Replay Value: 8.5
Midway has become known for its assortment of over-the-top, hard-hitting sports titles, blending addictive gameplay with action and excitement. It seems intent on accentuating the elements of such titles, including power hits and extraordinary plays. NHL Hitz 20-03 sticks to this dominating formula, and presents fans with a game that is an instant success. It is incredibly easy to pick up and becomes quite addicting whether you're playing by yourself or with a friend. Although straying away from the realism of simulation hockey titles, NHL Hitz 20-03 still possesses the components of professional hockey, with true-to-life players and exact hockey arenas.
The graphics in NHL Hitz 20-03 are something that standout in the game and really add to the overall enjoyment. Although not awe-inspiring, player models and detail are nicely executed allowing for seamless play. The facial models are quite inclusive and show off a well range of characteristics. The players are easily distinguished from teammates and opponents, which can be vital when attempting to get the puck to your playmaker. The detail spent on equipment is also nice to see, as you will notice a variety of pads and protective gear. From helmets to shin guards, there is always a nice assortment to choose from. Additionally, each player is unique in their appearance and helps provide a sense of discrepancy throughout the game. Midway has observably spent an extended amount of time on detail, and developed a game that is pleasant to watch.
In terms of environments, NHL Hitz 20-03 has by far the most spectacular arenas and outer locations seen in a PS2 hockey game thus far. I was simply blown away by everything offered in this title, and it is no understatement when I say these playing areas are the best of their kind. Including every actual NHL stadium, Midway has also developed numerous arenas to play fictional teams. For the enclosed stadiums, the fans are absolutely a riot to watch, and each game is presented in a way that you will know you are in a true hockey experience. For the outdoor stadiums, there is a wide variety of vicinities, from a shark tank to a disco hall to even the moon; you'll be amazed at the number of the stadiums packed into this game.
With both player and stadium detail being executed almost flawlessly, it's a shame the player animations themselves couldn't have been a little better. This isn't to say that the player action is poor by any means, but Midway really should have added a variety of options for their players. The pre-game, post-game, and celebration animations have a little to be desired and become quite repetitive once you've played the game more than two times. All animations are done without hesitation, so that helps in making them a little less annoying. However, that being said, the "fire" plays are extremely nice to watch and quite exciting to execute. Electricity shoots through your body and each movement is slightly faster and much more explosive. All in all, the player animations only slightly bring down the score for graphical achievement, as player models and environment detail is superb.
On the surface it may be assumed that NHL Hitz 20-03 is somewhat one-dimensional and does not provide the in-depth gameplay seen in such titles as EA's NHL 2003. However, after examining the game thoroughly, you will immediately see that Midway has packed this title to the brim with extra features, mini-games, and innovative game modes. With an outstanding Franchise mode and addictive style of play, there is very little Midway has kept out of this game.
Franchise Mode: Slightly different to what is usually seen in a franchise mode, NHL Hitz 20-03 offers a very unique style of play. Contrasting the general extended season format with an assigned limit of years, Hitz 20-03 allows players to create a team in attempting to join the NHL in a type of expansion manner. Along with creating a team, logo, and nickname, you must then create five players along with a goalie. The option of allowing the computer to create your team and players is present; however, I'd recommend doing it manually, as it allows for a more personal team and the ability to customize certain facets of your squad. With each player you are able to choose the play style assigned for each player, including options like Speedster, Playmaker, and Grinder. Within each play style there are five attributes that vary depending on your choice; they are speed, shooting, passing, checking, and toughness. Obviously if you choose Speedster you will have more attribute points in the section of speed, while each other category is marginally smaller; if you choose Grinder, checking and toughness are your top attributes. Within choosing your players, you are able to customize almost every element of their appearance. With close to one-hundred facial qualities, it is quite easy to find a player that fits your preference. Also, each player has a customary set of pads that have a corresponding level to them. As you begin your franchise, the lowest level of equipment is assigned. Once you progress farther into the game, you earn equipment points that allow you to upgrade your equipment which correlates with the five attribute bars. Also, as you continue to beat fictional teams and eventual actual NHL teams, you will be given experience points that enable you to upgrade your entire team in a certain area.; special tasks are set for you to accomplish and also associate with gaining experience points.
Season Mode: Showing some similarities to the franchise mode, the basic principles around season mode draw a parallel better to what fans are used to in a hockey title. Players start off by choosing their favorite NHL team and work through the regular season and playoffs to achieve the coveted Stanley Cup. Create-a-Player is still present; however, you will now be able to directly manipulate the attribute bars in each category. Trading players is an important part of the game and free agency is also a feature.
The gameplay of each mode is solid 3-on-3 action that is a far cry from the simulation style of other hockey titles. Checking and 125 mph slap shots are what this game strives on, and the intensity of each period is amazing. Each player also has the ability to be "on fire" and increase their attributes for a period of time. As you perform bone-crunching checks and other defensive maneuvers your "fire bar" will begin to increase. Once it reaches a certain level you will be able to set yourself aflame by pressing L2. However, if you wait throughout the period and continue to let the bar increase you will eventually be able to set your entire team on fire, which is the most beneficial. Along with this electrifying manner of play, there is the always important fighting element. During each game there will generally be at least one fight to contend with. Combing head shots with body blows, it is vital to win your respective fight. At the conclusion of each fight, both players are sent to the penalty box; however, if you come out on the losing side of the brawl, your player will not be able to reenter the game. As with most hockey titles the fighting portion is one of the most fun elements of the game and with NHL Hitz 20-03 it is no different; the distinction, though, is that this feature of the game bears a far greater importance on the contest. With every element that Midway has included in this game, it is no wonder that NHL Hitz 20-03 is an excellent playing hockey title.
Avery important part of any sports game, the sound portion of NHL Hitz 20-03 is one of the best. With absolutely explosive sounds from the ice and quality in-game noises, I was really impressed with the auditory components of this title. From being checked into the glass to taking a laser slap shot, each noise is executed nicely. The normal sounds of a hockey game are also well intact, including skating, passing, and stick-checking. The commentary is well done, as the famous Midway announcer (Tim Kitzrow) showcases his abilities. The color commenting is done by Alan Smithee and nicely corresponds with the play-by-play. Midway also gives the option of turning the commentary off, and allows for the soundtrack jukebox to play. This feature and the quality artists Midway has acquired cause this to be an outstanding sounding game. Highlighting hard rock riffs with some slightly mellow tunes mixed in, the entire list of songs and artists is listed below:
NHL Hitz controls quite well and is very responsive. There is no slow down when maneuvering your character and I was never frustrated in the way my players moved. The analog stick is quite successful and allows for a wide range of motion; conversely, the D-pad is easy to use and offers very little discrepancy when compared to the analog stick. Players change direction with ease and move according to your direction nicely, allowing for a very rewarding style of play that is addicting and fun to compete with. Pressure sensitivity becomes an issue with shooting and passing, and is a nice element of the game. The button layout is easy to get used to, as Midway has provided an extremely simple and beneficial control scheme.
The replay value of NHL Hitz 20-03 is quite high, due particularly to Midways deep franchise mode and addition of mini-games. There are six total mini-games, with a tourney and hockey school mode also included. The mini-games are as follows: Three in a Row, Own the Ice, King of the Rink, Keep Away, Shootout, and Shooting Gallery. The tourney mode in NHL Hitz 20-03 allows you to create and play a tournament versus NHL, Fantasy, Unlocked, and Created teams. As you win games, you'll advance toward the championship in the quest for the Midway Cup. Hockey School is a nice addition to the game, as Scotty Bowman, NHL's winningest coach, takes you lesson-by-lesson through the various skills available in the game.
Overall, NHL Hitz 20-03 is a very well-developed game that offers an in-depth franchise mode with addicting gameplay. The game controls flawlessly and is incredibly easy to get used to. The multiplayer element of the game is nice for those who enjoy challenging a friend; however, the single player mode is just as rewarding. With a wide variety of environments and player detail, the game is pleasant to look at and even more fun to play. In the end, if you enjoy the style of Midway's sport's titles and are looking for an over-the-top hockey experience, NHL Hitz 20-03 is easily worth your time.