Sports games on the Wii have always been very underwhelming due mostly to the fact that developers try to shoehorn their main franchise controls onto the Wii. NHL Slapshot however, has come up with a new way to play which takes advantage of the Wii's unique abilities. Despite this, the interesting problem that NHL Slapshot has is that everything other than the core gameplay leaves something to be desired but the actual time spent playing the game is incredibly enjoyable.
Initially the game is incredibly frustrating. The game comes with a stick peripheral which is a hassle to construct - ironic given the target audience. The game does show a brief tutorial video, however it's not possible to pause the video and subsequent views are still too fast. Not exactly a great start to any gaming experience. It gets even more annoying though, as it is not possible to boot into the game from the Wii main menu while the controller is in the stick.
Peripheral frustration aside, once in the game the unique mechanics of the Wii really shine. The basic concept is that you use the stick peripheral to imitate the real life motions of hockey, and for the most part, it succeeds. Flicking the stick forward leads to a wrist shot and pulling it back and then making a shooting motion leads to a slapshot. The game is very intuitive for anyone that has played hockey in any form before. Taking a faceoff is done by simply pulling the stick back at the right time and while it does take some getting used to, it is very satisfying when all the pieces come together and you're winning consistently.
Some issues do arise with the control scheme though. For example, when trying to use the B button to perform a move on offense or defense. The B button controls the deking mechanic on offensive and it seems as though the motions required are extremely exaggerated and tend to leave your stick off center for following up the deke with a shot, which leads to the Wii not being able to register the attempt. On defense it takes care of poke checks and stick lifts, both of which felt extremely hard to pull off successfully due to the game speed. It was much easier to simply thrust the stick forward for a bodycheck then deal with the B button while playing defense.
NHL Slapshot has two main gameplay styles. There is a 3-on-3 no rules type of game and there is a standard 5-on-5 hockey mode. The game does take some of the mechanics from both NHL 3-on-3 Arcade and the main NHL franchise on Xbox 360 and PS3 however the game leans much more to the arcade style than the pure simulation of NHL 11. This is a good choice because the Wii is not accurate enough to pull off the full simulation and it would lead to an extremely frustrating experience, instead of the extremely fun one that EA Canada has come up with.
The game also offers a Goalie mode which is played by popping the nunchuck out of the controller and holding the stick and nunchuck like a professional would hold their blocker and glove. The goalie mode is somewhat fun, however, the goalie automatically follows the play around and all that is really needed is to make the correct motion, which is not a very satisfying experience. The other problem is the game speed is not suited to playing as the goalie, as the action is a little bit too fast to be able to react in time and make the correct motion if the opposing player is in close.
Be a Pro is also present, but it has a very cool twist on the idea. Players start at the Peewee level and work their way up through Bantam, then into the CHL, and finally into the pros. At the Peewee and Bantam level the game uses the 3-on-3 no rules style to emphasis the fun aspects of the game and to allow the player to get used to the controls without having to worry about offsides and cross checking penalties. Aside from this twist, Be a Pro follows all the standard conventions of getting experience to rank up your players abilities and adding special boosts based on in game performance.
The Game also provides Season and Playoff mode for players more interested in just taking their team through to the Stanley Cup. The season and playoff modes both offer the same number of options that can be found in the NHL 11 game albeit without all of the various European leagues as options.
NHL Slapshot has a very simple layout and presentation that suits the game and the Wii very well. There are no confusing elements and no need to try and figure out where anything is buried in a list of menus. The commentary is exactly the same as NHL 11 so it could do with some work, but given the style of play, it's far less infuriating then the PS3 and Xbox 360 version.
When it comes down to it, NHL Slapshot feels perfectly suited for the Wii. It has a strong emphasis on arcade, as opposed to simulation and overall the package is fun to play. It's not without its problems though, as the stick peripheral is a pain and some of the in-game controls just don't work that well - there is also a lack of modes. However, NHL Slapshot is a great step in the right direction, a direction which EA Canada should continue to pursue.