When you're learning to skate, it's good to take a chair onto the ice. Newbies can hold onto it as they get their balance on the blades, pushing it along and using it like a bike's training wheels. NHL 2K11 could sure use that kind of help. Even though this is 2K Sports' third attempt at fashioning a hockey game for the Nintendo Wii (and the game is exclusive to the console this year), the result is as wobbly as a little kid stepping onto the ice in skates for the first time. Motion controls are frustratingly imprecise when it comes to skating and shooting, leaving you with little choice but to skip the whole motion-sensing thing and haul out a Classic Controller. It's a big letdown, particularly considering the sharp control scheme and catchy on-ice action of last year's effort. Only a healthy selection of game modes and a range of nifty minigames keep the game from being a complete disappointment.
Fancy stick moves are easy to pull off with the MotionPlus controller.
When you first hit the ice, NHL 2K11 seems a lot like NHL 2K10. Much of the presentation, graphics, and sound have been held over from last year. Some of the time, this is a good thing. This is still one great-looking hockey game, with impressive arena atmosphere and natural player animations. Everybody moves in a lifelike fashion, from lumbering tough guys like Derek Boogaard to flashy speedsters like Phil Kessel. The biggest new visual frill is sticks breaking, which happens fairly often but doesn't have any serious gameplay ramifications as it would in the real NHL. Audio is also good for the most part, if virtually identical to that in last year's game and still pretty overcaffeinated. Returning play-by-play man Randy Hahn and color commentator Drew Remenda jump out of their seats with every rush down the ice, shouting goofy, team-specific comments like, "Here come the desert dogs!" The soundtrack remains heavily skewed towards alt-rock, infusing the game with an attitude that not everyone will appreciate (especially after hearing your umpteenth Rise Against or OneRepublic tune.
Some of the presentation is tired. Graphics mirror those in last year's game so much that changes aren't really noticeable. Vancouver's arena is still called General Motors Place on the ice, even though the rink was renamed Rogers Arena a couple of months ago. Even worse, stats and player rosters are out of date. Team records shown when you're going into quick games are from the 2008-2009 season. Team schedules when you're playing seasons are from 2009-2010. Default rosters predate summer free-agency and retirement announcements, so a lot of players are still with teams they left months ago. You see Sergei Gonchar suiting up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Scott Neidermayer in an Anaheim Ducks uniform, Jaroslav Halak in the "bleu, blanc, et rouge" of the Montreal Canadiens, and so on. An online update has fixed some of these problems (as long as you can get it to work--we had to load the file a half-dozen times before the game finally recognized it), but data problems linger, and the game still shouldn't have shipped with so many core stats out of date. At times, you want to check to make sure you didn't put last year's game disc into your Wii by mistake.
Road to the Cup features some catchy minigames, but they're not nearly enough to rescue NHL 2K11 from mediocrity.