NHL 2K10 Preview: Zamboni Smackdown

One of my worst nightmares – next to the one about a high school reunion – is attending a preview event where I'm the only girl and I have no idea how to play the game.

You'd think I would have faced this fear enough times to master it, or at least learned to play every type of game out there (or perhaps grown a penis). But while I have lost my fear of driving and football sims, 2K Sports' NHL 2K10 presented me with a very difficult challenge. I grew up in a town where our hockey team was on permanent exhibition and I haven't touched a hockey game since the 90s. So I have only the barest of foundations on which to judge 2K10's authenticity and plenty of opportunities to embarrass myself in a room full of guy games journalists during a multiplayer event.

But while I can't vouch for whether or not the game is better than NHL 2K9, I can at least tell you what's changed. And, more importantly, I can tell if you if it's any fun for gamers who aren't into hockey sims.

What Is It?
NHL 2K10 is a hockey sim developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports for the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, the Wii and the PlayStation 2.

What We Saw
I attended a pre-launch multiplayer event where pizza and beer were provided along with the 360 version of the game.

How Far Along Is It?
NHL 2K10 ships Tuesday.

What Needs Improvement?
Could Use Some More Commentary: Overall, the commentary – provided by Randy Hahn among others – was entertaining. However, there was a lot of repetition of lines to the point where the game-calling sounded unnatural. For example, if you were down about two points and had been playing terribly during a period (like me), the "I just talked to the coach and he tried to put a positive spin on things" speech is almost exactly the same.

NHL 2K10 Preview: Zamboni Smackdown

What Should Stay The Same?
The Zamboni intermission mini-game: When a period ends and the game goes into intermission, you can press a button to trigger a two-player versus mini-game where you race to resurface the ice. The mini-game comes with its own commentary and is so completely absurd, it's refreshing. Also, the kind of thing with which you can engage your kid/girlfriend/person who doesn't care about hockey but is forced to watch you play anyway.

Stumble Shots: I'm told this is a new feature in 2K10 and after having pulled off a few, I cannot imagine a hockey game without them. Apparently, in the old game, if you were in a shot animation and another player checked you, it would just abort the shot (which is dumb, because even I know that some of the best shots in hockey are made mid-knockdown). Now, they've added a ton of animations and scenarios for when you get checked mid-shot that allow you to complete the shot even from flat on your butt.

It's Actually Not That Alienating: To me, the mark of a good sports game is one that doesn't shut out gamers who aren't into that sport. I'm not saying a game needs to breakdown every call of the game (if you keep getting called for off-sides, you'll figure it out, eventually). But I think a game with straightforward controls and relatively generous timing on slap shots like 2K10 goes a long way toward easing the anxieties of non-hockey fans.

Final Thoughts
I had fun playing NHL 2K10, both because the game itself is a quality experience and because the guys I was playing with turned out to be very tolerant of my ignorance (beer and pizza will do that). Obviously, the game is aimed at hockey fans, some of whom need to be won back after what sounds like a not-so-good showing in 2K9. That may limit the game's appeal overall, but from my perspective it's not a barrier to entry for new players. It's just icing on the ice.