February 18, 2009

3 on 3 NHL Arcade - XBLA

Author: Trevor H of Game-Boyz.com

It's hard to believe this long into the lifespan of PlayStation Network (PSN), or Xbox LIVE Arcade for that matter, that we have not seen a downloadable arcade hockey game to date. Being Canadian a game like this is a no-brainer for me and something I believe that we should have seen from the get go. Well the wait is over as EA Sports releases 3 on 3 NHL Arcade for PSN. For those with Microsoft's console the Xbox LIVE Arcade version is or was a week later that that of the PSN version. I had the opportunity to review the latter. 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is an old school arcade hockey game with some new twists and cool elements added into the mix. It will very much remind some of you of Midway's NHL Hitz from several years back, but make no mistake 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is different in many ways. So how does NHL Arcade fair? Let's find out shall we...

NHL Arcade is a 3 on 3 game where you pick two forwards, one defenseman, and a goalie. Once you select your team of NHL all-stars you are ready to play. It is really that simple. There is no customizing players, fiddling with the options, drafting a team, or playing through a regular NHL season. NHL Arcade is meant for NHL fans to simply fire up and launch a mindless hockey game in a mater of seconds. It is this simplicity that makes NHL Arcade a perfect game for the PlayStation Network.

In NHL Arcade you can play against the computer AI or go online. I started out playing the AI as I wanted to get accustomed to the controls and gameplay before I made the leap online. There are three difficulties levels to choose from: easy, normal and hard. After getting spanked 5-0 in normal mode I dropped it down to easy, but it wasn’t long after until I adjusted the difficulty and back to normal once I understood the controls. Prior to the faceoff, you select either the blue or red team. Unfortunately you cannot select your favorite team but you can select some of your favorite players. I assembled a team with Malkin and Koivu as my forwards, Chara as my defence, and Luongo as my goaltender. I should note that after every game you can select a new combination of players. The games themselves played very well and I was surprised with how much of a challenge the AI offered up. Yet I have to admit, it did get boring after awhile and I was soon ready for online play.

The pace of the game is fast, however for those who may want to slow/speed the game up the menu allows you to adjust the speed setting. Actually I found the game provides all the major options, camera angles and controls that NHL 09 offers up. I was also pleasantly surprised when I found out that I could use the NHL 09 skill stick in NHL Arcade too. The default controls are button based however the options allow you to use the skill stick. I found that I played considerably better using the skill stick as I could make all sorts of deke moves, and having recently played NHL 09 the skill stick makes the transition so much smoother. Bottom-line, for casual hockey fans the default controls will be sufficient, however for more experienced EA hockey gamers, or for those that want to excel at NHL Arcade, the skill stick is essential to your success. I should mention that the skill stick is not as easy to use with the PS3 controller compared to the Xbox 360 controller; nevertheless I managed with the limitations of the PS3 controller.

What make’s NHL Arcade truly a treat are the games power-ups. After launching a bone crushing hit the game releases a power-up icon. Upon skating over the icon the power-up is activated. Here is where the game becomes a hoot. Whether it be skating super fast, shooting a puck at rocket like speed, watching the opposing goalie shrink, turning another player into ice, or watching your player grow twice the size; the power-ups are varied and add an element of strategy to the game.

The online play in NHL Arcade is a blast. I spent the bulk of my time playing unranked matches. I don’t mind playing the occasional ranked game however I find myself getting my ass handed to me far too often in ranked based match-ups and I get tired of people who do the same move over and over again. I consider myself a casual hockey gamer so playing just for fun in unranked matches is what I prefer. My first online game was a spirited affair. I ended up losing 20-19 in a game where I was leading 19-13 at one point. It was a 13 period game much to my surprise. In fact, games in NHL Arcade go to a certain score and are not based on periods so there is no shootout or overtime as the first one to achieve a certain score wins. Overall, the online play is a riot and lots of fun. The only non-enjoyment I experienced was during some of those ranked games where players were more interested in using exploits and stats rather than playing just for the thrill of the game. So please, use some caution and keep your expectations realistic when jumping into an online ranked game.

Overall, the visuals in NHL Arcade are good but there is certainly room for improvement. For starters, you do not get much in the way of variety when it comes to the actual rink and jerseys. Games consist of blue versus red, and I am talking about the uniforms. So you cannot play with the Montreal Canadians best 3 players against the Vancouver Canucks best 3 players each in their respective uniforms. Some real NHL licensed jerseys would have been nice, however I understand EA Sports likely did not want to come across as putting out a product which resembles Midway's NHL Hitz and I am sure licensed jerseys would have upped the costs for the game as the fees associated with this would have to be paid. The playing surface is small and perfectly suited for a game of this nature, but again you play in only one generic arena. It would have been cool to see some cartoony versions of such well known arenas as Madison Square Garden, the Bell Centre or Joe Louis Arena. It worked for The Bigs which had some great stylized and somewhat over the top baseball stadiums, so why not do this for a hockey game like NHL Arcade. Don't get me wrong though, the arena does look decent and some of the visuals, such as the boards lighting up following a goal, but some variety here would have been nice.

The hockey players themselves look like bobble head dolls on ice, and the results are pretty good. Players move, shoot and check like real hockey players, but they all have giant heads. Picture EA Sports NHL 09 hockey players and turn them into bobble heads and you should get the picture of what this game offers. During the game power-up icons will become available on the ice and it can be quite comical when some of the players turn into oversized giants or goaltenders become miniaturized following a power-up. The menus are simple to use and nothing is over the top in terms of presentation. Again, I think a little featurette when you first fire up the game would have been nice, but NHL Arcade wastes no time loading up and giving you options to jump into a game right away.

As with the games visuals, the sound in NHL Arcade is good but certainly not great. Such sounds as the players skating, fans cheering, the commentator who yells out when a player triggers a power up, and even the music all sound great. That being said, I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in terms of the music options and I found that the sound effects when selecting menu options were a tad grating. There is also no play-by-play commentating, and as with the graphics NHL Arcade does not hold a candle in the audio department compared to its big brother NHL 09. That being said NHL Arcade is an arcade game and expectations need to be scaled back. The sounds certainly meet an arcade standard but just don’t expect anything NHL 09 quality which is a game that this downloadable title will be compared to given that EA made both.

Overall, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade for the PlayStation Network is a perfect game for those looking for a casual, simple, quirky and enjoyable hockey game for a fraction of the cost of a regular priced EA Sports title. For those who enjoyed NHL 09, NHL Arcade is a no-brainer of a purchase as the online play will keep you entertained for hours. For those who are new to hockey games or are someone looking for something simple and fun, NHL Arcade should be right up your alley. Overall many may very well be underwhelmed at the lack of features, variety (e.g. licensed jerseys and rinks) and options in the game, however at the end of the day NHL Arcade is well worth the 10 dollar price tag for a downloadable title that manages to provide some old fashioned arcade style play.

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