NHL Hitz 20-03 REVIEW

NHL Hitz 20-03 Review (PS2)

Hockey is a sport that has a very faithful following, but also has a lot of people who don’t follow the sport, peaked with curiosity. I am a person who follows some hockey but not a lot. However, I enjoy playing hockey games. They are fast paced and very exciting. It is hard to find a dull moment while fighting for the puck and trying to score. This brings me to NHL Hitz 20-03. Hitz is a title that isn’t trying to be the ultimate sim. Hitz tries to break the mold and bring the player a 3 on 3 fast paced, unruly, blink you miss it type game. Does Hitz have what it takes to succeed in the hockey gaming market this year? It’s going to be a tough fight with NHL 2k3 on a lot of users minds.

The graphics in Hitz are done fairly well. The players are crisp, colorful, and detailed. Uniforms are very authentic looking with initially an alternate available. As you play there will be opportunities to unlock additional alternate uniforms. The proportion of the players is well done. You can see the difference between a small stubby player and a big bulky player. The arenas are detailed and do a good job of letting you enjoy the game. The ice has a nice gleam too it as well as being able to see the shavings of ice during a quick change of direction. You will see glass breaking after big hits, the net bulging when a goal is scored, and other little details that I caught every now and then. The crowd is a pleasant surprise. They are well detailed and they react to the happenings that are going on during the game. An example is, after a big hit through the glass, I looked at the replay and you could see the people behind the glass in the first row leaning backwards as the player fell in front of them. The on fire effects are excellent. The flames look extremely realistic. Makes you almost want to break out the hot dogs. Another nice effect is the transitions to going on fire. The lightning that you see completely engulfs the players before changing into fire. You will also see the lightning effects if your on fire player scores a goal.

The flipside to all the good is the tradeoff of the occasional slowdown during gameplay. There is noticeable slowdown when you have a majority of the players on the ice in one general area. It is even worse when there are more than two of them are on fire. Does it hurt the experience of playing? No, but it shouldn’t be there nonetheless. I also saw some occasional slowdown during replays and in the transitions from the replay back to the game. What is worse is during these transitions the players often disappear and then reappear. This gets quite annoying at times. No matter what camera angle (3 types with, 4 levels of zoom) you use there is no way to avoid these slowdowns.

The rock music from Powerman 5000’s intro, through Rob Zombie playing during pauses in gameplay fits the atmosphere of the game extremely well, that is if you are into rock music. The same voice that has been doing Midway titles since NBA Jam is still present. If you have never heard him before, you will either like him or hate him. They have also added a color commentator, and to be honest there are times I forget that he is even there. He does say a lot, but what he says really just doesn’t sink in while playing. After so many games you will start to hear some repetitiveness but its not as often as some games. The in game sounds are nice from the big hits through the glass, to the slap shots the players make. They are not completely authentic but this is an arcade type game, so you are going to get some sounds that are enhanced for your listening pleasure. Overall, the audio enhances your playing experience and helps your forget about some of the graphical distractions from above.

For Hitz to be successful it needs to have gameplay, replay value, and most of all, be fun. Hitz succeeds in gameplay. First, you have your basic gameplay modes of exhibition, season, and tourney play. You also have hockey school, which is a very good and quick way to learn all the controls. Legendary hockey coach, Scotty Bowman, helps you in learning these. Minigames allow you to test your new skills in a variety of events from a hockey version of tic-tac-toe, to shooting gallery, where the object is to break more windows then your opponent in a certain amount of time. These can be fun, but are a total blast when you have another human playing as well.
Franchise is the final gameplay option. Franchise has you starting a new team from the bottom level of hockey. You get to start off creating 6 players and 1 goalie. You can do this yourself or have it automatically done for you. You must defeat all the teams in the current level as well as perform certain goals during the game. These can include making a goal, completing 15 passes, or making 5 big hits. At the end of each game you get so many skills points. Once you reach a certain level you can increase all your players’ attributes in a performance category. You also can earn additional equipment, which will increase players’ attributes as well. Franchise has a lot of longevity to it and can very easily suck in the solo player.
The on ice gameplay is very well done. Face-offs are done in an interesting manner. You press one of 3 buttons, these buttons are like rock, scissors, and paper, where a certain one beats another. If you choose right then you win the face off, if you both choose the same then it is determined by who pressed the button first. There really is no rhythm to this method. It turns out being just a pure game of out guessing or pressing the other player. There are some games where I am lucky to win 2 or 3 and others where I win over 75% of them. Passing is simple and fluid. Shooting is simple, hold long for a slap shot, quick tap for a wrist shot. One timers are also easily performed. Fake shots can take some getting used to but once they are mastered they will open up another dimension to your gameplay. There are 4 levels of difficulty from Beginner (not available in franchise mode) to All-Star. My one complaint is that the All-Star level can be downright frustrating. You get the robo AI that is typical of the top levels in a lot of current sport games. This does offer a challenge, but there really is no reward for playing the top level. If a level is too complicated or too easy you have a variety of sliders that you can change to alter the level of play. I thought the default sliders on each level worked really well, with all-star being an exception. With a couple of quick adjustments you can take the pro level and make it more difficult, without completely getting the robo AI from the all-star level. You have the ability to unlock items while playing, but the level of gameplay has no bearing on this, at least from what I have seen. There are over 120 items to unlock, ranging from fantasy teams and players, to new alternate jerseys.
What is hockey without fighting? Fighting can be a key ingredient to winning. If you leave fighting on you get the option where if you win a fight the loser is removed from the game and replaced by another player from the bench. This does however work both ways and you can lose your star player. Fighting isn’t just button mashing either. I discovered a little bit of patience goes a long way in winning a fight. Penalties only come from fighting and hitting the goalie when he doesn’t have the puck. This can also be turned off, but being able to constantly flatten the goalie can be looked at as cheating. You wouldn’t want to do that would you?

Season mode tracks a ton of stats. Franchise mode also tracks stats, but during the initial rounds only the users’ team stats are tracked. I have liked in the past the leaderboard that Midway puts in its games, where you get to see the top ten users in certain categories. They left that out of Hitz though. I was a little disappointed to see this missing. You get the overall leader in a variety of key stat categories but that is about it. I am a stat freak though, so this may not make a big difference to someone else.

NHL Hitz 20-03 is a game that is a lot of fun, and has considerable depth. However, being an arcade game at heart, it may be frowned upon by the sim player. If you are looking for a change of pace though from the normal hockey experience I suggest you give Hitz a look. It is a very good rental at the very least. The minor problems may take away from the fun for some, but anyone willing to overlook this will find a fun title, that has a bit of longevity to it. If you want nothing to do with the arcade hockey experience you better look elsewhere for your hockey gaming fix.


NHL Hitz 20-03 Score
out of 10