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3 on 3 NHL Arcade

NHL

3 on 3 NHL Arcade is a great idea. The latest EA hockey game, NHL 09, has shed some pounds over the winter with a diet that cuts out all of the realism and simulation that devoted fans have come to expect from the perennial franchise. Our overall roster weighs in at a slim 40 players and two teams. There’s no room for stats, or much in the way of personality, here. That’s not to say that 3 on 3 NHL Arcade forgets to include any new content.

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It’s arguable that EA chose the best players from each team, but nonetheless, 40 high-profile NHL players are included. They are divided into three skill sets: fast, strong, and all-around. No player has a noticeable advantage over another, otherwise. Our menus are cut into easily navigated screens which cut to the chase. While there’s a noticeable absence of customizable features, it’s nice to play a more straightforward version of one of the greatest hockey games out there.

This is hockey without rules, played on a small rink. Gone are NHL rivalries. Fighting’s nowhere to be found. In cutting the ref out of the picture, face-offs are no longer part of the game. When someone scores, the puck’s dropped soon afterward just behind the net. The biggest flaw in this logic is that the team which just scored still has the puck in their offensive territory. Plus, they’ve got full reign over their players at the time, so they’ll be accompanying the other team behind the net, waiting for the puck. There‘s also an odd change in which the puck is thrown back in when shot outside of the rink, in a perfect horizontal line.

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3 on 3 happens to carry the same controls as EA’s other hockey games. For those who’ve woefully ignored the latest trends in EA’s hockey games, they’ve gotten an effective system down which employs both thumbsticks. The left is assigned to lower-body movement (directional input, controlling the skates), and the right to the upper-body (checking, or taking a slap shot). It doesn’t quite feel like the translation made its way safely to the XBLA, sadly. Players only seem able to make half circles, before stuttering on the screen. Also, the checking feels different, as your player doesn’t respond to the right stick when an opponent’s right in front of them. Having played so many hours of 09, I’ll never be able to control one of their hockey games differently.

It’s unfortunate that all of NHL 09’s depth has been at once abandoned and that the league’s players must either be assigned to a red or blue team. I understand the idea of an all-star scenario pick-up game but what makes equal players all-stars when none of them have stats? Barring slight resemblances in the player models, if I turn off the indicator which tells me I’m playing as Crosby, I wouldn’t know who I’m playing as. It might have something to do with the distorted bobble headed look the players have taken to as though this were another installment of a Backyard. Although they both fit the same target demographic, 3 on 3 NHL Hockey does some things to differentiate itself from the like-minded Backyard Hockey.

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Power-ups have been included. Coming off a check, the impacted player falls to the ice. Perfectly normal until a glowing power-up orb slides from the downed body. With a 2x multiplier, a goal will count for two. With a smaller goalie, the affected team is more susceptible to being scored upon. This adds some kind of comical value on a package which otherwise feels unrewarding. It also makes for some frustrating gameplay, when your goalie’s a miniature, and Roenick’s monster sized and on a breakaway.

Most games end up being unrealistically high-scoring in a short time period, but it is probably safe to attribute this to the lack of rules which serve to balance a hockey game (no icing calls makes for a lot of back forth with very little stoppage in play). 3 on 3 NHL Arcade’s meant to be played with a couple of friends and that becomes pretty obvious when you try and work out any kind of puck movement with the CPU players. They do little to contribute to defense and are most useful for gathering scattered power-ups. This is also unfortunate because it ruins the chance to time your use of power-ups strategically, as the ones you force out of other players can be left on ice until they’ve been collected, thus allowing for a stacked offense to build itself on them and approach the opponent’s goal uncontested.

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If there’s a good reason to buy 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, it’s the Xbox Live play. This doesn’t hold true entirely, due to the nature of the three-person team set-up. They persistently triple-team the puck carrier and after scoring, a couple players will disable the intended puck-receiver as the rubber drops from hockey heaven. More likely than not, the guy who knocked down will grab the puck and swing in for a wrap-around goal. As the doppelgängera crowd the zone, they’ll penetrate each player, one by one, collecting power-ups and ultimately leading to your demise. Your CPU teammates will never assist you in easing the pressure of a three-on-one attack, so I can only recommend Live play for people who have at least three controllers (only two Xboxs are allowed, per game).

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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