Hockey videogames have been in existence ever since the console industry was born. There were the original Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel on the NES. There were the infamous NHL ’94 and ’96 on the SNES. There was Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the Nintendo 64, and now we have this generation! EA’s NHL franchise has been in existence for years on end, and it started with NHL 2003 on the GameCube! Unfortunately each year’s iteration have been chock full of arcadey elements that caused them overall to not really be true simulations of the sport. They all combined certain elements of past generation titles and elements that wouldn’t really be seen in an actual hockey game. But based on all recent hands-on previews and trailers of NHL ’06, EA Canada seems to have a chance with finally having gotten the formula right!
EA Canada does indeed claim that the best source of their feedback is the very fans of their NHL titles. For the past couple of years, the biggest thing they’ve heard was there was just far too much hitting to make it seem like an authentic NHL experience. This is indeed correct because both NHL 2004 and 2005 are absolutely horrible with this. This “feature” caused a lot of frustration with players who really desired to set up true offensive set ups in their respective scoring zones. But instead of dumbing down the defensive AI like you would think they would, they instead chose to go the route of boosting the offense. This will supposedly make deking more accessible and allow for the possible addition of flashy maneuvers.
The source of inspiration of giving this game an offensive boost actually came from the very popular NHL ’94 on the SNES. In that game, players were able to use the D-Pad for quick dekes that would help them to fake out the opposition. In NHL ’06, deking will be controlled fully by the left analog stick. Supposedly with a few nifty turns of your controlled player you will be able to zip by the defense and make the goalie go bonkers trying to anticipate your next move!
Now with the other stick free, EA Canada has been able to create a whole new level of gameplay in hockey’s normal mechanics. Each player on your team will be highlighted by a circle or star at their base and the actual star players have the ability to pull off unique “trick moves” that not many are able to! You will simply choose a spot on goal that you wish to fire upon, and then tap that stick in one of the four directions in order to initiate a star player’s trick move! These “tricks” can include spinoramas, toe drags, bat-ins and inbetween-the-leg shots. It is then made known that you pulled off something sweet afterwards if the puck hits the back of the net with a very nice celebration! Jaromir Jagr’s one-handed salute anyone? What makes the celebration a little humiliating is the defeated party isn’t allowed to skip through the celebration either!
Next, to have a better mindset of where your shot will most likely end up, EA Canada chose to implement an in-net bullseye! This bullseye will locate just where your shot is headed, and that will do nothing but help your team’s strategy in setting up plays. Another small addition to this year’s iteration that allows for more realistic puck handling is the use of the “push puck” technique. This is basically used when players are charging down the ice on a breakaway or other situations and they give the puck a nice “boost” infront of them so the rest of your line can be ready for a nice one-timer! But you also have to be careful to not overuse the feature either. Doing so causes less control over the puck with your player and will give the opposition an easier chance with taking it away from you!