Of the four major sports that have video game franchises on multiple consoles, professional hockey is probably the least popular. The NFL has a pretty massive viewership with Madden being the longest-tenured of the current sports titles, the NBA has taken over social media, and soccer is the most well-known sport around the globe. When you think about the landscape of these sports cultures, games like Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K should be delivering the biggest and best games on the market because the fan bases are already there, but that's just not the case. 2K is still a solid game, but it knows what it needs to be to sell copies and doesn't do much more. The same could be said for FIFA and Madden has been getting worse and worse every year. Somehow, in the crowded landscape of sports gaming, EA's NHL franchise has found a way to rise above the competition and deliver what is easily the best game of the bunch with NHL 20.
Die-hard hockey fans have been playing the NHL games for quite a while, and they would likely pick the game up every year regardless of its quality. After all, that's why Madden is still making money. It appears though, with this latest installment, that the status quo isn't enough for the developers behind NHL. They wanted a game that everyone could have fun with, regardless of their experience with the sport, and that's exactly what was delivered.
If you don't know a ton about hockey, this game can seem a little intimidating. The idea of intricate controls and a slightly more complicated set of rules may keep people from getting excited about buying a hockey video game. EA is well aware of that and does a lot in NHL 20 to dispel those concerns. You can lose hours and hours into this thing without ever actually playing a "real" hockey game.
The "World of Chel" mode gives every single player who picks up NHL 20 an opportunity to be competitive and have fun. In this mode, you have a created character that you can customize with different ability loadouts (a la Call of Duty), outfits, and equipment. You can pay to get added swag or just play through ever-changing objectives to get gear-bags, but this is far from a pay to win system. You can buy all the gear in the world and it won't make your player any better, it just makes you look fun. Honestly, a lot of the best pieces in the game can't be bought, only earned through tournaments and games. This keeps the playing field even for everyone, avoiding the virtual currency pitfalls plaguing other franchises.
Inside this "World of Chel" mode there are all sorts of different games to check out, both on and offline, by yourself or with friends. From the 81-player "Ones Eliminator" tournaments to full-on 6v6 squad matches, there is something for everyone. If you've never played before, the offline games are easy enough to help you learn, but still enough of a challenge that you have to work to earn a victory.
Both new players and seasoned vets can compete and enjoy NHL 20, and that's only part of the reason the game works so well. The controls are easy to get the hang of and really conquer once you get enough practice in. The graphics and effects throughout all of the various game modes are impeccably smooth, never feeling stiff or outdated. From top to bottom, this game is delightful.
No matter how familiar you are with hockey, even if you've never played a single second of the NHL game franchise, you will have fun with NHL 20. It's an impossibly irresistible sports adventure that you'll have trouble putting down with the phrase "just one more game" becoming part of your regular vocabulary.
Rating: 5 out of 5
NHL 20 is now available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.