Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 03/14/05 | Genre: Sports
989 Sports took a year off developing a lot of their titles in order to improve the overall quality of their games. Gretzky NHL was one of these titles and it came out on the PlayStation 2 last year. While the game was an improvement, it failed to deliver the same intensity as the 2K series' Hockey title. However, with a few extra months of development time and a new platform to play with, 989 is at it again with a new incarnation of Gretzky NHL. Unfortunately, this is not the title that will make you run out and buy a PSP.
As the only Hockey title on the new PSP, fans of the NHL will be eager to try out this title. At first glance, it appears that Gretzky NHL is going to be a great game. Visually, it can't compare to the PS2 version but it comes pretty close. It may have been better if 989 Sports toned down the detailing of the graphics more because this First Generation Gretzky NHL title just can't keep up with the action on the screen. The frame rate is more like what you would expect out of a PSone title but uses PS2-like graphics. The visual quality is nice but if the game can't run fast enough to keep up with the action, then we have a problem.
Another area lacking in this title is the lack of any commentary. I do not know if that is due to a limitation of getting data off the UMD, thus keeping the system from sucking battery power, or if 989 Sports felt like it wasn't needed since this is a handheld title. I would have preferred that the commentary, which was mediocre on the PS2, be included with the ability to turn it off if you got annoyed with it. The other music and sounds in Gretzky NHL are average.
Since the PSP does use almost all the same buttons as the PlayStation 2 controller, it was pretty easy for the developers to get the gameplay to feel like its big-screen counterpart. Gameplay is fairly simple with one button to handle all shooting, hitting, passing, and puck dump-offs. Players will also be able to have more control over their shots by moving a target icon while taking a shot. This adds a little more depth to the gameplay and I found it to be a welcome addition.
One gameplay area that has been dramatically improved upon by 989 Sports is the Artificial Intelligence. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, players will struggle to score goals against the opposing computer team. What a difference this made over the dolts that are supposed to be the enemy in Gretzky on the PS2.
For those of you who love to have a franchise mode and play season after season will probably be disappointed. While Gretzky NHL does offer a standard one season mode with no budget on how much a team can spend, you can only play one season. After that, you will have to start over with the same team and play through it again. Sony may be trying to get some games out and available for the PSP and this time constraint could have caused them to drop a franchise mode. Should they continue to release updated versions on a yearly basis, we will have to wait until the next version to see if a franchise feature is added.
Other gameplay modes include wireless play over the internet or to a nearby PSP user. It is refreshing to see that from day one Sony is allowing PSP users to play online in a number of their titles. Nintendo really should start paying attention to this and hurry up and let the DS get online to play games ASAP!
For added depth, there is a Gretzky Challenge mode that allows you to unlock four different Gretzky players: Oilers, Kings, Rangers, and Team Canada. Unlike the other players in the game that can struggle to score, Gretzky can put up a lot of points. Hey, they don't call him "The Great One"¬ù for nothing!
Overall, Gretzky NHL will fill the void of PSP owners who are looking to scratch their NHL itch. With the sport on strike they have no other way to play through a season. However, because this title doesn't do anything spectacular and has frame rate problems, I would suggest that only the most die-hard hockey fans check this title out. All other should try a rental first. Hopefully this title will be seen as a learning curve for both 989 Sports and other Sports developers to see how to improve upon the genre when developing for the PSP. Surely, with the reputation that both Sony and 989 Sports have to uphold, the future will be bright for PSP owners.