Reviewed: December 1, 2001
Reviewed by: Mark Smith


Black Box Games

Released: November 13, 2001
Genre: Sports
Players: 4
ESRB: Everyone


Supported Features

  • Memory Card

  • My first introduction to hockey was when I got one of those hockey games with the twisty knobs on the end that spun metal players that moved up and down a plywood rink in precut slots. That was over 25 years ago, and since that time I've played lots of variation of hockey on a variety of platforms. Despite my "lack of love" for the real sport and only the most basic understanding of the rules, I always seem to get some enjoyment out of these games, even when I don't know exactly what's going on.

    NHL Hitz 20-02 is a unique twist on the sport of hockey, and perhaps my apathy for the real sport is one of the reasons that I really enjoyed this newest hockey game from Midway and Black Box Games. NHL Hitz 20-02 tosses out the rulebook to create a game that favors fun over realism.

    The game uses official licensed players then puts them in extreme situations with over-the-top abilities. If you have ever played games like NFL Blitz, NBA Jam, or NBA Showtime you have a good idea of what to expect. The only other hockey game I can recall playing that ever came close to this outrageous style of gameplay was NHL Rock the Rink for the original PlayStation.

    PlayStation 2 owners have been playing this game since late September, and now NHL Hitz 20-02 makes its way to the Xbox and GameCube. If you are interested in doing a comparison between the Xbox and GameCube versions then check out our Xbox comparison in our Game VS. Game section when you are done here.

    The GameCube version is loaded with features and new music previously unavailable on the PS2 version:

    • 30 NHL teams and real NHL players
    • 7 Mini-Games
    • 14 fantasy teams and fantasy arenas
    • 15 fantasy heads
    • 53 heritage jerseys and teams
    • Classic Midway Sports On-Fire Mode - roast the competition
    • Fully 3D modeled interactive crowd - some offer cheat codes
    • Play-by-Play Commentary
    • Big Hits - powerful glass-breaking shots
    • Player Skill Sets - using real player stats, abilities, and attributes
    • In-Game Jukebox or make your own soundtrack
    • and lots more...

    NHL Hitz offers 3-on-3 (plus goalies) killer action and over-the-top gameplay using real teams and players from the NHL. Those of you looking for a hockey simulation that plays by the rules may not enjoy this title as much as gamers like myself who enjoy the adrenalized action, but care little about the rules of the game. Hitz is about getting the puck in the goal and doing as much collateral damage possible in the process.

    We don't need no stinking refs. Toss out all those annoying calls like offsides, icing, or fighting. The penalty box has been scrapped to allow you the freedom to "express yourself" as violently as you see fit.

    Also gone is the constant monitoring of your characters' stamina, which always led to those intrusive line changes. Even though there is no stat tracking in NHL Hitz, you are able to earn points and develop your players and team as you progress through the franchise mode. You even get to go shopping in the Hockey Shop and spend your points on cool stuff like hidden teams, arenas, and custom outfits including several vintage jerseys that true fans of the sport will probably appreciate more than I did. It was refreshing to be able to choose the game secrets I wanted to "buy" rather than jumping through "hoops" within the gameplay to unlock them.

    Control is slick and intuitive with the GameCube controller. When on offense the A-button passes and the B-button shoots. The Y-button spins (deke) and the X-button guards the puck. Defenese uses the same buttons for slightly different functions such as body check, steal, and switch players. If you've played any other hockey game you will ease right into the action.

    Brawling is almost a sub-game in Hitz, and you will need to master the art of fist fighting quickly. If you lose a fight you lose that player for the rest of the game, and in a 3-on-3 game you need every player on the ice. Black Box did not hold back in the violence department. While there are some intense acts of violence, it is done in such a comical over-the-top fashion that the game managed to keep an "E" rating.

    The visuals of NHL Hitz 20-02 while moderately better than the PS2 original, pale in comparison to the blazing visuals of the Xbox. The GameCube manages to animate 8 players and a good size crowd and keep everything flowing at a smooth 60fps in the default overhead view. Things can tend to get a bit jerky when you swing the camera down to the ice and start pushing more detailed textures through the Cube.

    Subtle effects like reflections and shadows are not nearly as nice as they are on the Xbox. This is not to say the graphics are "bad", but if you are the proud owner of both systems then you definitely need to know which one looks better. The reflections on the Cube version only show the characters up to their knees. You might not even notice this until you have seen it on a better system.

    The lighting effects are very nice, and the ice does a good job of showing wear during a game, but the graphics are not nearly as detailed as the vibrant textures found on the Xbox. The Xbox also adds full reflections and real-time shadows for all the players; something the GameCube apparently cannot handle or the designers didn't have time to figure out before the launch date.

    The crowd in Hitz, is composed of uniquely rendered 3D individuals that interact with the on-rink action, clapping, cheering, banging on the glass, throwing hats on the rink, and even walking out on bad games. Even more ingenious is the integration of the code system into the crowd. During breaks in the intense action you can spot four rowdy fans in the back row that hold up signs with arrows, letters and symbols. They are hard to spot, but when you do manage to write one down, try it and see what hidden secret you can unlock.

    I always get a little nervous when games hype their music. Usually companies tack on popular music to compensate for shallow gameplay. This is not the case in NHL Hitz 20-02. The in-game jukebox features some excellent tunes from some popular groups including; Limp Bizkit, Korn, Fuel, Staind, Good Charlotte, Gig, Errortype 11, and Lifer. The music doesn't really play during the game; only during the menus and other times when there is no commentary. This is a shame because the music is quite good yet you never get to hear enough of it. On many occasions I would have rather heard the music than the lackluster commentary.

    Sound effects are equally as good, and while they don't stand above and beyond other hockey games, they are more than adequate for a game such as this. The commentary is pretty weak, and you will find that the announcer doesn't have a large library of comments to draw from. When he comments, it is usually explaining something you just saw rather than giving you any additional insight into the game.

    There are lots of mini-games and the ever-popular exhibition and championship modes, not to mention the new franchise mode where you can take your team through a series of 50 opponents in an attempt to win the Midway Cup. And don't forget the multiplayer modes that will keep you and up to three of your friends coming back for more.

    While I wouldn't presume to put a limit on the amount of fun you will have with this title, you can expect 10-20 hours of original gameplay just getting through everything this game has to offer. Even then, you will want to come back for more. NHL Hitz 20-02 offers a few evenings of original gameplay for the solo gamer, but if you want to get your money's worth you are going to need some friends and some extra controllers.

    NHL Hitz 20-02 supports 1-4 players, so you can have a team of "real" people take on the computer or mix and match however you want. The game seems geared toward a multiplayer experience, and it really shows in the control and gameplay.

    Those of you looking for a serious hockey simulation that plays by the rules will have to wait for NHL Live 2002, or some other upcoming hockey game. The adrenaline-style, over-the-top action of Hitz will appeal to hockey athletes, as well as NHL fans, or anyone who likes high-energy video games with cool music, awesome graphics, and intense gameplay.