NHL Hitz 20-03

NHL Hitz 20-03

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/7/2002 for PS2  

Midway had a surprise hit on their hands last year when they decided to move into the NHL realm. Utilizing the same gameplay that made NFL Blitz such a hit, they injected a heavy dose of attitude into the coolest game on earth. Thus begat NHL Hitz, perhaps the most surprising hit of 2001 and one of the best sports games of the year. This year has spawned a second iteration into the series that successfully transfers the best elements of the game of hockey and intensifies them to the 10th power.

For the uninitiated, Hitz takes most of the rules of Hockey and throws them out the window. Forget about roughing penalties because as far as Midway is concerned, they don’t exist. The only time you’ll be relegated to the sin bin is after a fight or if you decide to take out your aggressions on the opposing goalie. This game abandons the intricacies of the sport and decides to focus on the more appealing aspects, meaning that goal scoring and bone-crunching hits are the order of the day here. Forget about line changes and icing because this is pure 3-on-3 hockey, just like you used to play as a kid, except a little less violent, unless you grew up in the ghetto (there’s no drive-by shooting bullet dodge mode, maybe next year).

Players complained and Midway listened, this year’s game features an all-new franchise mode that is surprisingly deep. The exhibition mode still remains the main attraction; up to six players can go toe-to-toe in a 3 period battle for supremacy. The season mode allows you to play through an entire NHL season although there is an option to play through a shortened season. Also new to this year’s game is a host of new mini-games that are simple and fun to play. There’s a lot more depth to this year’s game and that equates to much more value and longevity.

The franchise mode is without a doubt the nicest addition to this year’s game. In it, you start a team from scratch and progress through the world ranks. Each level is composed of four made-up teams from various parts of the world. When you defeat those teams you can play against a sort of boss team that is superior to your team. You’ll have to assemble your own team and build up their talents and abilities. You’ll be able to name them, pick their hometown, name each individual player, pick a logo and even pick their hot spot on the ice. Experience is earned by accomplishing easy goals like accumulating 25 shots in a game or by performing 5 successful dekes and of course, by winning matches. As you defeat more and more teams you’ll earn official NHL gear that you can outfit your team with. They each yield special bonuses that help enhance their attributes. As you beat more and more teams players will hear about your accomplishments and ask to join your team.
Exhibition mode plays just as you would expect the game to play had it been released in the Arcades. You pick two teams, pick the stadium, choose your starting lineup and step right into the fray. There are a large variety of stadiums to choose from, you can play in the team’s official home or venture out into wild locales like a disco, the circus or the wild wild west. All of them are rendered quite nicely and do well to mimic the atmospheres that they are supposed to represent. The Disco stadium has a bar and disco-style flooring while the circus has small rides and other things you’d expect to see at the venue. Though the action remains the same, the change of scenery really adds some spice to the game.

The primary goal is still goal scoring but many will find it much more rewarding to just hit and smash their opponents to their heart’s content. As you smash and brutalize your opponents a small meter will gradually begin to fill. When it fills halfway, you can ignite one of your players on fire, fill it the whole way and the whole team can be burst into flames. As you probably already know, being on fire greatly enhances your player’s attributes. They’ll skate faster, shoot harder and perhaps most importantly, will check harder than ever before. Of course fire only lasts for a limited amount of time so managing it at the right time is pretty key to one’s success.

Gameplay is simple enough for basically anyone to pick up and play. Hitz utilizes the basic control scheme that has made the Midway franchises so popular. In addition to the normal maneuvers you can do advanced things like block shots or dump the puck into the zone, all of which can be done with the press of a button. In the end though the game remains simple, shoot, pass and check until your heart is content. For a game that heavily emphasizes an arcade-style of gameplay, Hitz requires a surprisingly large amount of strategy. Choosing to just run at the goal and shooting the puck will likely result in a save by the goalie or a block from a defender. The emphasis has largely been placed on teamwork here, you’ll have to actually work to setup plays, whether it be a one-time from the point or an all out crash towards the net, you’ll have to utilize strategy in order to be successful. Oddly enough, even with all of the hitting and action going on, I found scores in Hitz to be far more realistic than those of NHL 2003, a game that heavily emphasizes realism.

Perhaps even stranger is that Hitz manages to retain a look that is highly realistic and true to the sport. The rinks and the players are beautifully rendered and look pretty much like their real life counterparts. Their faces are easily identifiable and their uniforms are some of the best to appear in a hockey game. The entire visual package is definitely an impressive one, the animations are some of the best the genre has to offer. There are tons of different checks, all of which correspond to the current situation. For instance, if you’re running full speed at someone near the boards you’ll see your player actually turn around and throw his entire body at his target. There are nice little touches in the general gameplay as well, when a player carves the ice to turn around quickly you’ll see a shower of ice fly up into the air, skates leave trails on the ice, the glow of a player who is on fire actually is shown on nearby players. The entire crowd is entirely rendered in full 3D as opposed to the 2D cutouts that we have become accustomed to. Best of all, slowdowns are kept to a minimum and when it does occur, it doesn’t’ really hinder the onscreen action. This is an impressive looking title that really shows off the graphical capabilities of the PS2.
Much like the visuals, the game of hockey is well represented in the audio department. Each facet of the game sounds just as you would imagine, players hitting the boards sound like players hitting the boards. I really enjoyed the small touches like the trash talking that goes on between plays and before fights break out. Like the other Midway games the announcing is once again the Achilles heel of the game’s audio. Most of the time the announcer is just painful to listen to. His voice is grating to the nerves, maybe he forgot that this isn’t 1995 anymore and those recycled one liners just aren’t effective as they used to be. To make things worse he’s usually a step or two behind and generally fails to keep up with the breakneck pace of the game. There’s a color commentator in the booth but I’m not so sure why he was even included in the first place. He’ll throw in a comment here and there but his presence is absolutely worthless. After about the 10th game I decided to turn off the commentary entirely and oddly enough, my enjoyment level suddenly skyrocketed.

I did have a few problems with the game though, Kyle McLaren is heavily underrated in the game. For a title that emphasizes such brutality in the sport you’d think that McLaren would be right up there with the big boys. What’s even worse is that his now patented Flying Elbow of Doom is missing in the game. Come on Midway, we need realism here!

I also found that some of the teams were heavily underrated. The returning champs, the Detroit Redwings, were given an overall rating of just 79. To put it to perspective, that’s on par with the New Jersey Devils. The highest ranked NHL team in the game is the Colorado Avalanche and even then, they’re rated a relatively low 80. The strange thing is that most of the teams are in the low to mid 70’s range, there’s just too much of a balance in this game that it negates the abilities of the powerhouse franchises. Then again, this game features heavily arcadish connotations so I’m willing to overlook these issues.

The game also becomes repetitive rather quickly, especially if you’re not a fan of the sport. While the Franchise mode adds some much needed depth, it’s still quite a bit shallow and it can get old quite quickly if you’re going solo. On the other hand, this is a great game to pick up and play, especially if you happen to own a multi-tap. This game definitely has that “just one more game” quality to it that can usually be found in those addicting party games. If you’re not careful you just might spend an entire afternoon glued to your seat playing NHL Hitz 2003.

What do you think of when you hear the word “hockey?” If you think of brutal hits, intense fights and Kyle McLaren then you’ll no doubt want to add Hitz 20-03 to your collection. Probably one of the most addicting sports games to come along in the past few years, Hitz is a great pickup for casual and hardcore fans of the sport and even if you’re not a fan of the game, it just might make you one.
Arcade style hockey that literally beats the hell out of the competition. Awesome gameplay that is fun and addicting, you won’t find a better hockey game on the consoles this year.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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