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Sports games for the Nintendo Wii have been rather spotty in quality thus far during the system's lifespan. For every title or franchise that gets it right (Wii Sports, Madden football) there have been just as many if not more that have fallen far short (EA Sports' NBA Live series, Kidz Sports Ice Hockey). Fortunately for sports fans, NHL 2k9 is one of those game that have gotten it right. The game isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to the efforts of 2K Sports, the Wii's first full-featured NHL title is an enjoyable hockey sim.
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The Wii version NHL 2k9 has been designed from the ground up, with motion controls specifically in mind. The game is controlled using a combination of the Wiimote and the Nunchuck. The Nunchuck's analog stick is used to move players, and the A button on the remote controls passing (which are aimed with a remote targeting reticule) and allows players to switch characters on defense. Shooting is handled using the Wiimote, as a flick of the wrist fires off a wrist shot while holding down the button before making the waggle motion launches a blistering slapshot. On defense, a swipe of the remote uses the stick against an offensive player, while checking is handled by giving the Nunchuck controller a shake. These controls work amazingly well, but sadly, the awkward fighting controls and the haphazard goalie controls (which appear to have zero impact on the actual outcome) aren't as rock solid.
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Thankfully, 2K Sports took the time and effort to include both season and franchise modes, making this title almost as deep as, say, the Madden games for Wii. There are several other, less exciting modes of play as well, including Pond Hockey, Mini-Rink, Shootout and Practice. Shootout and Practice are probably fairly self explanatory, and the Pond Hockey and Mini-Rink games are alternate versions of traditional hockey, with the former being an outdoor five-on-five game with no center and the latter a three-on-three offering on a tiny playing surface no bigger than two regular goal zones fixed together with no center ice. Both support up to four players, but are on the whole rather forgettable. One other addition of note is a minigame which can be played between periods of a regular game, in which players can assume the role of the Zamboni driver. I kid you not.
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Graphics and Sound
It almost seems like a crime rating these two categories together, because they are so diametrically opposed. On one hand, the game sounds great. It features high-octane rock tracks that really get the blood pumping, as well as an excellent P.A. announcer and strong in-game commentary courtesy of the San Jose Sharks announce team. There are times where the game will make an error, misidentifying a player or confusing which team has the lead, but they are rare and thus forgivable. On the other hand, though, the game looks a lot like an early Playstation 2 game. The graphics could've used some more work. Yes, I realize that the Wii isn't as powerful as the Xbox 360 or the PS3, but it is definitely capable of producing better visuals than this. Player models lack detail, there are issues with the frame rate, and even the font on the menus is too small and hard to read at a regular distance.
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Yes, the game has some audio glitches. Yes, some of the control mechanics need work. Yes, the game is ugly as sin. If you love hockey, though, none of that will keep you from having at least some fun playing NHL 2k9. The game's degree of interactivity will grab you about as much as Wii Sports and Madden do, and it is tremendous fun to let loose with a wrist shot or use the pointer to help set up a one-timer. Plus, the announce team and the other sound effects really help set the atmosphere, drawing you into the action. The theme from Cops even kicks on when a player is escorted off to the penalty box, and between periods (should you choose not to drive the Zamboni) there is even an intermission report, just like if you were watching a game on TV. Add the depth of season and franchise modes, and you have yourself a pretty decent game of hockey. One word of caution, though -- some players have reported issues with the game freezing and save files getting deleted. While these problems did not arise during the time this reviewer spent play-testing the game, they are nonetheless worth mentioning.