Hockey is played with sticks. Video games are also played with sticks: two of them, in modern consoles. It's a little strange that it's taken EA Sports this long to put two and two together, and use the game-controller stick as a hockey stick, but that innovation alone marks NHL 07's huge improvement over its predecessors. In the Xbox 360 edition (other versions are available for other platforms), the buttons only come into play when you want to pick a fight, and even that isn't easy if you're into smashmouth Philadelphia Flyers-style fisticuffs. Though the triggers still handle passing and vision control, the game remains the most simple, pleasing synchronization of sticks since Rockstar's Table Tennis made it into a Zen art form earlier this year.

In keeping with EA's spartan approach to features on 360 games, NHL 07 includes a central Dynasty mode for taking teams through the season, a round-robin World Tournament for nationalists, and a shootout mini-game that's useful for practice. The new Skill Stick works extremely well, with nuanced slap shots and wrist shots to go along with fakes and side-to-side dekes, and it's all so intuitive that anyone can pick up and play without a huge learning curve. However, video-game hockey still has inherent limitations that NHL 07 can't quite transcend: With fast action and a small puck, you can occasionally lose your bearings, and the default camera position inevitably results in perspective problems, because it's hard to know how your players are positioned in the rink. You wind up with too many icing calls for passing into the great unknown.

Beyond the game: Windows users will feel right at home with the menu, which opens into sections, subsections, and sub-sub-sections, but they're the only ones who might appreciate such a perverse interface.

Worth playing for: Laying a big hit on your opponent, slipping a wrist-shot in the corner, finding a teammate breaking toward the goal… basically, all the things that make hockey worthwhile apply here.

Frustration sets in when: The switch from defense to offense can result in some irritating gaffes; the same stick move that bullies an opponent away from the puck can also launch an ill-advised shot from center ice.

Final judgment: Thin features on the Xbox 360 version aside, the only thing wrong with NHL 07 is that most of the other major sports inherently make for better video games.

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