After the commercially suicidal farce that was last year's NHL season (in case you missed it, so did the rest of the world: the entire league went on strike and not a single puck was struck), you'd be forgiven for thinking EA Sports might have lost interest in its long-running NHL franchise. And from the lack of useful new features, that certainly seems the case.
Don't get us wrong. We love ice hockey games. Not as much as football games, naturally, but there's something about that fast, easy-to-pick-up-and-play vibe that makes us want to sit down and give that latest NHL game a generous portion of time. And that's still NHL 06 to a tee. You might not understand all the rules, but it's thoroughly entertaining stuff and a real blast when played with four players at once.
But as for real improvements over NHL 2005, forget it. Real-time skate tracks and deforming ice? Uh-huh, yeah, great, whatever. Better momentum and puck physics? Okay, so it feels a bit better than last year, but not by much. And the Skill Stick? Or the FIFA Street-inspired No-Skill Stick, as we like to humorously call it. It may make it easy to perform tricks and pirouettes (just give the right analogue stick a good waggle to pull off a whole range of spectacular unstoppable shots), but it'll also cause untold arguments, producing as it does the cheapest goals ever. If ever there was a step back in sports games, this is it - and the really worrying thing is that you should expect every dumb EA sports game to feature it soon. Hurrah!
Still, the inclusion of Xbox Live is a major bonus (EA finally giving us what the Americans had a year ago), and makes NHL 06 a justifiable purchase for ice hockey fans, despite the less-than-stellar range of enhancements elsewhere in the game.
If you've got Live and fancy something sporty and fast, you could do worse than getting NHL 06. Top-notch fun.