NHL Hitz 20-02
by Midway Sports Reviewed by: Richie Pattinian
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 Devils' 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!
Review Posted On 11 November 2001.
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