Growing up in the Nintendo generation, there was one hockey game that mattered, Blades of Steel. Even if you didn’t play hockey or know all the rules, Blades of Steel was a great game to get buddies together and play against each other. While other hockey games have come around, it’s been difficult to capture the magic of Blades of Steel.
During the days of the Genesis, EA came out with their NHL series, and has become a mainstay since that time. Visual Concepts has challenged the NHL with their own NHL 2K series, and both have become very popular since.
When the PSP was initially released, several sports games were released along with it. One of those games was Gretzky NHL. As it seems to be the annual tradition, with a new season comes a new sports game. While EA Sports and 2K Sports haven’t opted to bring the coolest game on earth to the PSP, Sony is bringing the Great One to the PSP with Gretzky NHL 06.
Graphically, Gretzky NHL 06 for the PSP looks very similar to its PS2 counterpart. The bitmapped player faces look fairly realistic, and the players all move fairly well on the ice. However, the polygon count is low for the characters, especially when you get a close-up shot of them. This is particularly noticeable during a replay or a reaction to a play on the ice. Some of the attention to detail found in the PS2 version is not found in the PSP version. Ice flakes fly up when players suddenly stop on the ice, but the skate trails are nowhere to be seen. Shadows of the players do show up on the ice, but they are just circles underneath the players. The animation isn’t great, but it gets the job done decently enough. If you get close enough to a player’s jersey, the textures are very blurry and washed out, not crisp like they could be. Giving a big hit gives off a small light explosion with the hit which makes the hit more noticeable.
The ice rinks do look authentic, with laser light logos of the teams shown before the game starts. The four-sided scoreboard shows stats and the score. Advertisements around the rink are easily seen. When a goal is scored for the home team, camera flashes abound throughout the crowd. However, the crowd does look a bit flat, and the animation of the crowd when they stand up and sit down is rather stiff.
Getting the commentary right in a sports game is a big challenge. The commentary of the PSP version sounds almost exactly like the PS2 version, which is a good thing. The commentators give a smooth performance most of the time, but there are times when the action is too fast for the commentary. The amount of color commentary is disappointing, as it seems to be a one-man show for a good portion of the game.
The clicking of the skates and sticks on the ice sounds realistic. Body slams give a little extra oomph to go with the hit. The horn of a goal blasts triumphantly. The skates hitting the ice are more prominent during a fast break than when all the players are at one side of the ice performing more defensive moves.
The cheering could use more dynamics during the game, especially after big plays. The crowd sounds are there, but they don’t really add anything to the game. Cheering and booing are heard in the game, but no distinguishable yelling or grumbling.
Since the PSP has less buttons, the controls for the PSP have been streamlined from the PS2 version. Movement is done with the nub, while game strategy is determined with the D-pad. While on offense Square performs a Deke move, Triangle performs a puck dump, and Circle attempts a slap shot at the net. X performs a snap or wrist shot, or passes the puck, depending on the situation. R gives an extra boost of speed, while holding L enables Icon Passing. Hitting Select and then one of the face buttons changes the line out on the ice. On defense, control is similar with Square making a body check, Triangle makes a stick check, and X changes the player you are controlling.
Gretzky for the PSP doesn’t have a tutorial, but because the controls are streamlined, it isn’t as important as the PS2 version. The controls do take a little getting used to, but with a little practice you can skate with the pros in no time.
Gretzky has several modes of play. Quick Game has the CPU select two teams and has you play on one team with specific rules. Single Game is similar to Quick Start except it lets you select which teams to play and gives you some control of the game options like period length. Season mode lets you play a single season, drafting a new league or using the existing NHL roster, playing a season of 29 or 82 games, setting the period length, and the type of overtime type.
The most unique mode is the Wayne vs. Wayne mode, which is also found on the PS2 version. During this game, you earn “99 Time” by playing as a team, scoring goals, delivering big checks, and making saves. Your “99 Time” can also be decreased by poor play. Once you reach enough “99 Time” points, you can call out Wayne Gretzky to the field as a sixth man. Your team gets physical bonuses as well. This is a fun arcade mode for friendly games. In this mode you choose one team and attempt to defeat all 29 teams. If you beat all 29 teams, you face a team of all Gretzkys.
Gretzky has a mode exclusive to the PSP version called 3-on-3 Countdown Mode. In this mode both sides have three skaters plus the goalie. The object is to score the required number of goals before the other team does. This game is looser since you don’t have to worry about going into the penalty box.
On Gretzky for the PSP, you get the feeling that you are actually playing a game instead of just watching one on TV. However, the game doesn’t feel as fast as a hockey game could be. The fast breaks need a tad more speed to get the adrenaline going. However, the game makes you fight for every goal you get, and you feel as if you have accomplished something for getting a goal in.
I found it much easier to pass the puck in the PSP than the PS2 version. However, a large portion of the game is based on passing. This works very well most of the time, especially since Icon Passing is incuded. However, it does take a while to get used to the passing without the puck going to the defender’s side. The only problem with the passing game is the fact that you can’t see where all of your players are at the same time. This makes passing difficult at times.
During the game, you can earn “Gretzky Points” by performing actions like scoring 5 goals in a game, performing 10 big hits, or winning 10 face offs. These will enable you to unlock items in the Gretzky Challenge. Unfortunately, most of these are alternative uniforms, but a few fun ones like the Big Heads are available.
While Gretzky does include a season mode, it doesn’t run as deep as other sports games. There isn’t much depth to the single-player game, but having a season mode is a nice addition. The other included modes are games you most likely won’t find on the other console versions. However, they aren’t all that much and quickly outlast their welcome.
Gretzky also includes online play through the PSP in Ad Hoc mode or through wireless internet. Up to two players are able to play at the same time. Being able to play multiplayer like that adds to the value of the game.