Up until now, PlayStation Portable-owning hockey fans have only had Sony's Gretzky series to play with, and while those games do play hockey, they haven't played particularly good hockey. NHL 07 for the PSP changes all that by delivering a solid handheld version of its console hockey series for the first time. All the gameplay modes and features you've come to expect from the series over the years are on hand here, and the on-ice action is quite enjoyable. It's not perfect, mind you. Clunky settings options, graphical hang-ups, and occasional artificial intelligence fouls bring the game down a peg or two, but mostly this is good hockey that handles the portable translation well.
If you're at all familiar with EA-branded hockey, NHL 07 on the PSP should be picked up relatively easily. None of the various right analog stick-based moves available on the console versions this year made it to the PSP (having no right analog stick will do that), but otherwise the controls are easily intuitive. Shots are mapped to the square and circle buttons, autodekes to the triangle, passing to the X button, and speed bursts to the right trigger. You can do some manual dekes by moving the left analog stick from side to side while skating with the puck, but that tends to be a bit more cumbersome than just using the autodeke function. Defensive play is handled similarly, with dives, body checks, poke checks, and hook moves all mapped to single-button functions.
The pace of the game is similar to the console versions of NHL 07. It's a fast-moving game of hockey that's a little more geared toward arcade-style offense than realistic defense, though scoring isn't quite as easy of a proposition here. Part of this is because aiming shots is more difficult in the PSP version, due in no small part to the tiny target icon that appears in the net when you're lining up a shot. Passing is also a bit unwieldy, making setups for more elaborate plays decidedly more difficult. On the flipside, goalies aren't overly intelligent, so you can very easily catch them doing stand-up moves when they should be diving, and vice versa. You'll also end up with your share of garbage goals, with pucks bouncing off goalies or going in at seemingly impossible angles. Defensemen are decent, however, and do a good job of staying within their allotted zones and protecting the net.
Hockey fans are sure to enjoy the on-ice gameplay, though they may be put off by a few of the interface issues. For one, in quick matches, the game defaults to a side-view camera for some odd reason. Of course, all the normal camera options are there at the start of a game, so you can switch to whatever you like. Just be sure you do it before you start the game, because once you're in, you have no option to change your camera view, or just about any of your other settings, either. There's also no in-game stat tracking to speak of, so you can't just pause the game and look at statistical data. These seem like particularly weird oversights, since so many previous PSP sports games have had all these features.
Outside of basic hockey play, you've got all the usual modes, including a full dynasty mode. This mode is a full-on copy of the dynasty mode from the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of NHL 07, strengths and weaknesses included. Of course, you have all the usual managerial options, like signing free agents, trading players, setting lines, drafting rookies, and the like. The mode also includes the basic player role-playing system, with players broken out into multiple categories, like snipers, power forwards, danglers, and the like. How you place these types of players on lines together determines their chemistry rating. Too many grinders on one line isn't going to get you anywhere, but spreading out your role-players so varied types line with each other is effective.