Growing up in Iowa, some sports were important, some weren’t. Important: Wrestling. Not important: Pro hockey. You’d think that a state that spends much of the winter in an ice-lock would inspire more love for this sport. Not so much.
It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado a year before the Quebec Nordiques (remember them?) reloaded as the Colorado Avalanche that I began to discover the game … as well as some of its ferociously devoted fans. One of my best friends here in Colorado can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about the Detroit Red Wings, for example, right down to how many teeth that one grizzled old Russian dude has lost. I even managed to make it to a game the year the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. (After which ticket prices held me at arm’s length again.)
Still, I must confess that compared to say, football, my in-depth knowledge of hockey is a bit lacking. So if I was to ever really understand the sport, I was going to need a good education. Which is exactly what NHL 09 provides.
I’ve played racing games, football games, basketball games. But I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anything that provides as much attention to real-world detail in a sports game as NHL 09 does. From the mechanics of how you control the puck, to feedback from the coach, to working your way up through the pro hockey ranks, this game simulates the life of a pro hockey player in so much detail you can almost feel your skates send shavings of ice into the air—or the fist of an opposing player in your face.
Hockey novices like me will want to begin with the game’s control tutorial, which gives you a chance to hone basic skills, such as slapshots, snapshots, and dekes. Then you’ve got some choices to make. Namely, which of the game’s whopping seven modes to play.
Eager to jump right in? Play Now immediately plops you into the skates of any NHL team you’d like. Wanna start your career? Choose Be a Pro mode. Outfit your player with totally customized equipment? Edit Pro mode. Play as a general manager overseeing every aspect of a team? That’d be Dynasty mode. Other modes enable skill building and tournament play online. You can even craft your own custom plays.
The title’s signature mode is Be a Pro. After outfitting your well-clad ice warrior, you’ll head into combat in various American Hockey League rinks. These National Hockey League affiliate teams serve as a proving ground as your character gains experience. And good performance or bad, you’ll get regular feedback from your coach (“I’ve been watching you lately, and I get the impression you’re just going through the motions. I need you to invest in the game”).
Perseverance is eventually rewarded by an invitation to glide onto NHL ice, where you can put your slapshot and body checking skills to work in pursuit of Stanley Cup glory. Along the way, you’ll master both strategy and tactics in this incredibly realistic simulation of life on the ice—right down to the sport’s infamous fights.
Now About That Missing Tooth …
Skater melees happen when a player hooks someone on the opposing team. It’s as simple as skating up to an opponent and pressing the Y button. When that happens, gameplay stops and the one-on-one rumble begins.
If you lose the fight, you’ll be warned, “You can’t be taking bad penalties!” If you knock the other guy down, however, you’re rewarded with the roar of the crowd and a morale boost for your team. Instigating a fight, of course, means a five-minute penalty, forcing you to watch the action from behind the glass for a while.
The fights themselves are so basic and brief that I can’t imagine anyone would start more than a one or two before deciding it’s not worth interrupting the main game’s much more satisfying flow. The real action here is chasing the puck … not punching another guy’s face.
Immersive … and Addictive?
EA Sports’ NHL 09 is the 18th entry in this long-running franchise. And after almost two decades of continuous development, the game’s designers clearly have all but the most cleverly concealed bugs worked out.
Gamespot.com reviewer Jon Miller said, “There are few moments in any sports video game more satisfying than scoring a goal in NHL 09. … You have to outmaneuver the defense with quick skating and smart passing, work your way into scoring position and then manually put the puck where the goalie isn’t. … EA expands on its already outstanding gameplay with a host of addictive game modes that make this, quite simply, one of the best sports games of all time.”
I haven’t played every sports game made, but I’ll still second Miller’s sentiments here. My first goal was a shout-out-loud moment as I finally figured out how to skate, shoot, aim and … SCORE! There’s a lot to master in this contest, and the satisfaction I got from tackling it ranks high on my list of video game experiences.
But that prompts me to add this: Like virtually all well-crafted games, NHL 09‘s adrenaline-inducing competitions—combined with your player’s ongoing development—can easily coax you to play more. And more. And more. Next thing you know, you’ve spent all night (or all month) working your way through a massive 82-game season.
A postscript: NHL 09 comes with a hard-rockin’ soundtrack courtesy of bands such as Coheed and Cambria, Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet for My Valentine and Airbourne. These are bands whose overall catalogs wouldn’t earn the game’s E10+ rating if subjected to close scrutiny.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.