One of the most underrepresented sports on the App Store is ice hockey, which is perplexing as even if you aren't really a fan of the sport itself, hockey has historically made for a fun video game. Back in early April we finally got an attempt at a real ice hockey game for the iPhone, Hockey Nations 2010 [$3.99/Lite]. While it looked and controlled fairly decently, it was missing that intangible aspect that made it a fun game to play. In what was somewhat of a surprise release, seasoned sports game developer 2K Sports has brought NHL 2K11 [$1.99/Lite] to the iPhone. While not the prettiest game around, it's an absolute blast to play and features a full season mode, official NHL teams and players, and more options than you could ever possibly need in a portable hockey game.

NHL 2K11 controls similarly to Hockey Nations with an analog stick for player movement and three virtual buttons for performing actions. There are separate buttons for passing and shooting on offense, with the power of each determined by how long you hold the button down. On defense these same buttons serve to change players and perform checks. The third button gives your player a speed boost on offense or defense. Your actions can differ based on where you are in relation to other players allowing for simple poke checks or full blown body checks. Passing also works really well, letting you bounce the puck off the boards to a teammate or set up for a one-timer. The controls are really uncomplicated but still allow for depth and strategy.

What is really impressive about NHL 2K11 is the absurd amount of options at your disposal. There's typical game settings like difficulty, toggling penalties, choosing NHL or international style time and icing rules, and more. You can set line changes to automatic, manual, or turn them off completely. A ton of different camera angles and zoom options are available including locking the camera in place. A season mode lets you choose a team and play through an entire season in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Rosters can be altered, saved, and loaded with or without a trade deadline and salary cap. What's in NHL 2K11 is comparable to what you would find in a full console sports title, and caters well whether you're looking for a casual hockey experience or something in-depth.

Even with all of the great features in NHL 2K11 it does have some shortcomings. Players are blocky and comprised of low resolution textures, which is pronounced when the game zooms in during replays. This isn't as noticeable with the default overhead camera in the game, but the tiny players are still pretty jagged, especially on the iPhone 4. While the visuals are not the best, they don't distract from the game too much as you can still tell what is going on, but they could stand to be better. The game description warns NHL 2K11 isn't compatible with first gen devices, but players in our forums have been able to run the game, just with a lowered framerate. You can always try the lite to see how it performs if you have an older device. Additionally, the AI in the game doesn't always make the smartest choices, and the audio portions of the game are lacking. Overall, NHL 2K11 has some β€œrough around the edges” spots, but overall none of these issues really diminish the fun of playing the game.

It wouldn't be hard for NHL 2K11 to claim the title of best ice hockey game on the iPhone, since the competition is sorely lacking. But it surprisingly goes above and beyond and offers a truly full-fledged NHL experience on a mobile platform. Even with such a robust experience, the game supports fast app switching and saving during season play which makes it well suited for on-the-go gaming. And on top of everything else, it's just incredibly fun to play. EA's NHL offerings have typically been favored over the 2K series on consoles, and it will be interesting to see if EA decides to throw their hat into the iPhone hockey arena. Until that time, however, 2K Sports NHL 2K11 is the clear cut choice for hockey on the iPhone.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Rylin

    Great game, although I'd love to see an iPad version as well. You can't go wrong at 1.99 so if the iPad follows close behind, I won't hesitate to pick that up as well.

    Well done 2K ;)

  • http://www.twitter.com/Gregz0r Gregz0r

    The video clearly shows the iPad version being played.
    ;-)

    • Orion's Raiser

      I just assumed it was the iPhone version being played by an infant.

    • SalsaMD

      iphone version at 2x on ipad.

  • Dexx0008

    Instant buy! Nice surprise.

  • mike

    still pretty annoying they don't have an option for a second stick ala skill stick, if its good enough to move the players around it should be good enough for dangles and shots... seriously.

  • QUebecRage

    Only bad thing is that I dont know how to save in season mode (while in the middle of a game)

  • 1337brian

    Is there fighting?... If so I'm sold... I wish there was NHL Hitz franchise, IMO best hockey franchise to date...

  • Sticktron

    No fighting, but there are injuries.
    The depth of season mode is awesome: you can go as far as match lines against the opponents in a pregame screen to guide the auto-line-changes so they aren't just random.

  • Tom

    For those interested I played the lite version on my 3G iPhone and it played very well. I had no issues with it. The cut scene where the players come onto the ice was a little jaggy but the gameplay was ok. I'll play it a few more times throughout the day but will probably buy it to play on my 3G iPhone as it worked well and is only 2.00.

  • Nate

    I'm a Buffalo Sabres fan, so this app was perfect for my iPod. It would be nice though if they would update so the new free agents and trades would be up to date. However, if you are a fanatic of the NHL and hockey in general, like me, then this app is a definite purchase!

  • Gord

    I was on the fence with this app, hoping that EA would release NHL11 on the iPhone, but a friend that works at EA in Vancouver (where they make NHL11) told me he hasn't heard anything about an iPhone version coming. I also read the official press release for the app, which included:

    "To celebrate the launch of the title, 2K Sports is offering the game for the discounted price of $1.99 during its first week of availability. "

    So, if you're considering getting the game, it may be wise to jump on it ASAP before the price goes up. To be honest, I was surprised the game was only $2 given the licensing that's needed.

  • Donald

    All EA has to do is recycle their previous gen NHL into an iPhone version. That's all NHL Slapshot for the Wii is, a previous gen with Wiimote support.

    That said, 2K11 will certainly be great for my long commute on the train. :)

  • OddyOh

    Price is up to $7 now...still worth it to me, I'm a hockey nut. Not loving the d-pad so far, but I knew that going in, I'll keep trying. Much better than the other hockey titles out there.

    It was pretty crashy (on my 2nd Gen iPod Touch), but I rebooted, now it seems fine, word to the wise. Tons of options for rules (offsides, icing, line changes, camera, etc).

    I like the sounds, you hear the odd individual person in the crowd yelling when you get hit (through headphones). And the generic arena rock is well suited, I hate when EA crams licensed crap into their game. Although Custom Soundtracks would be epic...LOL.

    Not sure how anyone could complain about the graphics...it's fucking console hockey on your phone! Reminds me of the late 90's, where you could turn off graphic detail to get a better frame rate.

    With the iPhone competing with the PSP for games, hopefully we see more of these titles.

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    It is a cool idea to play with hands on a touch screen kit.
    Thanks for this idea.I 'll try it.

  • Photoartist1

    every time i try to pay a game in a season it "simulates" with no controls for the players,and plays by itself. how do i get to actually play a game within a season?

    • Echoes137

      You have to select a team by touching either the jersey.

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2K Sports NHL 2K11 Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 4