Review: NHL 2K11 Scores as the Best iPhone Hockey Game

I’m not sure what the marketing strategy was for NHL 2K11 for the iPhone, but it’s sufficient to say that the release of one of the best sports games on the platform almost went unnoticed.  Without much pre-release hype other than a press release, NHL 2K11 deserves the accolades it will hopefully receive in the next few weeks.

Fully licensed by the National Hockey League, NHL 2K11 delivers an intense board crashing gaming experience packaged with responsive controls, roster management capabilities and impressive graphics.  Aside from a few minor issues, NHL 2K11 sets a high bar for sports gaming on the platform.

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Hockey doesn’t draw the large audiences here in the U.S. as it does in Canada and Europe, but NHL 2K11 may change that.  Visually, the graphics are well rendered from the players shadows on the ice to the glare from the rink lights.  But the details are much more apparent in the individual player and their uniforms.  You won’t have any issues telling who’s who with vivid details down to the team colors and logos.

Content wise, 2K won’t leave gamers begging for more.  I think there’s a good amount of content and options that should appeal to casual gamers and hardcore hockey fans alike.  Starting with some of the basics, players can customize their hockey experience.  These include everything from editing rosters, selecting NHL or international rules, and choosing from among 8 different camera angles among others.  In addition, NHL 2K11 provides additional options including period length, penalties on/off, accelerated or normal game speed, and even overtime formats.  As I mentioned, you have plenty of options to choose from to provide experience you want.

Speaking of options, the controls in NHL 2K11 consist of a joystick and action icons.  On offense, these icons are shoot, pass and speed boost, and on defense, check.  In general, I found the controls to be some of the best I’ve used, and ideal for this type of game.  The joystick is responsive, and the touch controls work like a charm.  Having said that, control preferences tend to come down to individual tastes, and it would’ve been ideal if alternate control options (e.g. tilt/accelerometer) were included.  Also, the joystick controller may get in the way visually as you’re moving up and down the rink.  Unfortunately, an option do

esn’t exist for removing the controller or making it more transparent.

NHL 2K11 offers a training mode known as Free Skate.  This mode allows you to choose the number of players and practice moves on the ice.  I strongly suggest checking this out if you’re a beginner or simply looking for a primer on the game of hockey.  In addition, if you need to waste a few minutes while

waiting in line for example, Shootout is worth a try.  In Shootout, you compete one-on-one in a shootout with a competing player.  The downside with Shootout is that you are limited to being a shooter, and a nice option would have been the ability to play goalie.

Where most will spend their time is in a full-fledged hockey game and NHL 2K11 offers two modes: Quick Game and Season.  Both offer 4 levels of difficulty: Amateur, Rookie, Pro and All-Star.  In Quick Game, you play a single hockey game and can choose from any of the NHL teams choosing to play either at home or on the road.  Season allows you to play either a 41-or 82-game season leading up the Stanley Cup with 4 save slots.  What makes Season mode even better is the ability to manage rosters including trades within a salary cap up to $70 million.  A trade deadline option also exists if you want to go gung-ho with your puck.

While the game doesn’t have an announcer, the gameplay in NHL 2K11 is intense and does a fairly good job of creating an immersive experience.  I will admit that the absence of announcer is hit or miss for me.  There are times when someone screaming “GOAL!” would add that extra oomph.  But then again, I can see the repetitiveness of an announcer being a downside.  Aside from that, the sound effects are more than enough ranging from the crowd noise to the horn that blows after a goal.  On the ice, the audio is done well so you won’t miss the puck hitting off the post to the sound of a player getting slammed.

Whoever has the puck is highlighted in a yellow ring with identifying name, and you can easily scroll through players on your team during the game to control their actions.  After some practice, banging other players into the glass or even shoving them on the ice becomes second nature.  The skirmishes in the corner with multiple players can be entertaining.  In fact, banging and checking players is an enjoyable experience in NHL 2K11.  Nothing beats sending a player on

the other sprawling on the ice, but of course, this can set the stage for a penalty.  The details in this game are well thought out and is really what makes NHL 2K11 a standout.  For example, when a penalty occurs, you actually see the offending player sent to the box and with a Power Play clock appearing.  It doesn’t seem like much, and that’s the point—it’s all well executed.  And, of course, icing and offsides are enforced, and in some cases, you wish they weren’t.

The AI in NHL 2K11 is fairly balanced.  On the Rookie difficulty setting, scoring goals isn’t overly difficult although don’t expect anything to be given to you either.  But as you ratchet up the difficulty level to Pro for example, scoring a goal can be downright frustrating.  I will say over time as I have more games under my belt, scoring isn’t impossible but does require more strategic skating and passing.  On that note, I’ve found the goalies do a reasonably good job defending against goals.  But, as you gain more experience, you’ll find yourself setting up plays and decoys, and that only adds to the fun.

The joystick controller and action icons take very little time to get acclimated with, and skating feels very fluid.  Making passes works exceptionally well, but you’ll still need to practice for accuracy.  Replays round out the NHL 2K11 experience since you get an up close and personal view from ice level (unfortunately, replays can’t be saved).  A small issue worth mentioning is the puck itself.  Because of its small size on screen, I’ve had instances where I lost track of the puck especially in those corners as players are thrashing about.

NHL 2K11 is one of the best sports titles to hit the iPhone.  From the content and depth of options to the great gameplay, you’ll want to check out the game whether or not you’re a hockey fan.

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