"This game nails the Arcade portion of its title. Shedding all cumbersome rules offsides, icing, penalties, faceoffs 3 on 3 NHL Arcade delivers nonstop shots, hard hitting-checks, and silly powerups. The NHL half, though, is not so exciting. No teams, no logos, and no familiar arenas or cities. It's a shallow battle of generic jerseys."
This game nails the Arcade portion of its title. Shedding all cumbersome rules offsides, icing, penalties, faceoffs 3 on 3 NHL Arcade delivers nonstop shots, hard hitting-checks, and silly powerups. Events aren't even full length; they end after one team scores a specified number of goals. The NHL half, though, isn't so exciting. No teams, no logos, and no familiar arenas or cities. It's a shallow battle of generic jerseys. An anonymous red versus blue.
Okay, so forty famous hockey players do lend their names, and you pick any three to build a line. But you're basically getting their names alone; a big bobblehead and recognizable number grafted onto a generic, animated body. Only the size of that body differs between skaters. Players fall into one of three categories: fast, all-around, and strong. (Like NES Ice Hockey; if only there were fighting here.) Speedsters have tiny frames begging to be crushed, while hulking defensemen lumber around to knock them clear over the boards. However, without personalized attributes, players of the same type are equivalent. A withering Jeremy Roenick is just as effective as rising megastar Sidney Crosby.
No matter your roster, the quick pace will pull you into the action. The rink is short, so defense turns to offense in a second. Powerups litter the ice. These can shrink a goalie to the size of the puck or bulk him up into a giant. Grant rocket skates or a missile powered shot. Freeze a man, literally turn him into a block of ice, for an impromptu power play. And the sound effects fit perfectly. Grown men whimper for their mothers when met with a hard check. The over-the-top announcer belts out a throaty rumble, like he's hyping the undercard of a boxing match.
The game is simple to grasp, but not necessarily easy to beat. Goalies, who are computer controlled, have to be solid, since the up-and-down action leaves them facing numerous breakaways alone. They'll stop the majority of oncoming shots (as long as they haven't been cross-checked to the ice). Basic button controls are perfect for players without much experience, but one spin move and a single trick shot are the only deceptive maneuvers in that scheme's arsenal. Advanced players aren't left in the cold, though. The game borrows the control layout of the recent NHL 09, which uses both analog sticks and the shoulder buttons to provide an array of dekes and shot fakes.
Even if you set out to master those moves, 3 on 3 won't last very long as a single player experience. It only offers a quick-play mode, without any tournaments or leagues. At least there are leaderboards online, though you can play in unranked games as well. Going against another human is mostly fair, but certain aspects of the game can be exploited. After a goal is scored, the action doesn't stop for a faceoff at center ice. Instead, the puck is dropped behind the net; the idea being the victimized team can pick it up and move down the rink. However, it's easy enough for the scorer to swoop in and check his man off especially with a team of bigger players resulting in another immediate scoring opportunity.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer seems limited to connecting two PS3's. For six players to participate in a game, teammates must be anchored to the same machine. It means you can't mix it up alongside a bunch of strangers. Of course, the matching system is random not set up for invites so you'll have to be creative to hook up with friends (like hosting a game with customized settings). If that configuration works for you, then 3 on 3 NHL Arcade can provide hours of quick, mindless entertainment.
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (February 10, 2009)
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