reviews\ Oct 8, 2002 at 8:00 pm

NHL Hitz 20-03 - PS2 - Review

The Seadogs, pirate hats jauntily perched atop their heads, faces an emotionless mask, take their places, led by Red and Blackbeard. The Colorado Avalanche, more animated, looking confidant and cool, step onto the disco floor.

Wait, disco floor? Complete with multi-colored floor lights and mirror balls? Is this a dance contest?

In a manner of speaking it is a dance, but the kind that can only be found in hard-hitting hockey action ­ the kind delivered by Midway Sports and Black Box in the blistering new NHL Hitz 20-03 for the PlayStation2.

Most PS2 players know that there are two controller ports for multiplayer games. But NHL Hitz 20-03 is geared up for online play, and will allow up to six players in a game. Because this is three-on-three action (with a keeper as the fourth) that really opens up the game for intense multiplayer gaming.

For those unfamiliar with the series, NHL Hitz is an arcade-style program. It is the game of hockey with some modifications ­ aside from the limited number of players. The venue is smaller, which allows this version to stage games on a pirate ship, a corral and the aforementioned disco floor, among other, more notable arenas. And there is an emphasis on hitting. It is easy to turbo up and lower the boom on an opposing player, separating him from his helmet and sending him in one direction, and the equipment in another. Players can catch on fire, literally. Terrific defensive plays, rocketing shots and pinpoint passing boosts the each players meter until, with the tap of a button, he ignites and trails fire as he skates. It really is a terrific effect.

But wait, there’s more … Not only can the player’s meter rise, but the team’s can as well. If the team’s meter gets full, you can ignite the entire team.

If a penalty is upcoming to a certain player, strands of electricity dance down and strike the player, emitting a glow about him. In three-on-three action, playing a man down against a skilled team is akin to spotting them a goal.

NHL Hitz 20-03 is an expansion of the 20-02 title. The folks at Black Box have added new mini-games, like keep-away, and in addition to the expanded season mode (where you take on the NHL season), there is a new franchise mode. Build a team, create the players, and then challenge to level up players and the team. As you start this mode, the teams you encounter seem a little weak until you start getting stronger. Then the competition starts getting tougher.

Other new features include in-depth statistical coverage, international and all-star teams, a hockey school and a host of new music that will get pulse pounding and inspire you to go out and hit someone.

The control elements of the game are kept rather simple, and even those who have yet to play this game should have a handle on them in about 20 minutes. The player interface is also easy to navigate, making this a user-friendly experience.

Graphically this game is a treat. The animation is wonderful (though the fighting sequences seem a little slower in this edition), the venues are well rendered and the special effects are spectacular. The music and play-by-play announcing are terrific.

NHL Hitz 20-03 is an arcade-style game that is addictive and fun. It is fast-paced, challenging and a treat for the eyes and ears. If you are a hockey fan, though not a purist, this is a game you will want to have.

This game is rated for Everyone.


Gameplay: 8.3
The action is seamless and the game’s move along quickly. The AI is a little suspect if you play the franchise mode in the default settings.

Graphics: 8.5
The special effects are amazing, the animation is smooth and solid and the venues are well done. Player faces seem a little angled and vacant, and the fight sequences seem to operate at a slower speed that in the 20-02 edition.

Sound: 8.9
The soundtrack features music by Incubus, Powerman 5000, Rob Zombie, Moby, The Zambonis and Drowning Pool. Not only is the soundtrack exceptional, but the play-by-play is excellent as well. The game sounds are what one would expect.

Difficulty: Medium
You can go from a 4-0 lead to trail 5-4 in minutes against a superior team if you start playing silly. Passing is the key, and if you can master that, you can beat the challenge this game presents. The controller set-up will require a small learning curve, but the player interface is well designed.

Concept: 8.5
This is an example of taking a solid arcade game and making it better with new features and options.

Multiplayer: 8.5
Sure, playing against the console-controlled teams is just fine, but the game takes on added challenge and enjoyment when competing against friends.

Overall: 8.5
This is an enjoyable, addictive game that looks and sounds great. It presents a nice challenge, and has a solid options package.


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