NHL '07 / Electronic Arts / PSP
(Update 09/17 - a reader managed to find a workaround for the deadly playoff bug! See the bottom of the page)

NHL '07 broke my heart. :(

I played the game's great-for-a-handheld Dynasty mode over the course of the last two months. It was the perfect entertainment for my long bus commutes to school and back. A great roster update by the dedicated AronVad (link below) modernized the game enough to pass muster. The gameplay was solid to excellent in all aspects.

And then the playoffs came.

Playoff games tend to repeat, and repeat, and whether or not the results of a game will actually "stick" seems to be entirely at random at the conclusion of each game. I played 15 games in that series - winning all of them - and by the end I had the game to where it recognized that I was in Game 4 with a 3-0 lead, but would never let me move on from it.

Simming? Forget it. Computer hands itself a win nearly every time. And even if it doesn't, you still might not move on. Some guy on a forum suggested that simming and then using the "intervene" feature made the games advance, but that must have been a shot of luck for him, as it didn't work for me.

After all that time, and enjoyment, and future commute enjoyment potential anticipated, I had to take the UMD out and shut it up in its case, presumably for the final time. I'm still debating whether to put it up for trade.

At least the game has good trade value - it was EA's only series entry on the PSP, the only hockey game on the PSP that actually plays worth a damn, and apparently there was a pretty limited print run as well. Normally outdated sports games can be had for a dollar or less, but this one still has a value of $30-40 if it's in good shape. Everyone but whoever makes that halfassed Wayne Gretzky series apparently decided after this that hockey games on the PSP were a totally unviable market and completely gave up on them.

It's really a shame. The two main draws of this game are Season/Dynasty mode, which is borked with aforementioned playoff bug that doesn't rear its ugly head until you've sunk beaucoup hours into the game already, and multiplayer that is so bugged and glitchy that it's a miracle if you can even get it working at all. As great as the gameplay is here, and as many other good aspects there are, it all becomes irrelevant when the two things that the vast majority of the user base wants to do with the game are screwed up beyond usefulness. And the game wholly lacks the unlockables and mini-games of the 2K series, so really without these modes in fully working format, there's nothing left to do but play endless, meaningless exhibition matches.

The game's original rating was going to be much more positive before I ran headlong into the Playoff Bug (I wanted to be able to comment on the off-season aspect of Dynasty before writing a review ... not gonna happen now apparently). The gameplay, as mentioned, is fantastic and player animation is pretty detailed and looks about as good as can be expected from the PSP. The downside is some fairly long load times when starting a game, when juggling rosters, and when waiting for the game to sim all the other games of the day.

Though there's a bit of a delay in the commentary sometimes, Bill Clement and Gary Thorne deliver a solid job for the most part. There is one bit of weirdness in that if a player's last name isn't in the game's rolodex of player names, they'll call him by his first name ("Steve denies him ... STONED BY STEVE!"). And then, if the FIRST name isn't in the index somewhere ... it apparently has a list of nicknames that it tries to find the closest match to. This leads to some hilarity when using the newest roster patches - Evgeni Malkin is "Magic", Milan Lucic is "Lunchbox", P.K. Subban is "Pokey", and some guy on Florida is "Little Buddy", among other examples. It's pretty bizarre and I wonder why they didn't just go to uniform #s like every other game does. The music is a bunch of "twee" and "corporate punk" crap that roundly sucks dick, but fortunately can be entirely shut off.

The game-killing bugs and glitches are such a goddamn shame. It's the only NHL series entry that's ever going to be native to the PSP, and probably the only hockey game ever worth a damn on the system, most likely. And it really is quite good in all other respects, loading times aside. What a disappointing end to the season.

Links :

* Roster Updates

* PLAYOFF BUG WORKAROUND (Thanks Mauro!) - When you get to the playoffs, try saving the state of the game to a different savegame file ("playoff"), launch from that instead, and save the ongoing playoff results to a third file

Videos :

* Gameplay Video