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Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: May 30, 2001
It was only a matter of time before Konami took the ESPN license onto the ice, as they’ve done their best to target the big four of the sports world as quickly as possible in their push onto the PS2. Of course, it was Konami who released the seminal hockey title on the NES known as Blades of Steel, so the company has a bit of a history when it comes to the great Canadian pastime. The end result is ESPN National Hockey Night, which is set apart from its contemporaries by the logos and TV presentation of its network namesake. Stylish presentation is all well and good, but without a solid game underneath, all the pretty logos in the world won’t make the action on your screen seem any more real.
Players should be able to find a mode that matches the size of their hockey craving in ESPN National Hockey Night: There’s the exhibition game for a quick match without any hassle, and the playoffs for those looking to zip right to the end of the season. If you’re looking for a more extended challenge then you can tackle a whole season or a pared-down stretch of 29 games. In the latter case, the computer will randomly pick the teams who will quest for the cup from those in the roster. Regardless of the length you tackle, the All Star game awaits you in February, and your skill at guiding your team will determine their berth in the playoffs — if they earn one at all. When establishing the rules for a new season, players are allowed to specify the length of the playoff rounds, along with various other universal settings, like the game speed and overall difficulty.
Over the course of a season, you will be presented with all manner of management decisions, including the assignment of players to alternate lines and perhaps even benching players for a few games. Before each match you will be presented with a list of your players, each of which has an arrow to the right of their name. If the arrow is pointing straight up, they’re playing better than normal; a straight down arrow indicates a player in a massive slump who will most likely play worse than some of the junior-league rookies in your home town. The arrow can also point up and down on an angle to indicate states slightly off of normal, and a straight sideways indicator means that the stats you see on the roster are exactly what you’re going to see from this player on the ice. After examining your roster you can take a moment to adjust the lines to better accentuate those players who are at the top of their game.
Larger issues will also plague you as a manager, and for this purpose the management menu has been provided as a one-stop utility to edit your team’s membership, strategy and so forth. Unlike many other titles, trades are automatically accepted by other teams, even if they are within the context of a season; presumably, this allows rosters to stay up to date with their real-life equivalents without any difficulties. You can also incorporate any home-made players by signing them out of their free agent status. Editing lines occurs in the same way as the pre-game sequence, though these changes are more permanent and not affected by the hot and cold streaks found before the match.
Brewing up your own batch of players is a fairly painless process, and necessary if you want to have completely up to date rosters with your teams. In order to make a player you merely pick from a variety of faces and sizes and then assign the player skills. Some titles limit the potential points for any single player, but you can happily max out all of your new superstar’s skills should you deem it worthwhile. Players are ranked in their shot power, skating ability, check strength, stamina, stick work and spirit, which covers a player’s mental awareness. Once created, your new skater will join the free agent list and be available to sign to any of the teams as outlined above.
Once on the ice, hockey veterans will notice a few significant additions to the control, especially when changing players. While it’s certainly possible to use a single button to shift to the player closest to the puck (R1 in this case) you may also take over a specific player by combining the shift player button with a position specific indicator. The X button, for instance, will automatically give you control of the center, while the triangle switches to a defenseman. Another useful tool is the strategy menu, which may be accessed through the pause menu during the game. With options for offensive and defensive power plays, along with regular play, you can specify how your team will handle each situation. You can assign each player a formation and even determine the pressure your team will place upon the opposition. Focusing on behind the net play, or using an aggressive box for penalty killing should allow teams to accent their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
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