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.

Stars’ Oduya re-injures ankle, out 2-4 weeks

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Johnny Oduya #47 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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It’s been a rough year for Johnny Oduya and, in particular, a rough year for Johnny Oduya’s ankle.

On Thursday, the Stars announced that Oduya would miss the next 2-4 weeks after aggravating an ankle injury that saw him miss 10 games already this season.

The latest setback occurred in Tuesday’s wild 7-6 win over the Rangers at MSG. Oduya exited midway through the contest and didn’t return.

Oduya, 35, has only appeared in 36 of Dallas’ 47 games this season, but has been reasonably effective when in. He has a goal and seven points while averaging just over 18 minutes per night.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if Oduya actually finishes the year as a Star. If he’s able to get healthy and Dallas misses the playoffs — the Stars went into Friday’s action three points out of the wild card — he could be flipped at the deadline.

Oduya is a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $3.75 million annually. He would likely garner some interest on the open market, given his veteran experience and the fact he won a pair of Stanley Cups with Chicago.

Per CapFriendly, Oduya does have a limited no-trade clause. He can provide a list of 17 teams that he’d like to be dealt to.

Ducks nip Avalanche 2-1 after ‘weird delay’ to fix glass

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson watches as workers remove a cracked plexiglass piece during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Broken glass is a regular occurrence in the heavy-hitting, hard-shooting NHL, and shattered panes usually get replaced swiftly.

Although an uncommon 45-minute delay at Honda Center led to an unusual early intermission, the break also interrupted the Anaheim Ducks’ second-period struggles. They warmed back up in plenty of time to snag another win.

Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:02 to play, and the Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Thursday night.

John Gibson made 21 saves and Hampus Lindholm scored the tying power-play goal early in the third period of the Pacific Division-leading Ducks’ eighth victory in 10 games — but the first featuring an intermission in the middle of a period.

“I don’t think the delay did that much to us,” Lindholm said. “It was quite a weird delay, but we stuck in there. … I’ve never had one that long. I don’t think they shoot that hard in Sweden.”

The game was scoreless when Colorado defenseman Eric Gelinas‘ shot put a large starburst in a pane of glass behind Anaheim’s net with 9:48 left in the second period. The Honda Center crew tried to put up a replacement pane quickly, but soon discovered it needed to be cut to fit next to the camera that sits on a stanchion next to the pane.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen joked that he should have helped out the arena crew.

“I used to be good at school with my hands,” Vatanen said. “I wanted to go out there, but I had to focus on the game.”

Referees eventually told the teams to take their second intermission while the crew finished their work, apparently cutting one pane too short to use. After play finally resumed and the second period ended, they paused only for a dry scrape of the ice before playing the final 20 minutes of regulation.

“It helped us,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the delay. “We weren’t playing very good in the second period. They were coming at us, and it broke up the period. It gave us an opportunity to reset ourselves. It did us a favor.”

Ritchie dramatically rewarded the Ducks for a strong performance when Nikita Zadorov turned over the puck in the slot. Ondrej Kase tipped it to Anaheim’s power forward, and he fired a shot through traffic for his 11th goal.

“The final (goal) is just a bad bounce, that’s all it is,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “That one just took a bad bounce off Zadorov and ended up in the back of our net.”

Calvin Pickard stopped 34 shots for the NHL-worst Avalanche, who have lost four straight and 21 of 25.

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored a power-play goal in the second period to break a scoreless tie shortly after the delay, but the Ducks replied with two third-period goals and incredible defensive plays in the final minute by Gibson and Vatanen, who stopped Jarome Iginla from hitting an open net.

“It was a long break and a different third period,” Landeskog said. “Other than that, I thought it was pretty funny. Most of us did. We didn’t take it too seriously.”

Pickard followed up a 35-save performance in his previous start with another gem, and Landeskog scored his ninth goal shortly after the delay.

But Anaheim finally cashed in on its 2-to-1 shots advantage when Lindholm beat Pickard from the blue line with an exceptional slap shot, which was still rising when it sailed past Ritchie’s screen.

Colorado’s Tyson Barrie missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury, leaving the Avalanche to face the Ducks without arguably their top two defensemen. Erik Johnson, who missed his 20th straight game with a broken leg, is likely out until mid-February.

 

Latest concussion will sideline MacArthur for the rest of the season

MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 15:  Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 15, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Senators 4-3.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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It sounded like Clarke MacArthur was making significant progress from the concussion he suffered during training camp, but on Friday morning, Senators GM Pierre Dorion announced that MacArthur’s season was over.

The news isn’t surprising given the Sens forward’s history with concussions (it’s believed he suffered four different concussions during an 18-month span), but the fact that he had been cleared for contact in December led people to believe there was a chance he could come back.

According to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, Dorion said MacArthur is “devastated” by today’s news.

It certainly seems like the Senators are doing the right thing by shutting him down. The 31-year-old also missed all but four games in 2015-16 because of a head injury.

As of last September, MacArthur said he didn’t plan on hanging up his skates.

Dorion said he’s trying to acquire another forward via trade to replace him, but with limited teams willing to be sellers, the prices are extremely high.

In other Sens news…

Dorion told members of the media that goalie Craig Anderson will return to Ottawa’s crease in late January or early February.

Anderson has been with his wife, Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

Video: Jonathan Drouin turns on the jets, scores ‘big time’ goal vs. Sharks

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Earlier this week, Jonathan Drouin turned in an assist of the year candidate on Tyler Johnson‘s goal against the Kings.

Last night, he used his speed to score one of his own, and you’ll want to watch it over and over again.

With the Bolts trailing 1-0 in the second period, Drouin skated through the neutral zone before re-entering the Sharks’ territory and going around Marc-Edouard Vlasic like he wasn’t even there. As he got around Vlasic, he cut to the net and beat San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell (top).

The 21-year-old has carried a lot of the offensive burden with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup. He’s collected seven points in his last seven games, and he’s up to 14 goals and 30 points in 39 games this season.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, that was the only offense they could muster in this one, as they ended up losing the game 2-1.

“That’s just a big time skill play by a big time skill player,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of the goal, per the Tampa Bay Times.