With the current labor dispute plaguing the National Hockey League (NHL), many fans of the sport are turning to video game versions of Canada’s preferred winter pastime. Those who want to play it safe enjoy the solid offerings by Take-Two Interactive (NHL 2K series) and Electronic Arts (NHL Hockey franchise). Last year, Sony’s 989 Sports returned to the rink with the decent “Gretzky NHL” offering for the PlayStation 2. Sony PlayStation Portable(PSP) owners can now fancy their slap shots on the go, but one has to wonder how the game fairs on the small screen.
The answer is simple, Gretzky NHL for the PSP is pretty terrible. The once fast-paced sport of video game hockey has been crippled by frame-rate slow downs that was once a common occurrence on the 10-year old PS One. The slowdowns are so distracting that they make the game almost unplayable. The frame-rate issue makes it quite hard for gamers to manage all of the action that’s taking place on screen.
Graphically, the game looks like a watered down version of its PlayStation 2 big-brother. In actuality, Gretzky NHL looks more like a polished PS One title than a current generation game. Still, you get your 3D cut-scenes in between plays and before the start of each period. It’s nothing really new or impressive when you compare Gretzky NHL animations to ESPN NHL 2K5 and NHL Hockey 2005.
Gretzky NHL somewhat shines on the audio side of things. Even if the game doesn’t feature any play-by-play commentary, it still manages to bolster some realistic hockey sounds that will surely remind you of what it’s like to be in an NHL hockey rink. Also, the game does feature an in-house announcer, but the guy really has a very limited vocabulary.
One of the more interesting aspects of the PSP version of Gretzky NHL is its Wi-Fi online gameplay. The title is one of the five games available at launch that uses the PSP’s infrastructure mode. A 802.11b router or access point will be needed to be able to play Gretzky NHL online. Like I’ve mentioned previously, the game’s pitiful frame-rate issues make the online offering utterly unplayable, but the addition of the game mode has to be applauded.
Once you’ve logged-in to your chosen connection, the game throws you into a familiar lobby that’s comparable to the online system of other platforms. Once in the lobby, gamers can choose to either challenge other players or to accept oncoming challenges. Everything is pretty simplistic and gamers will be online in no time.
PSP owners should pass on the opportunity of purchasing Gretzky NHL and wait for either EA or Take-Two to release their famed hockey titles on the handheld. Gretzky NHL could have been much more if it wasn’t for the frame-rate issues. For now, gamers should stick to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 for their hockey fixes. Gretzky NHL for the PSP gets the two-and-half star (out of five) treatment from this game reviewer.