NHL Hitz 2003
by Midway Games Limited
If there is one thing Black Box Games excel at its their ability to take a sport and make it more exciting, albeit with a cut down number of players. Take Soccer Slam for the GameCube. You play on a small pitch with 3 players against three players (not counting the goalkeepers). The action is fast and furious but at the same time the gameplay is both aggressive and enjoyable. The players are given strong personalities which helps give the game as a whole, personality. Soccer Slam is an excellent title and with their previous track record Black Box's NHL Hitz 2003 should be too.
What you get with any of Black Box's titles is pure fun, a mix of the real and the fantasy, and NHL Hitz is no exception to this. The game has International and All-Star players (a line-up all 'serious' hockey games would be proud of) as well as fantasy players and it all works tremendously well. The gameplay is fast (although game speed can be tailored to suit yourself) and furious. The game speed is not the only thing that can be tailored to your liking. The ability of the goalies can also be altered should you be finding the goals too hard to come by. The CPU players abilities can also be altered, as can the fighting (which breaks out from time to time) difficulty. If you really want to have some fun, you can alter the size of the players' heads, the puck size and even choose a colour for the puck glow. It may not sound much but it's great to be able to alter the game on so many levels and it basically means that if something is annoying you, such as the goalies being too difficult, then you can alter it instead of having to put up with the problem.
NHL Hitz 2003 offers a mass of gameplay modes. There's the ever present Exhibition match, a Season mode, a Tourney mode, a collection of bizarre, hockey based Mini-Games and Hockey School where you learn the basics and more advanced techniques of the game. However, the key gameplay mode has to be the Franchise mode. Here you create your own team and attempt to get them into the NHL. Before you get invited to the NHL though you'll have to take your team around the world and attempt to beat the best 'World' team. After beating this team, an invitation to join the NHL will come your way. You can opt to create your team and players from scratch if you wish or, thankfully, you can just choose an automatic setup if you just want to get on with the game. After the creation of your team you can participate in Junior, World and later NHL games. You will be given tasks to complete in Junior and NHL games. Completion of these tasks will earn you experience points that can be distributed between your players. Should you defeat a World team then you can gain equipment to boost your player's abilities.
To add extra meaning to the different gameplay modes, the developers have included a large amount of unlockable items such as stadiums, teams, jerseys and player models. These items can be unlocked in all of the modes by beating mini-game scores or winning tournaments etc. This encourages you to explore the different modes instead of simply heading for your favourite mode like you would do in most games. In fact, in most games you can only unlock items in one of the modes.
NHL Hitz 2003 certainly looks the part and is probably as good looking an ice hockey game as any other on the PlayStation 2. The stadia, in particularly the fantasy ones look great. Fancy playing hockey on a pirate ship, or what about a circus or shark tank. With NHL Hitz 2003 this is all possible. Of course ice hockey is a very quick sport and a consistent framerate is important. Only occasionally does it dip a little but to be honest it never affects the gameplay.
Deaf gamers will have no problems at all with NHL Hitz 2003. The match commentary is not subtitled and the Hockey School is not completely subtitled (but all the key information is). The bottom line is what's missing doesn't affect the gameplay. All the important information is in text and the game is highly enjoyable without the commentary.
The greatest compliment I can pay to NHL Hitz 2003 is that it is the one ice hockey game that someone who isn't a fan of the sport should buy. Some of the sports complexity has been stripped away but this adds to the gameplay and as a game it benefits no end from Black Box's streamlining of the game. The action and excitement is non-stop and above all it's fun which at the end of the day is crucial. If you're looking for a different kind of sports game that offers a huge amount of enjoyment as both a single player experience and multiplayer experience then NHL Hitz 2003 is the game for you.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 Fast, Furious but above all fun. NHL Hitz 2003 is a game every sports fan should own.
Deaf Gamers comment: Missing commentary subtitles and the Hockey School has some nonessential comments missing but everything else is fine.