My formative years were in the golden era of arcade sports games. You didn’t have to give a damn about sports to enjoy the endless fun of early-90s classics like Super Baseball 2020 and Mutant League Football; mid-90s masterpieces such as NBA Jam; and late-90s/early-2000s hits like Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey ’98 and NFL Blitz 2000.
3 on 3 NHL Arcade (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade)
All the best arcade sports games share the following qualities: (1) they provide a pick-up-and-play experience that everyone can enjoy, and (2) they’re a hell of a lot of fun. On those two essential fronts, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is a rousing success. It’s not overly complicated, especially since there are two different control schemes available, and the power-ups make it a blast to play. NHL Arcade hearkens back to the halcyon days of arcade sports videogames that I talked about above: it’s the quintessential sit-next-to-your-buddies-and-hurl-insults-back-and-forth game.
The game’s title is a bit of a misnomer -- technically, games are four-on-four, although goalies are computer-controlled. Unfortunately, instead of featuring real NHL teams, NHL Arcade pits a “red” team versus a “blue” team (the jerseys are vaguely reminiscent of the 2008 All-Star away sweaters). You can pick any combination of three players from a rosters of 36 NHL stars, including Sidney Crosby and NHL 09 cover athlete Dion Phaneuf, and there are four goalies to choose from. Although games are separated into five-minute periods, they’re played to a score -- you can play to any total between five and twenty goals -- so if you’re playing to ten and it’s 7-4 after three periods, the game will continue until someone scores ten goals.
But of course, as I explained earlier, NHL Arcade was made for multiplayer. The game supports up to six players, so you can bring five friends over and each of you can control one of the skaters. Sadly, there’s no single-player career mode or anything, so all you can do by yourself is play the computer or play online. And unlike NHL 09, you can’t partake in online team play -- six different consoles can’t play in a single online game, but up to three players can team up on one console and take on up to three opponents on another console over the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live.
For that, NHL Arcade allows individual users to select between two control schemes: seasoned pros will go with the Skill Stick controls (same controls as NHL 09), while more casual players will likely pick the Button Controls. The latter option was also available in NHL 09 (it was known as “NHL 94 Controls”), and what’s so great about it is that it allows anyone to jump in and compete with hardcore gamers who have been playing the hell out of NHL 09 for the past five months (like me). It’s easy: on offense, the X button passes the puck and the circle button shoots it; on defense, X changes players, and circle checks.
What really makes the game awesome is its sound; EA Canada obviously put a lot of effort into it. You’ll hear a man saying “click!” each time you move in a menu, which I thought was pretty funny. But the in-game sounds -- namely, the “Double Dribble speak” -- absolutely blew me away and had me in stitches. There’s no commentary, but that’s for the better, because the rink announcer is hilarious. Whenever you pick up a power-up, he’ll shout one of a number of phrases for that specific power-up, and they’re all great. Get the Small Goalie power-up, and he might yell, “MICRO GOALIE,” after which your goalie will peep in a high-pitched voice, “Oh, no!” It’s cute, it’s amusing, and it makes NHL Arcade special.
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