NBA Jam on ice. Sound fun? Then you'll love EA's upcoming 3 on 3 NHL Arcade.
It's an old-school, fast and furious style hockey game that makes you feel like you need to insert tokens into your 360 or PS3 before you're allowed to play.
Serious, if you loved games like Jam or Open Ice back in the day, this is definitely a title you should look out for.
And the main reason is simple: gameplay. The title is dominated by big-headed players pulling off big-time moves like checking goons over the boards and popping trick shots into the air before slapping them into the net. There is even a power-up system that alters everything from a player's speed (you can make Ovechkin even faster) to shrinking the size of your opponent's goalie.
But that's not all as the game also brings back into play the fat guy, skinny guy, average guy strategy from the old NES Ice Hockey, with gamers choosing from an array of NHL stars while trying to find the right balance of speed, size, and since it's hockey, brute force.
Best thing is, the game is not only extremely fun, it's only going to cost about ten bucks. That's right, this is EA's first original download-only sports title that will be sold online exclusively through Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
ESPN caught up with producers David Littman and Matt Mahar to get the scoop on the upcoming game.
ESPN: For gamers who are just hearing about this new title, how would you describe it?
David Littman: I think this is a very accessible way for fans to play hockey without having to know the rules, without having to know players, without having to know how to score. You just go on there, you pick it up right away and you're playing without having to worry about offsides or penalties. Anyone, whether they love hockey or not, can play this game and have fun. And the power-ups we have really add to that as these power-ups aren't just about hockey, they transcend to other games. When you get a power-up that makes your opponent's goalie really little, you can't help but get a smile on your face.
But to us, there are two reasons we made this game. The first reason was that there just is no arcade hockey game on the market right now. A lot of people used to love the arcade hockey games a few years ago. Games like Open Ice were wicked, and since there's nothing out that's like that now, it's a perfect time for it. The second big reason is that we love hockey and we want to see the hockey market grow. Anyone who goes to a hockey game or plays it even once becomes a fan. So we wanted to see how we could get people who don't normally watch hockey to enjoy the sport. That's the big reason we started this game. For us, it's an entry way into our franchise. We included the Skill Stick there on purpose so you can play with the Skill Stick or the buttons, but if you play with the Skill Stick, then you might be ready to play NHL 09 or NHL 10 or start watching hockey on TV. We just want people to love hockey and we think this game is a great entry way.
ESPN: Can you break down the different player types in the game?
Matt Mahar: The player types play into the overall feel of the game, and that's super fast. We also wanted them to play into how the power-ups work. You actually get power-ups (Super Shot, Big Player, Freeze, Banana, Super Speed, Double Score, Small Goalie, Big Goalie) by hitting guys and knocking them down. So the super strong guys help you get power-ups, while the super fast guys and the all-around guys fit more into the fast pace of the game. It's up to you how you construct your team, so you might want a couple of super fast guys to skate around the ice quick, but don't forget the strong guys, because you'll want to get some power-ups. And while a small guy might not be able to knock a big guy down, a big guy will be able to knock everybody down. So there's a strategy element to it.
David Littman: Around the office, there are guys who love all fast guys and just try not to get hit, and there are some guys who just go around hitting with all big guys like Phaneuf and Pronger because they just want more power-ups. There are other guys who like a good mix. This goes back to the days of the fat guy and the skinny guy of the old Nintendo Ice Hockey. It's an element we wanted to bring back.
ESPN: Why release this exclusively through the digital delivery of Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network rather than putting this in stores?
David Littman: The digital delivery system that the Live Marketplace has and that PSN has is amazing. You can download a game, it's quick and simple, and it's cheap. And to us, the development time for a game like this is a lot less. The amazing thing about our game is that it's made by the same exact guys who made NHL 09. So while NHL 09 was shipping and we got a break, we started making this game during our down time. I do see other franchises doing something similar as well because we're trying to do more with the same amount of people. Certainly in this climate, this is a great thing to do. We're going to deliver two games this year instead of one, and I know our hard-core fans are going to love it. It's actually something fans have been asking us to make for years. We always hear: Where is NHL Street? Well, this is our NHL Street. It's just a downloadable game and if you play it, you'll see how fun it is. And by making it with the same group that made NHL 09, we were able to make it a lot sooner and for a lot cheaper than we could if this were a one or two-year title.
ESPN: How much of the NHL 09 audience plays online?
David Littman: I know with NHL 09, it's over 50 percent. I think it's near 60 percent, but again, we're hoping to transcend that market. But to me, what really makes me so proud to be on the NHL team is the fact that we were able to make this game and get it below the 350 mg Xbox Live Arcade limit. To get on Marketplace, your game needs to be below that 350 mg limit, and we were able to do it while at the same time make a really fun, really good looking game. That's a tremendous feat. For our guys to get the game down to such a small footprint is just amazing. And that limit is one of the reasons you haven't seen that many next-gen sports games on Arcade, because you can't fit it. And I think now that we've been able to do it, there are more games coming, for sure.
ESPN: Are there fights in the game?
Matt Mahar: No, there aren't any fights in the game. We stripped that out in order to one, meet the size limits Dave just talked about, but also to get a lower ESRB rating for the game so that more people would be able to play it. It's a worldwide release, and that knocked the ESRB rating down in places like Asia and Europe. Basically, when you have your content restrictions placed on your Xbox kit, you wouldn't be able to check out the game if it was above a certain rating. But by knocking it down, it opens up the game to be available to everybody with no content restrictions.
ESPN: What's the online play going to be like?
Matt Mahar: It's a versus game, so you can play three people on one console versus three people on another console. You can't do the EA Sports Hockey League or anything like that, but you can play console versus console with all six players human controlled.
David Littman: There will also be leaderboards and individual stat tracking for each player and achievements for your 360, some that will be online, some that will be offline. We think it's a pretty full set of features, and I think there is a ton of replay-ability to this game, especially when you play against your buddies.
ESPN: How many NHL players will be featured in the game?
Matt Mahar: Right now there are 40. There is at least one player from every team, and we're looking at this like an All-Star team. So teams like Pittsburgh will get more than one player, but it just all depends on the team. There's also a good variety of fast guys, medium guys, and strong guys. We even added details to certain players like making Ovechkin's visor extra dark.
ESPN: Will there be a free version for people to download as well?
David Littman: There will be a trial mode for free, and the thing is, we want people to play this for free. I know they'll like it so much once they play it that they'll want to download the full game.
ESPN: What are your expectations in terms of sales? How many downloads will it take to make this game a success?
David Littman: It's a pretty new phenomenon, and we really don't have the same detailed information that we do for retail sales and retail games. Without giving numbers out, I'll tell you that success for me is when our hardcore fan base is loving it and buying it and talking about it in our forums, and at the same time the casual fan, the sports fan, the arcade fan are also playing it and talking about it on their forums. We see sales coming from all over the world, including Asia. Again, we can't give numbers, but when we see people playing it and loving it who might not normally play a hockey game while at the same time pleasing our loyal group of fans, that's success. We're really aiming at both ends of the spectrum with this one.
NHL 09, as great as it is, at most, we've crossed over to sports gamers this year. We've grown the hockey market, and we've crossed over due to the quality of the game and the innovation, and that's been awesome. This game is trying to stretch that even further. And if a lot of people buy this, you will see more of this type of game. A lot of people around EA are really excited about this product, and that's really helped us focus on making a great game. There is a lot of excitement about something EA Sports has never done before and I think we're set to deliver something that's really a lot of fun to play.