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Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey

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Reviewed by Scott McCall Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey for the Nintendo 64 is a port of the arcade version of the same name. The home version tries to appease the hockey fans who like some simulation in their hockey games. Unfortunately, while the game is highly regarded by non-sim sports fans as being a fun, fast-paced hockey game, it falls flat on its face when it comes to the simulation aspects. But, hey, at least this game is ten times better than its 16-bit counterparts. Although Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was never meant to be a full-blown simulation sports game from the get-go, a discerning eye has to be critical of the lack of simulation aspects because, if nothing else, we expected too much from it. With the inclusion of the simulation mode midway through development, many of us got a new hope for the possibility of a great game up there with EA's NHL series and Sony's NHL Face Off series. This new optimism, from which we were greatly let down, can only be seen from a critical viewpoint. After all, if you're going to do something, you should do it right. Most initial impressions of this have been fairly good. Upon further inspection, many of those same initial fans of the game will be asking themselves, "Boy, this game really isn't that good, after all, is it?" Sure, this is a great multi-player game, but how often will you play it multi-player? What happens when it's just you and your system by yourselves? Will you actually get your money's worth from an $80 game? The first time you turn on Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, you'll be treated to some rather impression voice. And that music is pretty good, too. From there, you'll notice all the nifty options. You can set your Play Mode (Arcade or Simulation), Rink Size (Arcade or Regulation), Team Size (Three, Four or Five), Difficulty (Very Easy to Very Hard), Period Length (One, two or three; five, ten or twenty), Penalties (Off, On or No Offsides & Icing), Player Switching (Manual or Automatic), Line Changes (Manual or Automatic), Play Speed (Normal or Fast), Puck Streak (On or Off), Player Fatigue (Off or On), Default Camera and Toggle Camera. The list of options is long, but in all honesty, they don't do much for the game beyond 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. If you pick the arcade mode, then you'll have 3-on-3 action with flaming nets and goalies turning into brick walls. The action is fast and furious. This is the ideal mode that non-sim fans will enjoy. It's probably also the best mode for multi-player action. The simulation mode tries to add 5-on-5 with player fatigue, line changes and more penalties. But that's all it does, and when it does them, it sure doesn't do them well. The game contains just four penalties (hooking, tripping, cross-checking and charging), line changes are a pain to do, and a player fatigue meter isn't very noticeable. The game also presents quite a few other options such as changing the controller configuration; changing the individual audio levels of the announcer, crowd, sound effects and music; and changing the camera angle. Immediately upon playing the game, the first thing you'll notice is the extremely weird button configuration. This also highlights yet another of the game's flaws: the lack of moves, passes and checks. Only one or two buttons double as something on offense and defense. This is extremely annoying because every function in the controller configuration must be assigned a different button. For example, you can't have the check button be the A button on defense because that's the shoot button on offense. You have to choose one or the other. Both EA's NHL series and Sony's NHL Face Off series let you use a certain button to do something on offense AND on defense. For those wondering just how weird the default button configuration is, well, here's what it's like: Shoot/Kneel - A, Shoot 2 - Z, Pass/Steal - B, Turbo - Bottom C, Check - Left C, Hook - Top C, Trip - Right C, One-time/Dive - A+B, Switch Player - R. This is relatively uncomfortable for those who like to actually play some DEFENSE in a hockey game. Once you get onto the ice, the flaws of the lack of the simulation aspects become apparent. There are just a lack of moves in this game. Sure, you can hook and trip, which will quite often lead to a penalty, but one or possibly two check buttons would have sufficed -- of course, assuming they let you use a button for both offense and defense. That's minor compared to the next point. One thing you have to wonder right away is, "Where are all the moves at?" About the only thing you can do in this game is pass, shoot a wrist shot and shoot a slap shot. This may ensure that non-sim fans won't be confused, but those of us who actually thought there might be some sim in the game are wondering where the drop passes, give & go passes, flip passes, fake shots and body blocks are at. There's even more flaws to the game. One thing that is extremely annoying is the huge number of steals that happen in the game. You can't even keep the puck for five seconds before one of the computer-controlled opponents is heading the other way on the ice with the puck. Maybe if this game actually had some simulation aspects in it, you could actually slow the game down or kill a penalty. Speaking of penalties, why are the penalties so short? It makes no sense. For example, if you like to play 10 minute periods, a two-minute minor penalty would only be for one minute instead of the full two minutes. And, if you're playing five minute periods, then that same penalty would be a mere 30 seconds. In all honesty how many people play full 20 minute periods? Not many. Most probably play 5 or 10 minute periods. If there's a penalty, it should be for the full-length, no matter what the length of the period is that you chose. The other major flaw to the game is the lack of statistics. It's pretty cool that you can accumulate your statistics a la NBA Jam on your Controller Pak, but those of us who hear "simulation mode" are wondering where the rest of the statistics went. Here are the statistics it keeps for the team: goals, shots and penalties. Here are the statistics for the player you choose: goals, assists, points and shots. Yep, that's it. It's not that hard to add more statistics. They could have easily added some more and made it easy to skip them for non-sim fans. If you don't get the drift by now, if you're comparing Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey to EA's NHL series (even on the 16-bit systems) or Sony's NHL Face Off series, then Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey comes up short by a mile. But on the other hand, if you're a sports fan who doesn't like sports very much, then this game may be up your alley. Fortunately, the aesthetics of the game only help the experience (or the lack thereof). Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey arguably has the best in-game visuals ever in a sports game. The players are large and detailed. The rink shows visible details even up close. The whole game moves at a brisk and smooth pace. The players even have texture-mapped faces. The front of the uniforms are graced with the NHL's team logo. And the back of the uniforms have the player's actual number. About the only thing you can critique here is that the players sometimes look disproportional at certain angles. The sound in Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey is both surprisingly good and a mixed bag at the same time. The music during the menus outside of the game is mostly rock 'n' roll with some pretty good sounding guitar for MIDI. Unfortunately, and you can call me crazy, it sounds too much like MIDI. The shining star of the game has to be the announcer -- that is, the first few times you play it. He's quite exciting in his play-by-play calling. Although it seems like he may have a large number of voice samples, he does get repetitive rather quickly. But if you liked Wave Race 64's announcer, then you shouldn't have any problem with him. This guy may actually be even better. The crowd noise in the game is pretty good, too. They even chant every now and then. I just wish that sports games would start having a larger variety of crowd noise rather than the standard booing, quiet and cheering crowds. All the sound isn't that good, though. The sound effects (puck sounds, smacking into boards, etc.) aren't bad, but the skating sound is extremely annoying. Oh well, you can just turn up the announcer and crowd volumes to try to keep it in the background. The major disappointment for me was the organ music. I've been a big fan of organ music since EA introduced it in NHL '94. That was pretty much the first and only game to do it right. The organ music is too soft and low in the background to be effective. It's also not composed that well. As far as I'm concerned, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey will always be a pretender unless they significantly jack up the simulation aspects on the game to be on par with EA's NHL and Sony's NHL Face Off series. In the game's defense, sure, it is supposed to be an arcade game, but I think with some more time they could have easily pumped up the simulation aspects of it. It would be nice to get some more sound in there (more announcer clips, more puck sounds, better checking sounds), and they definitely need a better organist. If they expect us to pay $79.95 for this game, then they could have at least tried to include more simulation aspects in there. I was thinking about saying, "Avoid this game like the plague if you want some simulation in your hockey game," but instead, I'll recommend that you rent this game first to find out if it's your cup of tea. For me, though, I'm much more happier playing a 16-bit hockey game than this one. Sure, it's a great multi-player mode, though nowhere near on par with Mario Kart or Bomberman, and it's also great for non-sim sports fans, but if you're a big hockey fan, then this game is a huge disappointment.

Graphics: 4.1 out of 5 Sound: 3.8 out of 5 Control: 3.4 out of 5 Gameplay: 2.9 out of 5 Lastability: 3.3 out of 5 Overall: 3.0 out of 5

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