Great One getting back in the game

Wayne Gretzky sports the scaled-down plastic hockey stick, into which gamers will slot their...

Wayne Gretzky sports the scaled-down plastic hockey stick, into which gamers will slot their Nintendo Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers, for use in the upcoming game 'NHL Slapshot'. (Supplied photo)

STEVE TILLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:06 PM ET

Wayne Gretzky is set to return to the NHL this fall. Virtually speaking.

QMI Agency has exclusively learned that the Great One is lending his digital likeness to a new Nintendo Wii video game that hockey fans are almost certain to eat up.

EA Sports’ NHL Slapshot will allow players to step into the skates of NHL greats and guide their careers, from backyard shinny ponds all the way to the Stanley Cup.

The game's existence is revealed here for the first time anywhere.

NHL Slapshot will also include a hockey stick controller attachment — a first for a video game — that its creators say will allow players to shoot, pass, stick-handle and check with an unrivalled degree of realism.

“I’ve had a chance to play it, and it’s one of the more realistic games I’ve seen in a long time,” Gretzky said in an exclusive interview with QMI Agency, during a photo shoot for the game’s box cover.

“I think that’s the infatuation for people — this dream of playing in the NHL, and not everybody gets to live that dream,” Gretzky said. “So when you can participate in something like this, it’s so realistic. I think that’s what people like most about it.”

EA Sports won't be announcing the game's existence, and all these details, until Monday.

Developed at EA Canada’s studios in suburban Vancouver, NHL Slapshot will be EA’s first hockey game for the hyper-popular, family-friendly Wii console, and is slated to hit stores on Sept. 7, alongside EA Sports’ NHL 11 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

“I think we wanted to wait (to do a Wii hockey game) until we could get it right,” said NHL Slapshot producer Joe Nickolls. “The Wii is kind of a challenging console because it’s so different from anything else.”

Each copy of NHL Slapshot will include a scaled-down plastic hockey stick, into which gamers will slot their Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers. The idea for the hockey stick peripheral came from creative director David Littman, a veteran of EA’s NHL series and a former goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The stick is the key differentiator,” said Littman, who sawed apart a real hockey stick and duct-taped a Wii Remote to it in order to convey the idea to the game’s creative team in the early stages of development.

“Just the motions of the wrist shot and the slapshot and checking somebody, to be able to actually do those in your living room, it’s hockey in your living room as opposed to just playing with a controller.”

The game will feature a “Peewees to Pros” mode that will allow players to either create their own 12-year-old avatars (with Gretzky serving as their in-game coach) or play as young versions of Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Roberto Luongo and other NHL stars. Players will advance to the bantam leagues, the juniors and finally the pros, with the CHL, AHL and NHL all fully represented.

The 53 cm-long (21-inch-long) stick controller will come in three easy-to-assemble pieces, including the dense foam blade on the end that will help avoid injuries during boisterous living room Stanley Cup playoffs.

Nickolls said because it senses motion from both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk simultaneously, the stick controller accurately translates gamers’ own wrist shots, slapshots, poke checks and so-on into on-screen actions. Even 50-year-old non-gamers brought in to test early versions of NHL Slapshot got the hang of it in no time.

“They don’t have to figure out all these buttons,” Nickolls said. “They’re just swinging a stick.”

For more on NHL Slapshot, read Steve Tilley’s blog at blog.canoe.ca/loadthis


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