NHL Hitz 20-02
by Midway Reviewed by: Jim Weber
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.
Review Posted On 10 December 2001.
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