2K Sports made the decision last year to place all of its hockey eggs in one basket: the Wii. 2K will only put out NHL 2K11 on Wii, in the hopes of re-evaluating its franchise before deciding whether or not to bring it back to other consoles.
The first thing we were shown at E3 were the motion-based controls, which provide 1:1 movement through MotionPlus. This will give players real-time deking, puck juggling and even the ability to break sticks this time around. While I was unable to get my hands on it to check the feel, everything looked copacetic as the 2K rep demoed the game. I didn't notice any inconsistencies or problems with the control scheme as he played.
With the MotionPlus controls, it seemed like the game relied more on skill than the cheap tactics players could use to consistently fake out the CPU in the past, like skating laps around the net or passing the puck back and forth a million times before taking a shot on the goal. Approaching the net and taking pop-shots didn't net the 2K rep anything. However, when he applied some expertly-timed deke moves, the rep was able to fake out the goalie and drop the puck in behind him. It all seemed more realistic than the hockey games I've spent time with in the past.
Facial models and textures have been overhauled this year, as has the lighting. The 2K rep told us this is the company's "best-looking Wii game to date." While I think NHL 2K11 is hardly a benchmark for the console -- some of the animations still seemed robotic and the players' faces showed little life, despite being good recreations of their real-life counterparts -- the reflections on the ice and glass looked great.
Players looking to take a break from the nonstop simulation-style hockey can take a break with the Road to the Cup mode. It's more of a mini-game type of experience, in which you take your Mii (or a Mii version of your favorite hockey superstar) across the country to compete in a series of challenges. The goal of the mode is to get 1,000 fans -- you earn fans as you win each challenge.
Road to the Cup supports up to four players. While the 2K rep demoing the game promised a wide variety of mini-games, we were only able to experience two: a Tron-like skating mini-game in which players must avoid the wake of other skaters moving around the ice and a capture point mode in which players move around the rink, skating over markers that have designated point sets.
NHL 2K11 seemed like a fair enough hockey offering on the Wii, combining the simulation-based staples of the genre with more accessible distractions. For Wii owners looking to get the definitive hockey experience, NHL 2K11 looks like it'll offer that -- and besides, with no other simulation-based competition on the console, it's this year's best Wii hockey game by default.