If you think back to the era of the Nintendo 64, you may remember that is exactly where Midway got started with their “no holds barred” sports titles. It actually started with the very first NFL Blitz featuring former Pittsburgh QB Kordell Stewart on the cover. All their games like that up to this point were meant for the sole purpose of letting their players do whatever they pleased physically and emotionally in their games so as to let them experience something else besides a true simulation for a change. NHL Hitz 20-02 was the first title Midway developed for the GameCube as well as the first hockey title to appear on the system. It was one of the first launch titles, but a great one nonetheless!
If you allow the game to go through the introductions and such without interruption (meaning you don’t press any buttons to go to the start screen), then you will eventually come to a 2 minute or so long FMV featuring very cool highlights from the previous hockey season. It is set to the game’s theme song “Rollin’” by Limp Bizkit, and it surprisingly fit everything quite well!
However, the main things you’ll notice when you first start going through this game are the diverse modes of play, the 3 on 3 versus 5 on 5 team play as well as much smaller rink sizes. This game was purposely made that way so as to encourage much more goal scoring than what would normally happen during a real NHL hockey game. You can get to your opponent’s end/net faster than ever as well as do what you please to the opposing players because there are no penalties called! One other great thing you’ll notice when you first start playing is that the crowd design was done incredibly well. While there aren’t actually quite as many spectators as there could’ve been, they look very realistic and react to everything that’s going on during the game.
One of the best things about this game, aside from the fact that it’s really fast-paced no matter what, is that you can pretty much learn how to play it very well during the very first game that you play. There are pretty much just one button functions that allow you to do everything that you have to do. Shooting, passing, checking, turbo…..everything, just ONE button. So pretty much after the first game, you should feel very comfortable controlling this game.
There are so many great things about this game, and this is simply just ONE of them. Aside from the fact that most of the players featured in this game don’t exactly look like their real life counterparts, everything else is simply PERFECT.
It’s not just the more noticeable features in this game like the rink designs, the avatar designs and the crowd designs, but the little, not quite as easy to notice things like the puck designs, the crowd reactions and just a lot of other things really make this for one heck of a gaming experience.
So to make this critique as simple as possible without being overwhelming, I will speak a little bit about everything that should be considered important in this presentation.
The Rinks: Like stated before, the rinks in this game are smaller (by about 30% or so) and were recreated in an incredible manner. Each team has their own designated home rink, at least all the ones featured in the 2002 season, and they look just like they should. The ice looks real, the ice EFFECTS look real and the crowd looks without a doubt realistic! The lighting in each rink really allows for you to see which areas of the ice have been skated over more than others might have been, and everything else just accentuates what a real hockey game could seem like. When you pull hard stops with your players, you will see ice spraying effects. No matter which rink you play in, real or fictional, you will see “cuts” form in the ice as you skate around them with your players.
What’s even better about the rinks in this game is that there’s a collection of 10 or so “fantasy teams.” They could be anything from the strange looking “Babies” to the very intimidating “Gladiators!” Each fantasy team has their own specially designed fiction rink, like the Babies do with a “Playroom” and the Gladiators do with their “Coliseum.” Each fictional rink just looks plain awesome, and the puck is even changed to emphasize that! Like in the Coliseum, instead of using a real puck, you use a huge chunk of “building rock!” At the “Backyard Ice Pond,” instead of using a real puck, it’s an ice cream sandwich! But just for the sake of not spoiling more, if you want to find out the rest, play the game yourself!
So to put it simply, overall, the graphics are PERFECT with the small exception of the actual players not looking a whole lot like what they do in real life!
The Crowd: Who wouldn’t agree that it’s fans that really make the experience at a sporting event what it is? Well considering how most people involve themselves at sports game these days, it’s quite ignorant to think otherwise. When it comes to this game, that couldn’t be more true, just like with what you might see at any other kind of sporting event. The spectators in this game really have influence in this game, because they choose who they want to support and how to react to certain situations. For the first time in a hockey game, the crowd’s physical animation couldn’t have been more fluid, and it really does such a great job of bringing them into the actual experience. You will see them put their hands around their mouths when they choose to boo at something and they will raise their arms up when they want to cheer. Seeing how they react during fights is especially interesting, and even comical at times! For those that play this game, there’s no reason to not be proud of the work that Midway put behind their crowd, because it did nothing but make this game even better than it might’ve.