Are simulation style video games such as NHL '11 too complicated?

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nhl11toewscover.jpgI haven’t written a review of NHL ’11 just yet for a simple reason: it’s enormous. From the tweaks EA Sports made to the team building aspects of its old modes to the changes in physics and gameplay to the newly added Hockey Ultimate League and its wacky trading card system, there’s a lot to digest. In fact, I might just include a gallery of reviews like I did with NHL 2K11 for the simple reason that there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around.

(If you want a snapshot review, though: it’s really, really good. There will always be minor quibbles, but it feels better than any of the previous titles. If you’re a hardcore hockey fan, it’s worthy of an upgrade even if you own NHL ’10.)

As much as I enjoy NHL ’11 and other sports games that aim to be realistic and fun at the same time, there’s a part of my gaming heart that aches for the days of cartoonish, reality-bending arcade sports games. From hockey’s NHL Hitz series and Wayne Gretzky hockey to the fantastic NBA Jam and NBA Street games all the way through to robots swinging baseball bats and Mutant League Football, previous consoles featured some incredibly fun titles. It’s clear that the gross maturity of people can’t help but focus on the “That would never happen” aspect instead of lingering on the sheer awesomeness of making a basketball hoop catch on fire.

That saddens me.

When EA Sports made a big move to change its control scheme with NHL ’07, they introduced a new level of immersion to hockey video games. Instead of the strength of a shot being determined by how hard (or long) you press down on a button, now your aim (360 degrees worth) and timing are what really matter. One of the things I love about the scheme is that to simply play the game without getting into the subtle nuances, it’s actually quite simple: the left joystick moves your player, the right joystick acts as your stick and guides your body checks, the right trigger passes and changes players while the right bumper poke checks.

Of course, there’s a big difference between being able to do the simple things and showing enough skill to score goals against and inhibit the offense of an experienced opponent.

Owen Sound of Kotaku asserts that NHL ’11 is “harder than its hardcore fans” and ultimately asks if modern sports games are too complicated for casual gamers or casual fans of a sport to pick up.

The deepening complexity of sports video games is more than tolerable, its marketable, because millions of sports fans have a deep, first-hand association with the sport in question, if not as players then at least as lifelong fans. Unfortunately, it’s also a prerequisite.

There is no such prerequisite in a shooter. Mafia II’s instruction manual is two pages: Here’s how to kill someone before he kills you, basically. Part of that has to do with the lawless context of the game. But it’s also because, unlike the subtleties of defending someone in basketball, there are few gamers out there familiar with the subtleties of being a mafioso, and certainly not enough demanding simulation-quality organized crime gaming.

Analysts have asserted that sports gamers are not buying more sports games, but they are spending more money on a single game. The economy may be a big part of that, but it’s only a part of it, I think. As features and different contextual control sets are are added and – especially – as multiplayer communities mature and become more competitive, fans may find themselves without the time or the wherewithal to keep up in the sports they follow more casually than their favorite.

Sports games that try to simplify themselves typically get brushed off as babying the product for people who don’t have sports fan bonafides. Let’s not be so quick to judge things that way. These games may be simplifying themselves to be more accessible to hardcore sports fans who, lacking exposure, can’t yet make that mental connection between what they want their player or team to do and how to execute it on the controller.

There are, however, options out there for people who want to play arcade-style games on modern consoles. Unfortunately, sometimes that requires a certain level of tolerance for outdated rosters (or even imaginary teams stocked with fake players). For one thing, you can play quite a few PS2/original X-Box era games on the newer consoles if they are “backwards compatible.” While $60/full-priced games rarely feature arcade gameplay, it seems like download services are filling the gap. For example, a new edition of the revered NES pigskin game Tecmo Super Bowl was released this year. I’m a big fan of the ridiculously simple soccer game Sensible World of Soccer; in the X-Box 360 version the “A” button controls passing, shooting and attempts to retrieve the ball. Yes, that’s right, passing and shooting on the same button. Another interesting development is that the Nintendo Wii will feature the re-birth of the NBA Live series, complete with an NBA license.

So arcade style video games aren’t dead all together, but simulations demand the biggest budgets and largest audiences. Still, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: EA Sports is crazy not to release an NHL ’94-style X-Box Live game. Wouldn’t you want to use Alex Ovechkin like the next coming of Jeremy “Going to make Gretzky’s head bleed” Roenick? Get on it, EA.

Third team’s the charm? Devils ink Gormley to one-year, two-way deal

<>during the first period at TD Garden on November 12, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Since being selected by the Coyotes at 13th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, Brandon Gormley has had a difficult time breaking into the league on a full-time basis.

On Thursday, the 24-year-old Gormley joined his third NHL team, signing with the New Jersey Devils on a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 at the NHL level, the club announced.

Despite his draft status, Gormley has yet to play a full season in the big league, although this deal could give him an opportunity to end that. For the Devils, the deal adds more depth to their blue line and for a friendly price.

Last season, Gormley split time between the Colorado Avalanche and its farm team, the San Antonio Rampage. Despite some high expectations about where he could fit on the Avs’ blue line, he was eventually put on waivers in January.

He ended the season with one assist in 26 games with the Avalanche, and hit the open market after Colorado didn’t give him a qualifying offer.

Wild sign Dumba to two-year, $5.1M deal

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After ongoing contract talks between the Minnesota Wild and restricted free agent defenseman Matt Dumba, the two sides have come to a deal.

The Wild announced Thursday that they had signed Dumba to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.1 million.

A breakdown of the new deal:

— In 2016-17: $2.35 million.

— In 2017-18: $2.75 million.

Selected seventh overall by the Wild in 2012, Dumba had his most productive campaign this past season, with 10 goals and 26 points in 81 games.

Known for his offensive skills — he had 20 goals and 57 points with Red Deer in the WHL in his draft year — Dumba also brings a coveted right-shot to the Wild blue line, which features four players with contracts of four or more years of term remaining.

As per General Fanager, the Wild still have $2.168 million in projected cap space, but they have secured all their remaining restricted free agents.

Rangers bring back forward Marek Hrivik (Updated)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 09:  Marek Hrivik #46 of the New York Rangers skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden on April 9, 2016 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Red Wings 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers announced that they’ve re-signed Marek Hrivik to a new contract. The term and financial details of the deal were not released.

Hrivik signed with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in May 2012. The 24-year-old made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and ended up playing five games for the Rangers. He had one assist and a plus-3 rating during his time in the NHL.

Updated:

The young forward was an important part of New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford. Hrivik finished his AHL campaign with 12 goals and 29 assists. He tied for the team lead in assists and finished third in points.

If you go by Hrivik’s tweet, it appears as though he signed a one-year contract:

Now that Hrivik is re-signed, the Rangers have no more free agents of any kind, per General Fanager.

Report: Stone and Coyotes agree to one-year, $4M deal

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Another day, another scheduled arbitration hearing avoided.

According to multiple reports, defenseman Michael Stone and the Arizona Coyotes have settled on a one-year, $4 million deal, well ahead of their scheduled arbitration hearing set for Aug. 4.

Stone, 26, was a restricted free agent coming off a three-year contract with an AAV of $1.15 million.

Last season in Arizona, he hit new career highs in points with 36 and assists with 30. He also logged some heavy minutes, playing more than 22 minutes per game, which was second behind only Oliver Ekman-Larsson. That includes being used on both the power play and penalty kill.

Just more work done for the Coyotes on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, they announced they had signed defenseman Connor Murphy to a six-year contract extension, worth a total of $23.1 million.

Related: Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing