The video game stars have aligned this fall. The EA Sports juggernaut has enjoyed a monopoly on the NHL license for several seasons, but it picked a questionable time to release a flawed game.
NHL 15 possesses amazing feel and physics, but gamers have marched their virtual torches to EA's door, angry about a
serious lack of game modes. Quite a time, then, for the
NHL 2K series to return after a four-year hiatus. The game drops any day now on iOS and Android, meaning it's playable on virtually all phones and tablets. Also making a comeback:
2K cover athlete Ryan Kesler. By my account, he's the first video game athlete to grace a cover again after a four-year hiatus. He laughs when I point that out, and he seems genuinely honored to be named the face of
2K again. "It was pretty cool, obviously," Kesler said. "I developed a relationship over the years with
2K, working with them even before I was on the cover of
2K11. That was a dream come true. When they came to me again and gave me this opportunity, it’s something you don’t turn down.” And
NHL 2K aims to deliver something a little different than the competition, targeting the more casual gamer, maybe the type who finds hardcore simulation games like EA Sports'
Madden series, SCE's
MLB: The Show and even
NBA 2K too daunting. It offers a three-season My Career Mode and has live roster updates, but its bread and butter will be a fast-paced, 3-on-3 mini rink game. It projects to have more of an arcadey feel to it. Here's a shot of the regular gameplay:
Kesler, 30, is grew up in the video game generation, so he knows what he wants in a game. He laments how hard sports games are to control on tablets, but he says
NHL 2K breaks that mold. He's pumped about the mini rink games. Most of all, though, he loves the shootout mode. "Definitely something that’s going to be a competition on the planes," Kesler said. "We’re going to be playing each other in shootouts, and it’s going to get pretty heated on the planes during road trips.”
A look at mini-rink mode:
NHL 2K doesn't offer simultaneous online multiplayer, but it lets users take turns against each other trying to beat high scores. It works especially well in the shootout mode, Kesler said. He plans to publicly embarrass anyone he beats. “It’s all about Twitter shaming now," Kesler said. "Twitter’s huge. And when
2K came out, I came up with the idea of challenging people online. And hopefully I beat em, so I can take a screenshot of the winning score and shame 'em a bit on Twitter.” Shootout mode:
The game was supposed to drop this week, but the release is delayed while
2K works out a few bugs. Assuming there are no major problems,
2K has a big opportunity to win over angry EA fans. Not that Kesler will openly acknowledge the competition, of course. When I asked him about the public reaction to EA's
NHL 15: "Who? Who released a game?" "EA Sports.
NHL 15. They put one out every year." A long, awkward silence. Then Kesler burst out laughing. "I'm just messing with you," he said. “My brother plays a lot, and he’s actually pretty upset with the way the game is played and the fact he can't play certain game modes. With that one company that you said. He’s big into online gaming. "So with
2K, with this new online game mode, the shootout mode especially, it’s going to be pretty cool. I like that you can play your shootout round and send it over and wait to see if they can beat the score.” Kesler lives up to the hype as a fun personality. The question now is whether
NHL 2K lives up to the hype as a fun, easy gaming experience. Watch for a review when the game arrives on iOS and Android.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin