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.

The Players: This is the only area in the game’s graphical presentation where the overall presentation suffers at all. The players featured from the actual NHL teams in this game really just don’t look right at all. It seems that Midway just made a plethora of generic looking avatars that had some physical similarities with the actual NHL players, but none of them truly come even close to making you just be able to look at any given player and say “Hey! That’s so-and-so!” However, despite that fact that this remains to be true, what is great about it is that it does pretty much NOTHING to ruin what the game overall has to offer. If you really want to be nitpicky about the players looking like their real life counterparts, then go play an EA hockey game (if you wish to be highly annoyed as well), but if not, then this game couldn’t be better!

So overall, based on everything said here, just like stated in the Players section, everything graphics-wise in this game is simply perfect. There really should be no complaints elsewhere, so it deservers the score below!

Just like many of EA’s sports titles, including all the ones from this generation, this game features a list of licensed music. HOWEVER, UNLIKE EA’s sports titles, Midway chose to go down a different path with this hockey game and used not only licensed music, but tracks that they created themselves!

When it comes to the licensed music, tracks like Rollin’ from Limp Bizkit and Mudshovel from Staind would probably end up being the most recognizable and more favored ones. Surprisingly these tracks actually do a great job of “hyping” you up about the game, because the whole experience really is just an adrenaline rush.

Now in contrast from the licensed songs, Midway actually composed their own generic techno and rock themes to make the game sound even better! It would obviously be kind of tough to describe how they sound like, but they could almost make the people who hear them while playing think they could really be heard during any typical sporting event, especially hockey.

The music in this game does nothing more than accentuating the experience, and that’s a rarity for a sports title.

With regards to other features of this game when it comes to sounds, they really are very good as well. Now the announcer isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s fortunate that he has a good list of lines that he says to sort of “describe” the action rather than just doing a play-by-play presentation. During the first couple months of playing this game, you probably won’t hear much repetition with what he says, but some weeks down the road, it will start to become more noticeable. Now while repetition does end up occurring, it really doesn’t become ANNOYING, which is a great thing. Even if you end up not playing the game for a while after winning the Cup or accomplishing something else, you will still find yourself chuckling at the extremity of some of his more prevalent “phrases.”

So while the announcer can bring the overall feel of the game down at times, everything else is just where it needs to be.

The sounds that you hear from the actual playing of the game sound just like they would in any other hockey title or actual hockey sporting event. Impacts with the puck sound like they should, players hitting other players sounds funny but realistic, and even the skating sounds realistic! Not much else could really be said about this because what was said pretty much summed everything up. If you’re a real hockey player or an avid player of hockey videogames, you will not be disappointed by the sound effects in the least!

This is without a doubt the best feature of this game. The easy-to-learn simplicity of it while it still remaining a blast to be involved with would be more than enough to help out any game that really isn’t any good nowadays. Now like stated previously, this is NOT a real hockey simulation game, it’s the EXACT opposite. You can do what you please when you please and how you please! Why is it simple? Well just like stated in the Learning Curve section, this is NOT HARD TO PLAY! The B button is for shooting and poke checking, A is for passing and switching players, X is for checking, Y is for deking and the shoulder buttons are used for turbo! How simpler can it possibly be?

So with that simplicity brings a whole LOT of fun! This game is incredibly fast-paced and packed with action, why else would it be called NHL Hitz? Pretty much everything you do is acceptable and legal, because there are no “infraction” rules in this game WHATSOEVER.

So to break this section down, I will speak about the 4 main features of this game with regards to gameplay, the actual in-game play, Championship mode, Skills mode and Dynasty mode!

In-Game Play: The action in this game no matter what mode is incredibly fluid and easy to get used to. The things you’ll probably find yourself doing the most often are hitting, slapshots and one-timers. Hitting can be done whenever you please no matter what, and you NEVER have to worry about a penalty being called. It’s a great way to just destroy your opposition and eliminate any chances they ever might have of getting on the scoreboard! Slapshots, while not always easy to pull off, can be very efficient at times. If there’s a lot of traffic infront of the net, firing a slapshot could give you no problem in getting yourself a goal! However, one-timers are definitely what should be used most in this game, because that’s what gets you the most goals. For those of you who might not know what a one-timer is, let me explain.

A one-timer involves two players, a passer and a shooter. To put it simply, the passer passes the puck near the area of the shooter’s stick, and without ever stopping the puck, as its traveling to him, the shooter hits the puck while it’s still in flight for a quick slapshot!

That technique is INCREDIBLY useful to score most if not all your goals, and it becomes very easy to use on a normal basis after you do it for a while!

The coolest part of the in-game play is being able to get “On Fire!” What that means is either after one individual player on your team scores a Hat Trick (3 goals in one game) or your team scores 3 consecutive one-timers while keeping the other team from scoring, that player or your team will become On Fire! When an individual player gets on fire, he has much more powerful slapshots and checking abilities and it’s very difficult to knock him around! When your whole team is on fire, you pretty much have those same exact attributes but just a little more toned down because it’s distributed equally to all three of your players.

Another thing that can and will happen in the actual game are FIGHTS, you just gotta love those! Now the fighting engine in this game isn’t the best, but it’s still very fun most of the time. You basically have two buttons for upper punching and lower punching, and another that will grab your opponent so you can pummel him with a series of punches and other physically painful maneuvers! THIS feature is the ONLY way to have players eliminated from the game. Any player that’s involved in a fight that loses is officially OUT of the game for the entire time. Each team has 9 players at its disposal to substitute if desired between periods, but once a player loses a fight, you cannot use him anymore!

Finally, the most integral part of this game that allows you unlock everything from the fantasy teams and their rinks to even “retro uniforms” is the Hockey Store! After you play every game, win or loss, you are presented with a trivia question that can ranch from 50 to 300 points. They obviously range in difficulty and are asked about pretty much anything encompassing the NHL’s history and the players involved. So the more points you get, the more stuff you can unlock!

Championship Mode: This isn’t exactly something truly special, but it’s still very fun to be involved in once or twice. How this works is you play each NHL team one time until you make it to the final game, which is obviously for the Stanley Cup. So the mode in of itself could almost be considered a “single game elimination tournament.” It’s not really spectacular in terms of the “WOW” factor, but playing through it at least once should happen if you have this game or plan to have it. However even at the end when you win the Cup isn’t all that gratifying because the ceremony lasts maybe 30 seconds?

Skills Mode: Hopefully you’ve figured what this is all about by now. But if NOT, let me explain. There are basically 3 different difficulties for a wide array of different skills that actual NHL players possess that you are put to the test with in this mode. Anything from simple skating to hitting targets with one-timers is encompassed in this mode, and it can actually be quite challenging!

Dynasty Mode: In this mode, you basically create a team from total scratch and take them through a “Dynasty” season that is very similar to the one in championship mode. You choose your teams name from the given list, the actual pictures of the players (I do believe they encompass the people on the development team) as well as tweaking their individual stats. You play each game to gain more points so that you can upgrade your players and even the trivia questions award you with upgrade points if you answer them correctly. This is actually a very fun mode because you can get your dynasty beefed up to the stats of most if not all the “Fantasy Teams” that you can unlock, and having that kind of team to go with up against your friends will leave them shaking!

So overall, the gameplay in this game is just great. There is so much to do, the controls are simple, and they are just a blast to play with!

Aside from the very short, about 30 second long Stanley Cup ceremony that you witness after winning Championship Mode, there really is nothing else that could be considered an end, so there’s really nothing else to talk about.

The replay value in this game is simply excellent. You really could find yourself playing this game many times even after you unlock everything and complete the game 100% The game is JUST that fun and it’s a great multiplayer game to play with your friends! Even if your friends don’t like sports games, they can still have fun with it because that is something that I even found out to be true myself! There is so much you can do in this game, a lot of fun to be had with friends, and just so many occasions where this could help relieve some stress for you!

Many would say the GameCube didn’t have the strongest lineup when it came to their launch titles, and that is definitely true. But nevertheless, with this game being one of the ones among those launch titles and it being as great as it is, this along with some others almost could really make up for the lack of variety at that particular time! This game has incredibly well-done graphics, great music (licensed & unlicensed), amazingly fun gameplay as well as some excellent replay value! All those things combined into one of the first titles available for the GameCube from Midway make this a must play for all GameCube hockey fans, as well as others that don’t really care for the sport! This game is a definite recommendation for purchase!