NHL Hitz 20-02
I can still remember the first time I played NBA Jam in the arcades. Even though it was 2-on-2 basketball, it immediately grabbed my attention, sucked me in and didn't let go. Perhaps it was the colorful graphics and thumping musical track, considered state-of-the-art for its time and not too shabby even by today's standards. Or maybe it was the whacked-out announcer who continuously rattled my skull with outlandish commentary ("Is it the shoes?"). The fast and fluid action on the hardwood didn't seem to hurt matters either. Realistically, it was probably a combination of all of the above. So when I first heard this game was coming to my beloved 16-bit systems, it was indeed a time to rejoice. When release day finally arrived, I spent more than two hours at the local Funcoland trying to decide which version I was going to buy -- Genesis or SNES (decisions, decisions; what's a gamer to do?).
A few years later, it started all over again in the form of NFL Blitz. "Hey, where are all the other players? What's up with all this jumpin' and poundin' on each other after every play? And for crying out loud, where are the penalties? This ain't real football…no matter, this game freakin' rules!" (I didn't really talk like that, but work with me here.) This time, the big decision was N64 or PlayStation. Even for simheads like me, NBA Jam and NFL Blitz were just too cool to resist. They weren't very realistic, but then again, they never pretended to be. So I figured the day Midway made a hockey game, that would be icing on the cake (no pun intended). It was just a matter of time, and that time has finally arrived. Midway Sports, the sports division of Midway Games, is proud to present NHL Hitz 20-02 -- an intense, adrenaline-pumping, 3-on-3-hockey extravaganza for the PS2. Like its basketball and football predecessors, NHL Hitz is marketed as a video game which caters to sports fans and action-game lovers alike. On the cover you'll find the New Jersey Devil all-star defenseman, Scott Stevens, who signed on as Midway's signature athlete. Inside you'll find all the current NHL teams and uniforms, more than 1000 high-impact-motion-captured moves, 3D crowds and hidden fantasy rinks. But does it have enough to deserve your hard-earned cash? Well, this one might be going into overtime, so let's get the puck outta here!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
At the main menu you'll find the following modes of play: Exhibition, Championship, Franchise, and the Skills Game. After each game you win in Exhibition or Championship modes, you'll be rewarded with credits. When you accumulate enough credits, you can swap them at the Hockey Shop for an assortment of goodies such as fantasy stadiums, hidden teams and new player heads. You can also accumulate credits by correctly answering trivia questions after each game. Winning games in Franchise mode rewards you with attribute points, which you can use to upgrade the skills of your players. Championship mode requires you to choose a team for tournament play. Beat all the other NHL teams successfully, and you'll bring home the Stanley Cup. This mode can be played solo or with a few of your friends. Franchise mode allows you to create a custom team to take on all the NHL teams, as well as fantasy teams. This time, if you're successful, you'll take home the coveted Midway Cup. For those of you who need even more of a challenge, the Skills Game happily awaits you. Here you can challenge your friends or simply polish your skills. You'll work your way through several levels of difficulty, honing various skills in checking, shooting, passing and stick handling. All three modes are a blast to play and substantially raise the game's replay value.
Prior to the opening face-off you'll be greeted by player introductions, which are accompanied by rowdy music, a piercing siren, a boisterous crowd and an announcer who's ready to call the action (after popping one or two steroids, that is). Once the puck is dropped, and after a few minutes of gameplay, you'll immediately notice that player control is tight and responsive. The control configuration for passing, shooting and checking is quite intuitive, especially for those of you who have previous experience with other hockey games. There's a corresponding button for pulling off those extra hard hits, as well as a turbo boost for ultra fast player movement. However, like most other sport games, turbo power is not unlimited so you'd be well advised to use it judiciously. No hockey game would be complete without a fighting mechanism, and this is where NHL Hitz has all other hockey games beat. Warring pugilists will drop their gloves and duke it out until one of 'em drops to the ice. There are buttons for strong and weak punches, blocking, grabbing, ducking and weaving. There's even a final move where one fighter will drop the other with a quick knee to the head. If this all sounds like something you've seen before - trust me, it's never been quite like this. When playing the game solo, you'll find the CPU AI is quite up to the challenge. Of course, the level of challenge will vary depending upon the teams chosen and the level of difficulty (not to mention your own ability). The game features three skill levels: rookie, pro and all-star. On rookie, enemy pursuit and goaltending are much more forgiving. Once you move up to pro, it's a whole different story. On pro, I was able to win about half of the games I played. While control never became a serious issue, there were times when I found it somewhat difficult to keep up with my CPU opponent. I spent the better part of several games chasing down the enemy, in an attempt to disrupt their goal-scoring efforts. Unfortunately, many times when I did manage to gain control of the puck, I was immediately flattened on the ice or sent flying through the glass (either way, ouch!). As is usually the case in most hockey games, I found one-timers to be the most effective method of scoring goals. But the goals do not come easy -- you'll have to work your butt off, and even then there's no guarantee you'll outscore your opponent. There's no question that the game can get extremely frustrating at times. My advice is to practice in the Skills Game mode for a while until you have a firm grip on the basics of gameplay. Oh, and one more thing -- for kicks, I tried the all-star level. Fugeddaboudit!
With a multitap, NHL Hitz supports up to six simultaneous players. Although I was unable to try out this feature, there's no doubt this is where the most fun is to be had. During single-player games, CPU opponents can sometimes appear to be superhuman (CHEAP!). If you can round up a few of your buddies, we're talking the ultimate party game here, folks.
As we all know, the PS2 has plenty of horsepower -- and trust me, NHL Hitz makes excellent use of it. The first time I fired up this sucker, my jaw dropped like a left-winger being decked by a 300-pound defenseman. Player models are clean and crisp, displaying an unsurpassed level of detail. All the NHL team uniforms are well represented, right down to the mesh jerseys. Goaltender textures, which sport accurately painted goal masks, pads and sticks, are absolutely awesome. The hockey arenas, modeled with the same level of care as the players themselves, are also a sight to behold. And wait until you get a load of those hidden fantasy arenas -- crazy stuff for sure. Even the fans in the stands are modeled in 3D, and while they don't display the same level of detail as the players, they're the best-looking fans I've seen to date. On the whole, player movements are fast and smooth with no noticeable slowdown. Like its basketball and football cousins, the game benefits from less players on the ice, so I must admit that anything less than perfection would have been a major disappointment. You won't see the same number or variety of animations as in more realistic hockey games, such as in EA Sports' NHL 2002. But that's not necessarily a bad thing because, after all, this is arcade hockey and the tradeoff for less animations comes in the form of more exaggerated moves that have to be seen to be believed. With ferocious checks, slams and blind-sided hits that'll send your opponent over the boards and through the glass (take a seat, sucker!), NHL Hitz features an unprecedented level of hard-hitting action. The net-minders will get into the act by sprawlin', bouncin' and pouncin' with glove saves, kick saves and stick saves -- all good stuff! The game also features other graphical niceties, such as player reflections, moving goal nets, and of course, smokin' and flamin' skaters who streak around the ice looking to bury the puck in the net (or maybe even an opponent or two). There are several different camera views to choose from -- most of which are very playable. Awe-inspiring instant replays, offering several different viewing angles and close-ups, complete the package.
In terms of sound effects, the developers have pretty much stuck with the same formula used in Jam and Blitz -- and that's a good thing. Blaring sirens, raucous crowd noises, pumping music and an outrageous announcer combine to deliver an aural experience that appropriately complements the graphics and gameplay. The music in the game consists of a mix of techno, punk and rock. Visit the Juke Box and listen to your heart's content.
With a combination of stunning graphics, high-octane action and sweet multiplayer gameplay, NHL Hitz 20-02 comes off as one of those rare titles most PS2 owners will not want to miss. Would I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone? Well, that one's a tough call. If you're anything like me, then once in a while you'll be willing to forego realism for flat-out fun -- and in terms of fun, NHL Hitz delivers big time. On the other hand, I'm willing to bet that if you're one of those hockey purists, you probably wouldn't think of giving this a second look. But even if you do fall into the latter category, I say give it a rent anyway. Maybe a 125-mph slap shot upside yo' head might change your mind!
Download NHL Hitz 20-02
Ladies, gentlemen and hockey freaks, the biscuit is flying tonight! These clubs are on fire, making one-timers and slap shots on goalies standing on their heads. No hat tricks in this barn tonight, hockey melons. Lots of sweet stick handling and puck freezes and, oh Grandma, some knuckle busters and brain dusters! There have been power plays and odd-man rushes! We've got top enders and grinders battling for that tic-tac-toe and buzzer beater!
Hockey is the sport of finesse, fast skating, fisticuffs and fantastic finishes. Hockey fans will understand the plays and jargon. Even the fair weather hockey viewers will know athletes like "Super Mario" Mario Liemiux, "Mr. Elbows" Gordie Howe, and of course "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky. Many old-timers will even remember the "Cold War" in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid and the underdog US hockey team's victory over the top ranked USSR hockey team. However, hockey is also about the fans, rabid and rowdy. Fans watch their team religiously and demand the best.
NHL Hitz 20-02 by Midway for the Xbox delivers a packed game that pumps the adrenaline for sports fans, but may not be the hat trick that hockey fans are screaming for. NHL Hitz 20-02 has the bolts and bash of a physical hockey game, but not the strategy that other hockey games have delivered.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Teams take the ice in a four-on-four stick match, a change from the official six-on-six battles in the real world. The idea is to give you the ability to control fewer players on screen. You control the Center, Left Wing and Right Wing, essentially the offensive forwards of the hockey team. All three in turn become defensemen when the opposing team infiltrates your side of the red line. Sending your players racing back to stop the assault becomes a hardship at times. Stopping the shot and then regrouping for an attack on the opposing goal can get hectic, with the opposing team sticking and body checking your players for the puck. This game is very physical. You need to dish out the hurt and be ready to take the knocks. The checks are quite spectacular as you launch an opposing player through the rink's Plexiglas and into the crowd. Control buttons give you the offense/defense abilities of pass/select player, shoot/stick check and guard puck/body check. The last button available is the deke-spin move, making it harder for your opponent to snag the puck or check you. As with all sports games, there is a turbo button -- in this case the right trigger -- which gives the selected player a boost of speed or power. You also have the option of controlling the goalie or letting the CPU take control. Your opponent is relentless, delivering body checks and setups for one timers (shooting the puck directly from a pass). Setting up for an offensive hit is difficult because you can control only one player at a time until the puck is passed. In the end, skating around the goal, coming in close, doing a deke and slap shot on the left or right upper tends to do the trick.
Get two goals with a player, and he starts smoking. Grab a third with him, and it's "Highlander" time as your player is electrified and on fire. He is your shot man, his attributes pumped and primed. If your team gets three consecutive un-answered shots, your team is lit up like a bonfire.
What would a hockey game be without its fights? NHL Hitz 20-02 has 'em, and you are throwing the punches. Ever so often two players don't like each other's breath, and the gloves go off. Using the control buttons, light and heavy punch until the opponent licks the ice. In comes the sub and on goes the game. A fun little touch, the fight is almost a mini-game in itself.
NHL Hitz 20-02 is officially licensed by the National Hockey League, which means you have access to all the current hockey players. Each has specific strengths in skating, balance, shot power and so on. These attributes can give you that little edge when making the shots or creating the setup. Between periods, make substitutions and see if you can get that extra punch -- sometimes literally. Players are fairly accurate in their statistics and even their "mug-shots" are here. Yet the essence of hockey is not just the body checks and slap shots. Hockey is the center's stick check and poke on the puck, the pass to the right wing in the hot spot, and that one-timer past the goalie. NHL Hitz 20-02 misses the net with this through the frustration of passing to a player who is offscreen and not in the right spot because you could not control him prior to the pass. It became easier to skate "coast to coast" from your net to the opponent's and power up a slap shot past the opponent. Brawn and physical speed seemed to skate stronger than a tape-to-tape (perfect pass) to a one-timer past the goalie.
Throw three friends on the Xbox, pop in NHL Hitz 20-02 and you have an interesting game where strategy and set plays are a reality. Each person controls a player, and now you can deliver some serious hurt against the Home or Away team. Alternatively, take on the CPU as the four of you gang up on all the NHL clubs and grab the Stanley. NHL Hitz 20-02 is a great party mixer for some quick passes and shots. We're meaning in the game, of course. Setups are a lot easier and one-timers are reliant on the players' skill, not the luck of passing to a target off-screen. And remember, the Xbox can store everyone's stats and information.
Graphics for NHL Hitz 20-02 are quite good but not stellar. Player uniforms and faces are detailed, from the authentic logos to the creases in the uniforms and bumps on the pads. Faces are mostly expressionless, even while the player is rousing the crowd after a goal or taunting an opponent. Game animation is crisp, though from time to time it becomes a little choppy as if frames were missing; still, it's not really noticeable or distracting. There are some nice touches, such as the flying water bottle when you clock the goalie or score a powerful slap shot. Replay graphics on automatic are stylized to mimic broadcast panes and zooms. Manual replay gives you the ability to choose a player or the puck to follow, rotate around, and zoom in. All of these replay options are clean, detailed and fun as you watch the opponent you body-checked go flying over the camera in slow motion over and over again.
The most notable area of graphics is in the detail placed on the venues. In addition to the stadiums for all the official hockey teams, there are fifteen stadiums that you can "purchase" through hockey points you earn after you win a game or correctly answer the trivia questions after each game. It was amazing to look at the background of the stadium and see some of the concession stands in the corridors or the fish swimming beneath the ice while snow falls in the outdoor arena that looked like it was straight out of the movie Slap Shot. In the coliseum arena, you can look down through the gratings into the animal holding area. You can choose special heads to put on your custom players, from gladiators to gray aliens. Crowd animation was nice, but there are less than ten risers for the crowd, making the stadiums seem small. Crowds stand up, sit down and pump their fists in the air. Some fans even turn placards (hint: look for codes in the placards). One note regarding the crowd is that if you zoom in on them, they have no feet. Hmmm' interesting. Overall, graphics were well done and detailed but not spectacular or mind-blowing.
Crowd cheers and jeers, announcer broadcasts, player taunts -- all these sound effects were clear and crisp in the game. This and the rock music pumping though the system added another level of detail to the game experience. It was very enjoyable to hear the players yelling and trash-talking as the announcer introduced the lineups. The fun factor was pushed up a notch every time I heard boos from the home crowd when the Away team was introduced, or cheers when a player was flattened. The sound was not forgotten, but there was nothing too exceptional or deafening to affect me while playing.
One great addition was the ability to choose which songs to play. Don't like what the game gives you? Save your own music on the Xbox, download it into the game and rock to Aerosmith's Jaded, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries or Barry Manilow's Mandy. Well, maybe not that last one.
NHL Hitz 20-02 takes full advantage of the DVD media and power of the Xbox. Playing an exhibition game or going for the Stanley Cup is only half the game. Where NHL Hitz 20-02 really shines is the franchise mode, where you can create up to nine different teams from scratch. Each player has his own look, attributes and specialties. Distribute the 60 attribute points to create a heavy power player or a speed demon. Alternatively, use the points to trade in one of your players for an NHL player. Because of the Xbox's mammoth hard drive, you can save every team player you create, all his stats, all the games you've played, the music you downloaded, user stats and on and on! There are over fifteen stadiums to add to the existing roster of team stadiums. There are all-star teams, fantasy hockey teams, and totally fantastic teams such as gladiators and Martians (look out for the grays)! All the official logos and jerseys are available, as well as some crazy ones. NHL Hitz 20-02 really packed this DVD to the edges with a lot of customizations and setting options, giving users a huge amount of control over the game settings.
What if you have never played a hockey game before? It's time to learn the skills of hockey. Learn how to power a slap shot, body-check like a pro, fire up a one-timer or poke the puck from your opponent. The Skills section increases in level, ramping you up to take on the CPU in a fair fight (well, as fair as a CPU can be).
NHL Hitz 20-02 by Midway is a good game for the gamer who plays most sports games. This is not Madden for the hockey genre, though. Single-player control is frustrating at times, and strategy isn't as important as the brute force method because of this. Nevertheless, this game gets a boost from attention to graphic detail and audio. What pushes NHL Hitz 20-02 further than most hockey games is the extensive customization and team creation available to players. The challenge is to create THE hockey club of the millennium and take out every other club for the coveted Midway trophy.
Midway has packed a lot into the DVD and produced a satisfying hockey game for the hockey freak. However, hockey fans may need a little more strategy to make this a contender. Sports gamers will enjoy the fast, hard-hitting game play with excellent skills training. Yet you can only watch so many body checks and hockey fights before you starting looking for the real finesse of a hockey game. Not sure about that? Watch some Wayne Gretzky tapes and you will see finesse from "The Great One." Hockey has its strategy and its technique. NHL Hitz 20-02 comes close, but just misses the net.
For those fans who go to hockey games and get upset when a fight breaks out, or if you enjoy watching teams setting up different strategies and executing them, NHL Hitz 20-02 may be a game you would pass on. If, however, you find yourself throwing your hot dog at the ref when a bad call is made or you stand in front of the glass and scream at the opposing team, then NHL Hitz 20-02 may be the stress relief you've been looking for. Adding to their line of professional sports titles with an extreme edge like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, Midway has done it again with the sport of hockey.
Instead of finesse or strategy playing strong roles, you'll find more focus on ruthless checks and heavy scoring as gameplay is three-on-three, resembling more of a battle than a game. Added to the feature list are things like fully 3D modeled crowds, the most in-depth fighting system allowed in a licensed NHL Hockey game, and intense hits that break glass, putting players out of the rink and onto their backs.
The first hockey game released on the GameCube, NHL Hitz 20-02 might be the only hockey game released on this platform for the near future as EA has decided not to release NHL 2002 for the platform. To make it worse, Sega isn't scheduled to release its NHL 2k series until next year sometime, creating quite a drought right through the NHL season. With that stated, although this isn't made to compete with regular NHL games, it might be the only GameCube option fans have to get their hockey fix and the question becomes: is it capable of filling the vacuum?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
NHL Hitz 20-02 is hockey on pure testosterone. Based on a three-on-three scheme, these athletes bring a new meaning to intensity. The checks can break the glass sending a victim out of the rink. The goalies play dirty, tripping and hitting any opponent that gets too close. Plus, there are more cheap shots than can be counted. Some hits are so jarring, helmets go flying off, sliding across the ice. Traditional hockey fans might be concerned that the game becomes distorted in such a way that too many hockey elements are lost. That point may be debatable, but one point isn't. This game is hard hitting, high scoring, and action packed.
There are four main modes of play available: exhibition, championship, franchise, and skills. Each fit the standard assortment of options for most sports games, with the exhibition being a quick game, the championship equivalent to a season, and franchise as the main staple for any reputable sports game with teams and players able to be created and used. The skills mode is different however, but like the name implies, your skills are worked on. By selecting a skill (shooting, for instance) you're asked to perform it in a specific time and accuracy. Although it sounds useless, when you're learning the game, it does help, as the games themselves are often too fast-paced to practice any precise skill.
After a mode is selected and the game is starting, there is an option to choose three members from the hockey team you selected. Stats are given for each player as there is an attempt to create a balance of speed, accuracy, and power between the players. These stats are not irrelevant and play a noticeable factor in the game. For instance, if a powerful player is selected, he'll generally have his way knocking the other players around but his shots may not be as accurate. Or if a smaller player is selected he may on occasion take out a larger player but mostly he'll be shoved backwards.
Once on the ice, the AI is a formidable opponent and it may take a few games before you can start to give it a match. Able to react to your movements and counter with moves of its own, it does a great job of working the puck past your goalie and moving it down the ice. The goalie AI, both yours and your opponents, also performs adequately. Most direct shots are blocked and like an actual goalie, when the puck is moved around, he's not always fast enough and more shots slip through.
After you've been playing for awhile, you'll undoubtedly run into a fight or two. Something most hockey games minimize, in NHL Hitz 20-02 it is a sight to behold. As the two players stand across from each other and the gloves come off, they start beating the tar out of on another -- swinging, blocking, and grabbing. The first player knocked down loses and some of the knockdowns are extremely entertaining. For instance, you might grab your opponent, lift him in the air and throw him to the ice or grab his head, ram it into your knee as he flings backward onto the ice. Admittedly extreme, it's still entertaining as no other game has anything near this level.
As for the controls, they are fairly intuitive and easy to pick up. The players are moved using the d-pad or control stick while the left and right buttons apply a turbo. The rest of the buttons perform an array of functions from shooting to body checks to dekes and spins. All are easy to execute and more advanced shots performed by pressing multiple buttons are also available depending on your skill.
Besides modes to play, there is also a hockey shop where features can be unlocked. To unlock the various features, points are awarded after games are won or certain criteria are met. These points can then be used to unlock different all-star teams, stadiums, jerseys, or heads. Some of the stadiums are creative as they are underwater or in a Roman coliseum and the heads can be anything from horse heads to alien heads.
There's just something about a game that's focused around high intensity and offense. Both those things also make the multiplayer game more appealing. With constant and action and huge hits, hours will be spent knocking your opponent around the rink. This is definitely where the game shines, as it's unquestionably more fun playing against a friend and more time will probably be spent here than in the single player mode.
Graphically, the game is magnificent. The crowds are actually more than blobs in the background and are 3D modeled, the players themselves have faces that are recognizable, and level of detail is extremely high. Other issues like the variety of animations used after scoring, for example, also keeps the game fresh and removes some redundancy that other sports games fall into. Since the game does move fast, you might miss most of the details if it wasn't for the replay, which really shows the level of detail that's hard to catch and will impress.
There are certain parts of the audio, such as the music, which are topnotch. Bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn add their talent, but are mainly used during the control screens. Other issues like the commentating could have been more dynamic, however. Often the announcer gives the same phases and doesn't bring the game alive.
NHL Hitz 20-02 is a hard hitting, fast paced game. Unfortunately, like most things that burn at high temperatures, its life span is short. Things like the extra features that can be unlocked and the fantastic graphics help to extend it some, but overall most people will tire of it quicker than other hockey games. It's still quite an experience and fans of sports games will at least want to rent this, while many hockey fans will probably want to own it.