I’m a big fan of hockey, and I’ve usually really enjoyed EA’s NHL series. I’ve even spent an embarrassing amount of time with the PC modding community that sprang up around the various NHL titles.
The modders not only updated the games with new textures and roster packs, but also with tweaks to the various statistics and physics settings. These included roughly 1000 players with 25+ stats each, and another 40+ variable game settings. I was particularly fond of Trent’s roster pack and suggested game settings. Using it, the checking became heavily based on velocities, the puck no longer bounced around like a rubber ball, and, most importantly, every player’s acceleration value was severely reduced providing a proper momentum-based breakaway mechanic with a nice risk/reward factor.
Now 3 on 3 NHL Arcade tries to be the opposite of a simulation — after all, “Arcade” is in its title — but, surprisingly, it falls somewhere in the middle between these two distinct approaches.
Its good (and bad) bits:
- The game features quick, 3 on 3 player matches (not including the goalies) in shortened shortened rings where the middle part is roughly cut in half.
- Goofy voice-overs accompany the UI with “Swooosh!” and “Click!” constantly sounding off as you navigate the menus. This approach is extended to the game as well with klaxons and cow bells playing in response to in-game actions such as hitting the post.
- The bobblehead visuals are a fairly iconic look that fits the game quite well.
- There are 36 forwards and defensemen to choose from, and 4 goalies. Considering these are real players — although not always the stars — it’s a bit surprising that EA didn’t use the NHL license to its full extent. There are no teams, and the game doesn’t remember which players you picked, forcing you to scroll through the whole list every time you want to change the lineup. What’s worse is that this scrolling is pretty slow and doesn’t wrap-around, i.e., when you get to Henrik Zetterberg, you can’t simply press down to skip to Nikolai Antropov. Personally I would’ve much preferred an NBA Jam like approach where you simply select a team and its star players, and also have the ability to save custom “All-Star” lineups.
- Each player falls into one of three categories: fast, strong or all around. This is reminiscent of Ice Hockey for the NES, but provides even less variety. The differences between fast and all around are negligible, and it’s impossible to tell the two apart.
- Much like in NBA Jam, there’s no turbo button, although a speed increase can be attained through a powerup.
- The powerups are pretty varied and are dispensed by hitting players from the opposing team. What’s interesting here is that if you knock a powerup out of an opposing player, only you can pick it up (and vice-versa). Unfortunately, this ownership is not explained anywhere, and it’s only indicators are small circular outlines (red for the red team and blue for the blue team) that are pretty difficult to spot. This mechanic does encourage aggressive play, though, and it creates a back-and-forth as defending players are more likely to obtain new powerups.
- There are no penalties or the usual game stoppages, e.g., offside, icing, high-stick, etc. This provides a nice flow, and power-play/penalty-kill modifiers are dynamically initiated by collecting the Freeze powerup.
- Since the game is an offshoot of EA’s annual NHL titles, stick controls are included, i.e., utilizing the right thumbstick to simulate actual movement of a player’s stick. I’m not sure this is a wise decision, though, as it makes the game feel more like a simulation instead of an arcade experience with clear-cut states.
- Physics actually play a big role in the game, also much to the detriment of the arcadish feel. Players behave as if they were like-charged magnets, harmlessly bouncing off of each other without any satisfying effects. Checking is better in scrums, but it’s extremely difficult to catch someone with a good hit (partly due to the high skating speed) unless they’re coming straight at you.
- Passing is fairly difficult, with little to no automatic assist. Also, I can’t count the number of times I made a perfect pass only to watch it slide right through the receiver. Even in simulation games passing isn’t this finicky, and it proves extremely frustrating when trying to set up one-timers. The goalies are even worse as it’s virtually impossible to pass the puck as a goalie. I’m assuming this is to force more turn-overs, but it’s so bad that I found myself simply dumping the puck to the sides and hoping one of my players would get there first.
- For some reason, moves such as the shot-block are not explicitly indicated in the button-controls setup. You can use them in the game, but, unlike the stick-controls setup, they’re purposefully (and perplexingly) omitted from the controller diagram.
- Once a goal is scored, the puck is quickly dropped behind the net. This is a nice feature that keeps the game going instead of stopping the action for faceoffs.
- For an arcade game, there’s a distinct lack of glass breaking, door benches being swung in, player fighting, etc. This might’ve been intentional in order to get a friendly ESRB rating, but the game suffers due to the lack of such effects.
- The selected-player indicator is a small triangle superimposed over the player’s head. When the selected player has the puck it’s a bright colour, but fades as he loses it. Once again, this is a fairly poor solution as it’s hard to make out, especially in a crowd where it becomes impossible to spot your selected player.