Last year, fans of NHL 2K8 was filled with discontentment, largely because of the overwhelming complexity of the controls that took away the fundamental nature of the game, which is to have fun. This year, NHL 2K9 brings back the “E” in Excitement as Visual Concepts introduces an intuitive yet easy-to-learn control scheme that gives the franchise another breakaway towards a Stanley Cup. So far, we have enjoyed the many subtle amenities included in this year’s performance. There are two significant changes that Visual Concepts had made to turn the series around: greater accessibility and a brand-new visual system. In addition, the game has expanded its features to incorporate Reel Maker 2K9, a special option that allows players to develop their own incredible highlight reels online through Xbox Live, and the first-ever 12-console play, which multiplayer enthusiasts will certainly appreciate!

The one component that 2K loyalists would certainly be grateful for this year’s NHL season is the improved gameplay mechanics. Last year, the sluggish and somewhat difficult controls put the damper on fans and subsequently disconnected players in pursuing that championship dream. In NHL 2K9, the controls are much simpler and give gamers two types of schemes to choose from: a classic setting, which is a default layout fit for beginners, and the new intuitive hybrid setting that provides depth that many experts are looking for. On the ice, the action is relatively smooth. We are able to pull off a number of great slapshots within 15 feet of the net. The secret is to use athletes with a preferred rating of 80 and above to knock in those crucial goals. Anything below this skill point, your player will miss a lot of easy shots.

The stick handling portion is great, though it can be a struggle in trying to make an abrupt turn with the turbo button. Fortunately, NHL 2K9 has a good grip in terms of maneuvering the puck; you don’t lose the puck simply because of a tiny hip check like in EA Sports’ NHL 09 where loose pucks are rampant! This is one of the aspects where 2K Sports shines when it comes to this particular hockey trait; 2K Sports did a fine job of toning down the unnecessary turnovers, which keeps the game at an exciting pace. Another trait that NHL 2K9 excels at is passing. Passing is excellent in this game and you can easily setup a teammate to rack up on those cheap one-timers. Scoring, on the other hand, might take a bit of work as you’ll encounter casual “delays” in wrist shots; sometimes it may take two poundings on the shot button for the “stick” to respond. The same can be described for signature moves; signature moves come with fancy goalie dekes but orchestrating them can be a hard task.

Back in this year’s season of NHL is fighting. It’s nice to know players are treated to occasional fisticuffs that give diversion to the gameplay besides the infinite aspiration to score goals. Frustrated with the “cold” scoreboards? No problem! You can take out your aggression by bulldozing the opposing frontlines, hence instigating the fight. Fighting comes with a variety of punches…and a balancing act. The objective is simple: the one who falls first loses the match. This is one of the enjoyable parts of NHL 2K9; without these clashing of testosterones, it wouldn’t be hockey! The “checking” system this year has been given more muscle. So now you can deliver the kind of hurt towards an unsuspecting puck carrier. However, trying to check somebody on the ice can be a challenge as the aiming system is somewhat unsteady.

Graphically, the game is every bit as dramatic as last year. What you don’t know this year is that Visual Concepts has plugged in more than 1,400 new animations! Basically, you’re looking at an all new pre-game intros, stunning replays, spectacular crowd animations, and more! NHL 2K9 also contains several other key gameplay enhancements that’s going to amuse you, such as hit-by-puck collisions, the ability to block shots by players, and user-controlled Stanley Cup celebrations just to name a few. We have already mentioned the addition of Reel Maker 2K9 in this year’s NHL version, which give gamers the ability to be the Steven Spielberg of their own highlight reels to be shared and rated by others. As an added replay value, Visual Concepts has thrown in a nice Zamboni mini-game during break periods. It’s a cool contest that has you competing for best time in smoothing out the ice using a Zamboni.

In the audio department, NHL 2K9 has gone with Randy Hahn and Drew Remeda of the San Jose sharks as the new colorful commentators. They reprise their roles well by bringing in various sport theatrics into the action; but they can be tiring too with their redundant commentaries. Big hits is a major part of a hockey game and NHL 2K9 did a good job of translating those brutal checks in a dramatic fashion. In the background, the crowds give convincing cheers, while the heavy dose of punk rock music fills up the adrenaline charged atmosphere. During a fight, you’ll hear some decent punches as two player exchange random blows. The sounds of hockey sticks slapping on the ice is just right; but smashing the puck off the goal post and into the net pretty much completes the audio and visual experience.

NHL 2K9 returns this year with a bang! The controls have been rebuilt from the ground up, making it easy for players to find ways to score. Many of the gameplay mechanics have been revamped to include a stockpile of highlight reel-worthy materials such as user-controlled Stanley Cup celebrations and 12-player console match! Though the design remains relatively the same as last year, the all-new presentation truly brings NHL to life. Thanks to the superb camera perspectives, NHL 2K9 captures all the memorable moments of the sports. With 1,400 new animations and a more accessible gameplay, it won’t be too hard to win back some fans of 2K Sports. NHL 2K9 is not just a game; it’s a higher NHL experience! The new pick-up-and play controls should entice quite a few skeptics in playing hockey again.


Emmanuel Flores
Emmanuel Flores

Emmanuel joined the team in 2004. He helped design the website during the time when video games magazines were still in print format. Besides writing reviews, he is responsible for quality assurance and content distribution.