When it comes to sports, Midway is one of the kings of extreme, creating some of the most action-packed titles on the market, including the likes of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. At one point, Midway even laced up their skates for Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, and later Open Ice, but their hockey series wasn’t as popular as their other sports franchises. Fast forward a few years, Midway has risen from the penalty box and hit the ice once again with NHL Hitz 2002, an over-the-top arcade hockey experience that only the folks at Midway could dream up. So without further ado, grab a stick and let’s get ready to drop the puck on NHL Hitz 2002.
Developed by Black Box (NHL 2K2 for the Dreamcast), NHL Hitz sports an assortment of game modes including exhibition, championship, franchise and a skills mode. The exhibition mode pits two teams in head-to-head play. The championship mode invites players to defeat each of the 30 NHL teams, while the franchise mode allows users to create a team and lead them to the Midway Cup. Last but not least, the skills mode affords beginners and veterans the opportunity to learn and hone such abilities as passing, shooting and winning face-offs.
To spice things up a little, players accumulate points by winning games in each of the modes, answering trivia questions and completing various objectives. These points can then be used in the Hockey Shop to unlock alternate jerseys, fantasy rinks, hidden teams, and even increase the attributes of created players. The create-a-player feature in NHL Hitz is surprisingly strong. You can customize just about every aspect of your player, right down to their facial features. The create-a-team option is just as well implemented. Once you’ve chosen your team jersey and rink, it’s off to the franchise mode, en route to the Midway Cup. It’s nice to see such a variety of game modes and options in NHL Hitz, especially since previous Midway sports games have been fairly barren in that respect, but at the same time it’s not quite as deep as the simulation-based NHL series from EA Sports.
If you’ve played any of Midway’s sports titles, the gameplay in NHL Hitz 2002 should come as no surprise. Big hits, big shots, big saves and big fights are the order of the day. Teams are comprised of three skaters and a goalie, and you can alternate players before the start of each period. In a rare dose of reality, players become unavailable to the team for a period of time if they lose a fight, so you do have to manage your players to some extent in the championship and franchise modes.
Interestingly enough, the speed of play in NHL Hitz 2002 is not as feverous as fans of the series, or Midway sports games in general, are probably used too. Besides that aspect, the style of play remains relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence seems to have followed suit. Computer opponents continue to adjust abilities and game elements during play, ensuring that just about every contest comes down to the final few seconds. The result is disheartening at times, particularly when your team is winning and your goalie suddenly allows a few soft goals, while the opposing goalie becomes a brick wall.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of NHL Hitz are the fights. Easily one of the best fighting engines in a hockey game to date, NHL Hitz 2002 offers a variety of actions to perform during the scrap. Besides an assortment of punches, you can get your opponent in a chokehold or throw in a knee for good measure. In defence, you can dodge, block and duck incoming punches. When all is said and done, the fighting engine is far better than the button-mashing contests you encounter in other hockey games.
In terms of presentation, NHL Hitz 2002 is pretty solid. Player models are well detailed, yet not so much that it interferes with the framerate. Player animation is nice and fluid, and the various arenas are all well representative of their real-life counterparts. In the stands, fans are extremely active, flashing signs offering game codes among other things. Unfortunately, the crowd isn’t shown nearly as much as it should considering the effort that was put into them. The audio isn’t quite as tight as the visuals, however. The announcer is the same voice behind Midway’s NBA and NFL franchises, and as usual he’s very excitable. Unfortunately, he’s also limited in what he has to say and thus becomes repetitive rather quickly. The sound effects are over-the-top, in tune with the theme of the game, and the soundtracks feature a nice collection of rock and techno music.
When the final buzzer sounds, NHL Hitz 2002 skates away a winner with a few bruises. Despite the selection of game modes, single-player excitement depends largely on your ability to stomach the fluctuating A.I., but there’s definitely fun to be had with multi-player. The over-the-top arcade action lends perfectly to a few weekend rentals with your friends and unless you’re a big fan of Midway’s brand of sports titles, or of hockey games in general, that’s likely the best way to enjoy NHL Hitz 2002.