The NHL series of games have been a staple of the gaming lexicon and diet since their inception in 1991 on the Sega Mega drive. Over the years they have ported over to different machines with new looks and new graphics and even new modes to tantalise the fans and NHL 09 is no different.
Standard fare is the tutorial which is quick and painless and puts you through the basics of how to play and score and even gets someone like me who isn't used to the stick shift method of controls to actually quite like them. We also have again the quick play and dynasty modes which you can throw yourself into with your favourite team from the NHL, AHL, International Teams or even several European Leagues(although sadly missing the British League).
The big new feature is "Be a Pro" which puts the focus firmly on you, you pick the team you want to play for then it's down to the minor league with you to prove your worth. The game play in "Be a Pro" on the ice has the camera set on you so if you aren't in control of the puck you can call for a pass, but it relies more on how smart you play and how much of a team player you are as you get rated by the team coach on different areas and you need to maintain an average to impress your chosen major team. As you can't be on the ice all the time and line changes are called for to let you rest and get a more effective team out, but you can always override the coach with a quick push of the B button.
The mode has a form of XP which you gain for assists, goals and other plays and helps you build up your stats such as dexterity and shot accuracy which are all very(and I cannot reiterate this more), very important if you are to improve in the team. The "Be a Pro" mode has a very intimate feel to it due to the camera and is quite fulfilling when you advance up to the NHL and start scoring (or even saving) for the team.
The main game play features have one or two tweaks a new one being the poke-check, which was requested by fans of the game and is a very useful unless you are behind the opposition and trip them up(in hockey that's a 2 minute spell in the sin-bin). Passing is very smooth although not always accurate and feels realistic and shooting is down to how you use the stick shift, which takes very little time to get used to. Fighting is as basic and easy as ever and involves a few button presses (although I have yet to try the advanced fighting), you can usually get in a fight by trying to slam the same player until they get fed up and hit you.
The AI is very adaptable and learns quite quickly if you keep trying the same tactic over and over, now if you find it too hard you can alter it in the main game option menu or even mid-game which is a bonus if you are getting absolutely hammered by the opposition, there are lots of other options you can alter before game or during too such as injuries, tiredness, and even game speed.
Graphically the game seems to share its "cut scenes" with the game graphics, and isn't the most cutting-edge out there and has a slow frame rate whilst in the cut scene, but looks solid and is smooth as silk on the ice when playing. I have only seen two glitches in all the time I've been playing and both of those were graphical collision errors with players and the goals; which in the grand scale of things are nothing compared to other major released games glitches.
The commentary is some of the best I've ever heard in any game with very minute repetition (if at all any) and is ably handled by ESPN stalwarts Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, while both deliver the action Bill will drop useful (especially to fans) information about the players and teams which is very useful and adds to the overall colour and beauty of NHL 09.
If you are into ice hockey this game will certainly fill that niche hole that very few games are able to fill, it's adaptable and fun. Most of all it is worthwhile and you don't feel like you have wasted your time playing it like you do with some sports games. Give it a go, you'll probably like it!