NHL Hitz 2002 Review
As the only hockey game available, NHL Hitz 2002 deserves a strong look from GameCube-owning pucks fans.
For GameCube-owning hockey fans, the future isn't exactly bright. EA Sports has decided not to release its NHL franchise for the console, and Sega won't have its NHL 2K series ready for Nintendo's new machine until next year. Stepping up to the plate to deliver the first and only hockey game for the GameCube is Midway with NHL Hitz 2002. While a far cry from EA Sports' sim-heavy hockey series, Hitz serves up a fast game of arcade hockey complete with flaming pucks, alien heads, and disco rinks.
NHL Hitz is similar in gameplay structure to Midway's other arcade sports games, such as NFL Blitz and NBA Jam. If you're looking to set up your power play and generate some shots or if you like to play the defensive trap to limit the other team's chances, NHL Hitz is not the game for you. Games of NHL Hitz are three-on-three affairs in which the checking totals outweigh the shots on goal. Players will catch on fire after scoring three goals in a row, and the entire team will catch fire if three straight goals are scored on one-timers. Just because a player is on fire doesn't necessarily translate into a string of goals, as it still often requires a nice shot to find the back of the net. Player ratings are reasonably accurate--bigger players won't always get knocked down by smaller players, but it's not out of the question.
Traditional hockey strategy has been thrown out the window in NHL Hitz 2002; instead, a simple rock-paper-scissors scheme is used to govern the entire game. For every offensive move, there's a defensive move to thwart it. If you're getting checked to the ice by the opposition, simply perform a spin move, and you'll avoid checks. If your opponent starts trying to poke-check the puck free, then it's time to use the puck-protecting move. The same holds true in the face-off circle. If an opponent is lifting your stick on every face-off, you can perform a push to garner the puck. It's a simple system, to be sure. But in a game that plays as briskly as Hitz, there's not a lot of time to make decisions, and this gameplay system is a perfect fit. The fighting in NHL Hitz is the best yet seen in a hockey game--the punch and block mechanics are sound, and you can even finish a player off with a combo or special moves such as head butts and chokeholds. If your player loses a fight, he will be lost for the remainder of the game. This adds incentive for learning how to fight and can turn the tide of the game rather quickly when a big scorer is relegated to the bench. For a game that's easy to pick up and play, there's a lot of hidden depth in NHL Hitz 2002.
Anyone who's ever played NFL Blitz or NBA Jam should be familiar with rubber band AI. This allows the computer to adjust to your abilities on the fly and guarantees that each game is never over, no matter how big the lead. It helps keep the games close and exciting, but the result is that it never seems to matter how good you play. If you're up by a few goals, your goalie will suddenly become Swiss cheese and allow slap shots from center ice to find their way into the net. Yet, the opposing goalie will become a veritable brick wall, not allowing a single goal, no matter how good the shot. It's possible to quadruple the shots, hits, and passes of the opposition and still lose a game if your player ratings aren't high enough. This same AI carries over into the multiplayer modes as well, and it can be frustrating to lose to someone in the final seconds on a shot that has no business stretching the twine.