Reviewed: December 1, 2001
Released: November 6, 2001
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 GameCube comparison in our Game VS. Game section when you are done here.
The Xbox version is loaded with features and new music previously unavailable on the PS2 version:
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. If you've played any other hockey game you will ease right into the action. Some new welcome features include an analog turbo trigger, dedicated deke and spin move buttons, and buttons that allow you to cheer and boo after a goal.
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 really shine on the Xbox, and you can tell the programmers are milking the nVidia graphics chip for all its worth. The players are intentionally oversized with detailed faces, so you are going to recognize your favorite players, even from a distance. Everyone is beautifully animated and aside from a few clipping problems, the presentation is virtually flawless and manages to maintain a constant 60fps.
The excellent graphics extend beyond the players and into the arenas that have been modeled and textured to exquisite detail. You have never seen ice that looked this good, even at a real hockey game. The players cast real time shadows on ice that offers realistic reflections and depicts increased wear as the game progresses.
The lighting effects are gorgeous, especially when your players catch on "fire". The arena lights dim a bit to enhance the effect and the area and objects around the player(s) on fire will flicker with colored light. The sideboards will light up when a player skates into the corners, and the puck emits a pleasant glow and can even catch on fire.
If you were amazed at the individually rendered spectators in the cage fighting arena in Dead or Alive 3 you ain't seen nuthin' yet. 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:
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. Midway has the luxury of having the first hockey game available for the Xbox and the only hockey game available at launch.
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.