NHL experience; there are still loads of skills drills, full playable seasons, exhibition games and the Stanley Cups playoffs to play, just like the big boy versions.
Slapshot also features a clever take on the expected career mode, here dubbed Peewee to Pro mode where, as the name would suggest, you start out as a toddler in very-Minor hockey and work your way up to the pros. It's quite fresh and nicely novel - and, truth be told, playing as little kids on a backyard rink is just plain fun.
It's not all cookies and ice-cream greatness, however. NHL Slapshot is lacking in a couple of departments.
There's no online play, for one thing, which is not really surprising for a Wii game, but as the online component of most sports games these days is where the long-playing bang-for-the-buck resides, that it's missing in NHL Slapshot yet still commanding top retail pricing is a bit of a letdown. Like a consolation prize, you get a 99 cent plastic stick instead. And a picture of Wayne Gretzky on the box, probably another 99 cents right there. For Wayne, anyway. Just speculating, of course.
Secondly is the complaint/left-handed compliment in that once you've played with that aforementioned hockey stick peripheral, playing without it just sucks. This becomes all the more glaringly apparent if you have a friend over to play and realize the game only comes with one stick and someone will have to go without. Or you'll need to pony up another $15 for a second stick peripheral. For a game that's heavily marketed with never less than two people waxing ecstatic at either the fun found in the game or having Wayne Gretzky in their house, that EA ships the thing to accommodate just one player with no friends seems insulting. Actually, it's seems like your typical upsell, but the kiddies will probably only understand the suckiness of the conundrum.
It goes without saying, of course, that if you're going to rent NHL Slapshot, be sure to rent the stick along with it - and maybe a second stick if you happen to have a friend, which EA seems to doubt.
Buy it, however, and you're getting yourself a surprisingly fun and uniquely-Wii hockey game that should get you off the couch and breaking the chandelier for hours on end. Spend the extra dough on a second stick and it's double the pleasure, nicely offsetting the sting of being gouged fifteen hundred coppers for an extra hunk of plastic.