Review: New Hockey Games Split Along Familiar Lines

In the world of sports video games, not much can really change year to year.

The game at its core is the same, but it's what video-game developers add that makes it worth spending the cash.

Such is the case with season's National Hockey League video games: "NHL 09" from EA Sports and "NHL 2K9" from 2K Sports.

And, just like last season, the EA franchise continues to serve as a real fan and player's dream game with intense graphics and great extra features, whereas "NHL 2K9" caters to those looking for a more pick-up-and-play, arcade-style game.

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From the moment you load "NHL 09" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, $60; PlayStation 2, $30; PC $40) it clearly stands out as the first star with its crisp and clear graphics and interface.

And with the game's new defensive controls, it's no surprise that Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf is on the cover.

Using the right analog stick, players have full control of their hockey stick allowing them to block passing lanes and lift an opponent's stick before receiving a pass or taking a shot. The game also has a new physics engine for more realistic checking.

On the offensive side, use the new one-handed deke controls to school the goaltender and share the replay with all of your friends.

EA Sports also brought back its "NHL 94" two-button controls for those looking for a more simplified approach, without sacrificing game quality.

But what makes "NHL 09" special this season, is the new Be A Pro mode, which puts players at the center of all the action.

Create your own player from head-to-toe and set them loose in the American Hockey League to work their way up the minors into the big show — the NHL.

Players are rated in 60 categories based on the type of player they create. You can choose from any position on the ice. Play well to advance your career and win the Stanley Cup.

In one Be A Pro test-drive, the Albany River Rats' newest rookie left winger, No. 10 Michael Felberbaum, worked his way up from the third line all the way to the first before being called up to play for the Carolina Hurricanes with the likes of Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour in less than 20 games.

Coaches grade you on your team play, positioning and statistics. And while your line isn't on the ice, you have a front row view of the action from the bench.

"NHL 09" takes the Be A Pro mode even further with the EA Sports Hockey League. Take your created player online, join a team of other hopefuls and challenge teams from all over the world.

On the other hand, not much has changed for "NHL 2K9" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 $60; Wii, $50; PlayStation 2, $20).

It still boasts easy-to-learn controls as well as more advanced controls introduced last season that gives players similar control over in-game players, and even hybrid controls that give you a mix of the classic and the advanced.

The game does, however, feature some graphically intense pre-game intros, featuring a mix of real video and animation that looks as if it is projected onto the ice.

It also features new in-game commentary and a TV-like feel of game coverage. "NHL 2K9" also features some fun mini-games that help switch-up the monotony of playing game after game.

Between periods, players have just a few minutes to drive the Zamboni around the ice to smooth the surface for the players to skate on.

The game also has a fun pond-hockey mode where you pick a total of eight players to face off on a frozen pond, which is where most players got their start.

The 2K Sports franchise also allows for some online playing functions, including the ability to play with a total of 12 consoles online. And like "NHL 09," "NHL 2K9 also allows players to save, edit, share highlight reels.

Both games also will feature the NHL teams' alternate, or "third" jerseys, once the unlock codes are made available later this season.

A new version of the game also is available on the Nintendo Wii, which brings a level of interactivity never before seen in hockey video games.

In the Wii version, players can take shots, fight and play goalie using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck.

Unfortunately, the graphics suffer even more on the Wii version, and the controls take a while to get the hang of.

Both of these hockey franchises have survived over the years, with hockey fans choosing one as their favorite. Each has its advantages based on what kind of game you want to play.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four for "NHL 09"; two stars for "NHL 2K9."