For such a prosperous market, it’s a surprise that there hasn’t been an influx of sports-based spin-off titles for the Xbox Live Arcade as of yet. There have been sporting reincarnations aplenty, with the likes of Sensible Soccer and the futuristic Speedball 2 warming the virtual shelves over the past year, but nothing that has made a particular franchise scream for help as it’s milked of all its potential and attractive qualities. Looking to buck this trend, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade glides into the rink looking sparkly clean, only to lose its footing instantly, cracking its skull into the ice with an unfortunate sense of timing.
Whilst the premise of three on three ice hockey is highly intriguing to fans of the sport and beyond, it wont take you long to realise that this doesn’t hold those loyal supporters at heart. With a childish menu system, what’ll strike you most is the lack of options that a player can dig in to. Lacking any form of career or season mode, NHL Arcade clumsily lays down exactly what type of game it wants to be: a shallow, cheap, and hugely frustrating rendition of one of America’s most popular sports.
Expect lazy Red vs Blue match-ups.
Strategy Informer does not condone pushing over blind people.
If you’re going to hone your skills, you’ll have to resort to a disappointingly mundane exhibition style match-up. You’ll begin by choosing three outfield players and a goalkeeper out of a list of professionals that’ll mean nothing to people outside the US (believe me). Of course, this doesn’t matter, as statistics aren’t included, leaving you to pick players on one vital attribute: whether they are fast, strong, or an all-rounder. For followers of the sport, the various names on show will be there as a personal preference, as EA try and make this accessible for everyone by ignoring any form of statistical representation that mimics each player’s real-life counterpart. You’re allowed to pick as many as you desire from each type for your final three, and depending on what tactical genius you have hiding up your sleeve, it’ll have absolutely no effect whatsoever.
Granted, the stronger players are a little bit broader and pack a minutely harder punch, but there is very little here to separate each type. The faster players are smaller, but their added speed barely shows up on screen, as they perform oddly similar to their stern-shouldered brothers. All-rounders, potentially the cream of the laughable crop, stutter through each game without making their minds up if they are strong or fast, meaning it’s usually better to pick a selection of the other two classes. It’s rather amusing witnessing how changing a teams set-up makes little difference at all, as EA reach out and grab the fans’ money with a convincing grin that encloses upon a set of glistening golden teeth.
Scoring a well-worked goal is great fun.
Every player has an emotionless and scarily clone-like expression stamped across their face.
Some will suggest the game doesn’t need to include the previously scrutinised points, as it’s meant to be a harmlessly quirky showing of the NHL brand. This would be true if the gameplay flowed with control and showed some kind of structure, but sadly, it doesn’t. More often than not, simplicity can be a godsend for downloadable titles. You only need to look at recent PlayStation Network beauty Flower to understand that most players aren’t looking for an in-depth and indigestible lump of gameplay from the quick-blast content they often buy on a whim. Unforgivably, NHL Arcade’s simplicity hinders the quality of entertainment, as controls often cross over from defensive and offensive manoeuvres, meaning you’ll often hit a tame shot when you thought you were still fighting to get the puck. As the skaters hustle at an intense pace, you’ll often be left tapping tackle until you slam an opponent into the advertisements that stand to the side, in what becomes a senseless and disappointingly unrewarding experience.
Once the puck is at your feet, you will feel a lot happier with this underwhelming showing. Short, snappy passing is often the key to success, as you keep the puck moving and out of sight from your brutal enemies. You’ll be able to spin in possession in an attempt to confuse those who seek an opening, or even try a trick shot to catch the goalkeeper off guard. Power-ups will often aid your attack with effects that can be amusing even for spectators. The best includes shrinking the opposing goalkeeper to the size of the puck, as he shouts and squirms with the ferocious dialogue that would make a helium-sucking mouse snigger with embarrassment. Others are a lot less fun, as you’ll often make a team-mate larger, freeze an opponent or have the chance to unleash an ‘unstoppable’ shot. Oddly, these shots are as stoppable as the rest, meaning there is little point to even include such a bonus. Even worse, your opponents have the striking ability to score goals when your goalkeeper is at his gigantic best, pushing aside coincidence with a regular celebration over the newly formed brick wall.
Unfortunately, bigger often does not mean better here...
Which is why this little guy is our favourite!
As with most sports titles, this is definitely better off with friends. If you can persuade a guest to join your team, you’ll be able to unleash a barrage of tactical moves that didn’t exist in single player. While you lead the onslaught towards goal, your friend can be cheekily taking out an opponent, meaning you have one less pest to worry about. If, however, they have an unprecedented lack of timing, expect them to be skating in your way throughout the entire match. With that said, working together and winning is far more rewarding than the game’s mundane offerings to an individual, as you can tackle duos from all over the world via the magic of Xbox Live.
If you’re a die-hard fan of ruthless ice-hockey action, you will find some value here. You shouldn’t expect a product that runs alongside the superbly detailed FIFA and Madden series, but you can find yourself a title that is perfect for a brief going over when you’ve got little time to spare. For not wanting to arouse an old cliché, it really is a game of two halves (or should that be four quarters!?). Boasting pretty looks and an addictive online arena, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with the contrast of a boring single-player mode and overly simplistic controls. If you enjoy deep-voiced narrators and silly sounds from every possible avenue, EA are patiently waiting for you to sign up, mopping up all the spare change they can shake from your endless pockets in any moment of weakness.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Putting together a string of passes that result in a stunning goal.