Full Review: Did someone order a bunch of flying teeth?
Hockey, the coolest game on Earth. Or so the ads say. It is, though? When you think about it, I mean, you are on ice after all. So why are things so hot down there? When the sport of hockey comes to mind, nothing other than middle age Roman Gladiators comes close to the brutal sport that it is. Well, ok, perhaps UFC, but I wouldn't consider that a ?game? per se. Hockey, to say the least, includes the involvement of perhaps some of the most heated confrontations known in a controlled sport. I mean, let's face it. We all go to the hockey games to see people slammed into the glass or get into fistfights. Right? Right?!? Anyway, on to the fun.
If you read my preview of the game a while back, you'll know that I didn't really look forward to the game at all. In fact, I loathed it. However, I am pleased to report that NHL Hitz, while not the most technically accurate sports sim in the world, is essentially a blast to play. It's certainly no NHL 2002, but then again, it isn't trying to be. Let's explore.
Hockey may look like just a slobberknocker on ice. But upon closer inspection, there is strategy, planning, and an overall technical-ness that no other sport really has. This makes the sport more difficult to understand, and even tougher to play. Position and situational awareness is key. Yet, these rules do not apply in NHL Hitz. Icing and 2 line passing penalties are gone. In fact, all penalties are non-existent. The entire experience circles around 2 aspects -- scoring and fighting.
Instead of the usual 5 on 5 style hockey, you have a goalie and 3 members on your team. The objective of the game, of course, is to score goals. However, since there are no rules, just like it's football counterpart NFL Blitz, technicality is tossed right out the window. Being the hockey fan that I am, I was a little upset at this point. However, one thing I overlooked is that it's just plain fun to play.
Each team has a total of 5 to 6 selectable characters to choose from at the start of the game and in-between periods. There is a center, a winger, and a defensive position that must be filled. The goalie is not selectable, and to my knowledge, cannot be changed at all. You do take control of the goalie if he ever maintains control of the puck at any point, though.
Controls are kept simple. You have pass, shoot, deke, and turbo buttons. These buttons also serve as steal, check, and block buttons on defense. Scoring 3 goals unanswered by a single player will result in that person becoming ?on fire?, literally, sound familiar? While on fire the offense and defense of that player is upped considerably, giving you a much-needed edge.
Everybody knows we all watch hockey games to see someone get their world rocked, and this is where NHL Hitz delivers. At random points throughout the game, a fight between two players will break out. You have two punch buttons, a block, and a hold button. The punches are pretty standard affair, as is the block. The hold button, though, does different attacks depending on the energy level of the opponent. For instance, a hold while at the beginning of the fight will cause your player to do a combo of punches. However, a hold that will finish off the player will either pick up the opponent by the neck and toss him away, or do a head butt followed by a knee to the head. Of course, then there is the rub-in celebration afterwards for the victor. Remember when I mentioned that there were about 6 selectable players per team? Well, those come into play during the fights. When a player loses a fight, he sits on the bench and is not available for the rest of the game. So basically, if you do get into a fight, make sure you kick the little twerps ass, or your player will say bye-bye.
The visuals are nicely done, with ice reflections and detailed goalie masks. Special effects like smoke and fire look very good. The players, as well as the crowd, are nicely animated, and unlike other sports games, each person seems to generally do their own thing, instead of being part of a ?block? that reacts and stand up/sit-down as a group. The arenas are nicely modeled too, however, these seem more like arena football arenas. Why do I say this? Because the most each of these areas holds is merely a few hundred seats. That's not really all that bad of a thing though, as most of your time is going to be spent knocking people through the glass and onto their asses. Also nicely done are the after-score animations. Players celebrate as a group. Sometimes they will taunt the opposing team, who will then proceed to chase them down. It's just funny really. Real-time ice-skate marks on the ice are also present here, though this is sort of cheesy. I mean, it's a nice touch, but they disappear way too fast, and at times when you are looking right at them.
Sound is also way up there on the quality meter. The hits are brutal, and at times you literally hear the bones cracking. Slapshots of the puck sound totally real, and even the sounds of collecting the loose puck on the boards sound good. The music is nice too, which includes star-studded groups like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Staind. Also, since this is the Xbox, your own tracks can be used, as well as full DD 5.1 digital sound support throughout. The announcer, although the same one as the popular Blitz series, fits well in Hitz. Announcing the games is a little on the stale side, but the play-by-play is right on, and the little comments he makes will leave you chuckling.
There is a ton of ways to get your hitz on in this game. Standard play modes are to be expected, as there is Championship, Exhibition, and so on. Added to the norms though are both Franchise and Custom Team modes. In Franchise, you earn attribute points to pump up your players on your own custom team. Custom Team is just like it sounds. It's basically the equivalent of create-a-team. You start from scratch, pick a logo, choose a stadium to call your own, and trade players. Also added to the mix is the use of ?credits?. After each game, a multiple-choice trivia question (about hockey of course) is displayed. Get the right answer, and you are awarded credits that can later be used to purchase new goodies in the hockey shop. Stuff you can use your credits on range from the standard jerseys from the older years of the game, to the more obscure like custom stadiums and heads. Yes, heads. Heads like a pharaoh or gladiator, and even an alien. The stadiums are a little unusual, but really cool. Feel like playing hockey on a pirate ship or a moon base? Those are just a few examples of the locales; in all there are 14 unique and totally original stadiums. Can we say replay value?
Although I started out a skeptic as to the goodness of this game, I am actually impressed with the final package. The game is simple, fast-paced, and comes complete with a tight control scheme. Nice visuals and a great audio presentation round out the package to create a fun and exciting experience. While I would really recommend something along the lines of NHL 2002 for your simulation season mode, NHL Hitz 20-02 is a great game for a few rounds of fast-paced fun, or even to let off some steam. Kudos to Midway.