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EA brings NHL game to Wii
Wayne Gretzky admits it: The Great One is just an average hockey player.
Well, not really. Only when it comes to EA Sports’ National Hockey League franchise coming to the Nintendo Wii in September, just in time for the start of the next season.
“I’d be what would be considered a 10 goal scorer if I was comparing this to the NHL,” the Hockey Hall of Fame player joked in an interview with The Associated Press.
And that’s not too good considering that during his 21 years in the NHL Gretzky accumulated a long list of accomplishments and awards and is the only player to have ever recorded 200 points in a season.
Gretzky is also one of the first hockey players to have his name associated with a video game. He is teaming up with EA as it skates into its first version of its NHL for the Wii with “NHL Slapshot.”
For sports fans who grew up dreaming of being Gretzky, this is their chance รณ hockey stick and all.
Producers of the franchise say “NHL Slapshot” will capitalize on some of the best features from its top-selling PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 teammates, but takes the game even further by using a hockey stick as the controller.
“It’s one of the those games that you could sit down and you’ll be able to play for hours. It’s very realistic … it’s almost like playing in the NHL,” Gretzky said. “People as much as they love to sit down and play video games, they also love to sort of participate and pretend like they’re actually playing.”
Gretzky said video games have come a long way since he graced the cover of Nintendo’s “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” in 1991. Certainly the graphics are better, the game is more realistic and players have more control over their simulated counterparts on the TV screen.
“It’s like the game of hockey itself, the game keeps getting better every 10 years,” Gretzky said. “There’s no question the game is better today, which is exciting for everyone.”
For the controller, players fit the Wii Remote and Nunchuk into a hockey stick casing complete with a foam stick blade. Players use the hockey stick to take shots on net, move around players and check opponents into the boards or lift another player’s stick. Players also have the ability to play as the goalie using the Wii controllers as the glove and blocker.
“It’s just such a natural extension to use the Wii with the motion controls to make a hockey stick,” said David Littman, creative director for EA’s NHL franchise, who took one of his most expensive hockey sticks, cut it up and duct-taped the controllers to the stick to make a prototype.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 years old or 60 years old, when you look at the stick and you put it in your hands, and you take your first slapshot, it doesn’t matter what age you are, it just is this incredible experience.”
Among the highlights are the split-screen and minigames, as well as the “Pee Wee to Pro” mode that lets users create a 10-year-old version of themselves playing on a backyard rink and work their way up to the NHL. Players can also choose to play as a “peewee” version of Gretzky and some of hockey’s other great stars. Gretzky also serves as a coach in the “Pee Wee to Pro” mode giving players tips to get to the NHL.
“If you are somebody that has loved hockey … Wayne’s pretty much as big as it gets,” said lead producer Joe Nickolls.
And with the new title, EA is again facing off against one of its main opponents, so to speak.
EA’s NHL series is among the top five-selling sports games in the world. For years, both EA and 2K Sports created competing NHL franchises for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Then 2K Sports decided to focus its NHL efforts for 2011 on the Wii, ditching versions for the other consoles at least for the year.
“We make games for the consoles when we believe it’s right and we’re going to make the best game,” Nickolls said. “For sure there’s competition from lots of different players for all of our sports games. Yes, we pay attention to them, but it really doesn’t change how we make them.”
The technology used for the Wii version also may be a precursor to versions using motion control technology planned for both PlayStation2 and Xbox 360.
“This is going to be a really good test,” Littman said.