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3 on 3 NHL Arcade
Developer: EA Freestyle
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 02/11/2009
Ever since NBA Jam hit arcades over 15 years ago, companies have done their best to (rip off) create their own type of arcade-style sports game. Many of these companies, however, have realized that NBA Jam had a special formula, one that could not easily be replicated. Truly, only NFL Blitz and NBA Street have even come close. It’s a bit surprising that no hockey game has been mentioned in the same breath as NBA Jam. Sure, NHL Hitz was a successful franchise, but it never transcended the sports world and became a huge game among fans who ordinarily wouldn’t touch hockey. Which is a shame, because hockey deserves the spotlight as much as any sport.
Enter EA Freestyle, who have attempted to create an arcade-type game that not only matches the legacies of NHL Hitz and NBA Jam, but builds a bridge towards the future at the same time. As a result, we have 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, a game with real NHL players, arcade-style gameplay, and a rather attractive price tag. Is 3 on 3 NHL Arcade the next big arcade-type sports game, or is it just another imitator?
Without spoiling the rest of this review too much, let me just say this – if you have no intentions of playing 3 on 3 NHL Arcade online, DO NOT BUY THIS GAME. Why, you ask? Because there are two modes in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade: Play Now and Play Online. So if you’re not going to play online, you’re stuck playing the computer in any number of inconsequential games. You can download the demo and play the computer for free if you want and have just as much fun as if you’d paid $10 for the full game.
Here’s the main problem with 3 on 3 NHL Arcade – there’s very little to do. Playing the computer gets old and so does playing online. Just about every other arcade-style sports game has something resembling a season mode, even if it’s only beating all the other teams in order. And while that sounds decent enough, it’s impossible in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade. That’s because – get this – there aren’t any teams in the game! Instead, you control either the “Blue Team” or the “Red Team.” Clearly EA Freestyle racked its brains coming up with the most cutting-edge team names possible. Once you’ve chosen your color of choice, you pick from a pool of NHL superstars, all of whom are given word ratings (i.e. fast, strong, all-around) instead of number ratings. This is actually good for the casual fan who doesn’t follow the NHL, but if you follow hockey, it leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. This is IT?!?
Long story short, your $10 didn’t go toward a diverse array of game modes. Instead, you get the bare essentials – and even that’s a bit of a stretch.
Story/Modes Score: Worthless
Another staple of arcade-style sports games? Big heads! And of course, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, ever committed to ripping off every arcade cliche ever created, has given every player a big head. Because, you know, big heads mean big sales numbers.
Aside from the big heads, what’s here is actually pretty good. Graphically, the game is reminiscent of NHL 94, only considerably cleaned up and a million times smoother. The ice surface doesn’t have any kind of lines or markings of any kind, which is fine because the rules don’t matter in this game, but the room on the ice is perfect for a 3-on-3 game. It’s not so big that you can break away whenever you want, but it’s big enough that you can get free every so often and can be creative with the puck. The player models look good enough, power-ups are clearly seen on the ice, and the exaggerated arcade stuff stands out to a ridiculous degree, which is exactly what EA Freestyle is going for.
Graphics Score: Good
You know how I said you only needed to download the demo if you’re not playing online? Well, you might want to check out the demo anyway. The reason is that the sound effects in the menus are among the most annoying sound effects ever recorded. It’s almost as if the game wants you to crack mentally, which isn’t a very good thing. Thankfully, the entire game isn’t this bad, as the in-game stuff is pretty reasonable. The voice that announces power-ups sounds like it belongs in an 80s cartoon, which probably sounds funnier than it actually is; still, it’s better than it could have been. My one gripe is that 3 on 3 NHL Arcade could have benefited from an in-game soundtrack, albeit one that could be turned on or off. It’s a fast-paced game and a soundtrack would only help players get more into the game; gameplay tends to be a little hollow with nothing going on in the background. There’s no commentary track in this game, and given how badly they’d have screwed it up if they put one in, we can all be very thankful for its omission.
Sound Score: Poor
The controls in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade are nothing short of superb. It’s the perfect blend of the button-mashing you’d expect in an arcade game with the advanced controls you’ve been honing while playing NHL 09. In fact, you can opt to use the same exact control scheme found in NHL 09 if you’d like; this goes a long way to ensure you’re not confused by new controls, which might lead you to bad habits once you go back to NHL 09. If the NHL 09 controls intimidate you, feel free to use the face buttons all you’d like. One thing 3 on 3 NHL Arcade doesn’t tell you is that you can use either configuration from the default scheme – there’s no need to go crazy changing things around.
The gameplay is about what you’d expect, but maybe a little bit more “smart” in terms of hockey sense. You can’t score at will, but your old bag of tricks will work just fine. 3 on 3 NHL Arcade doesn’t just look like a modified version of NHL 94, but it plays very similarly as well in that the action is fast and furious, but still has some depth to it. Just like in the most recent NHL games, you’re as likely to have a high-scoring goal-fest as you are to have a more defensively oriented game. The unfortunate thing is, if you’re tied at the end of the third period, you don’t go to a shootout; instead, you just play until someone scores the necessary goals to win. That’s a bit of a letdown, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Control/Gameplay Score: Great
What happens when you have a game that’s fun to play, but is so limited that you never actually want to fire it up? That’s the dilemma found in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade. The game itself is really enjoyable, the kind of game you’d play all the time with friends – if you could actually pick NHL teams and customize the game outside of length of play. It’s a shame EA Freestyle made a game that has substance to it, but has seemingly gone out of its way to keep gamers from enjoying it to the fullest. Then again, that’s a microcosm of the state of the NHL these days, so I guess it’s appropriate.
There are levels of difficulty within 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, but the game remains the same – fire pucks on net, set up one-timers, and outscore your opponent. It’s as simple as that. The difficulty levels are nice, but there’s no real motivation to ever move up from the default level of Easy. That’s because you find yourself WANTING high-scoring games. This isn’t the game to implement the neutral-zone trap; instead, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is meant for up-and-down action. Do you really want to ruin that by making your opposing goalie harder to beat? I doubt it. The difficulty levels would be a lot more useful with a real career mode, but that’s a moot point.
This is like the millionth ripoff of NBA Jam to grace consoles. It’s got bit heads and lots of scoring. Can you really consider this original? The power-ups are a pretty neat idea, but that’s about the only “new” thing included in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade.
Originality Score: Dreadful
3 on 3 NHL Arcade is really, really fun for the first 15 minutes or so. Then, once you’ve played a few games, you find yourself sort of wondering what to do. You want to play another game, but you know it’s going to be the same deal as your last game. Again, the gameplay itself can be considered addictive, but the lack of modes found in 3 on 3 NHL Arcade are a total buzzkill and will ultimately drive gamers away from the game.
Addictiveness Score: Bad
9. Appeal Factor
It’s become en vogue among sports fans, particularly the sports fans EA target, to bash hockey and pretend nobody cares about the NHL. However, the NHL games are consistently among EA’s best sellers, with the most recent NHL games running away with Best Sports Game awards. So this game has plenty of appeal. The problem is, it’s buried in the X-Box Live Arcade, meaning people who don’t go online won’t even know it exists. That’s not good.
3 on 3 NHL Arcade will definitely fit a niche, but it has no chance to match the NBA Street series simply because it lacks the exposure. Then again, you almost get the impression 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is merely a test run to see if this kind of game will work, just so EA can make a better version next year that will cost more money. That version of the game might have more appeal, but the appeal of 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is a bit limited.
Appeal Factor Score: Poor
As you play 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, you get the impression that it’s a work in progress. It’s good for what it is, sure, but there are SO many little things that could have made the game a million times better. While we all know EA loves to leave little things out in order to get more money the following year, this is the first game in what could become a decent series, and it’s a shame to see such a limited product released. It’s polished, but it’s not complete. That’s why it’s only $10, but it’s just a tad underwhelming.
Miscellaneous Score: Bad
Appeal Factor: Poor
Final Score: Poor Game
Short Attention Span Summary
3 on 3 NHL Arcade is exactly what you’d think it’d be – an arcade-style hockey game full of offense and ridiculous moves. The gameplay is surprisingly solid and appeals to sim and arcade players alike, but that’s about it. Gameplay is only as good as the modes a game offers, and this game features very few ways to enjoy playing. There’s a lot of potential for future versions of 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, but the initial offering leaves a lot to be desired.