I am so not Canadian. Never could and never will be able to ice skate. That doesn’t mean I don’t need my hockey video game fix.
I am not a real hockey person. I understand the fundamentals and enjoy the sport, but since I couldn’t ever get ice-skating down, I never completely got into hockey. I live in Minnesota, the “State of Hockey” as they call it here. I’m forced to deal with loads of friends who should be from Canada they love hockey so much. Adding to that, I’ve become a big fan of the Minnesota Wild (who is currently a dominating force) so I decided to pick up NHL 2003.
There are a pile of options, full-season modes, create-a-player, NHL cards, and all the usual bells and whistles. None of that really applies to what I’m interested in. I just want a more realistic hockey experience that’s fun and easy to pick up and play with my friends. I don’t want a Hitz title; I want something with less arcadey play, but still simple enough for newbies to play.
The basic controls are straightforward: A passes, B shoots, Y dekes, X is turbo, and C is manual deke (more of the new freestyle control EA has been pumping lately). I would have rather had one of the shoulders as the turbo (R preferably), but in general, everything feels right. You can also opt for more complex moves, but for the average hockey player, the basics work just fine.
The in-game intros are the most humorous depiction of a hockey game beginning that I think has ever been used in a game. It’s basically the same animation over and over, but with the different teams that will be taking the ice. The arena goes dark with the typical spotlight action happening. So far so good. Then suddenly they zoom into the face of some unknown hockey player who’s pissed off and chewing rocks. It reminded me of the zombie-esque tennis players they had in Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast. They do this pseudo flashback sequence back to the last time these two teams supposedly met and then show them battling on the ice. Then the player does this cheese ball growling look at the camera and puts his glove on. Oooooh. My friends and I laughed at this. It just seemed so…weak.
But what’s important is how well NHL 2003 plays. With the addition of the “Game Breaker” which is a meter that builds up when you score a couple goals, or do lots of dekeing it’s not 100% realistic. When the meter is full, you press the Z-button and sort of “enter the zone” if you will. You can hear your player’s heartbeat and you get a boost of speed. Goal scoring hasn’t gotten out of hand (at least not yet), and you can still counter attack someone that’s in the middle of a Game Breaker. It’s a very arcadey addition, but since I’m all about having basic fun with this game, I like it. It’s not like they’re “On Fire”, but it’s a nice little reward for showing some good skills. The visuals that happen on the ice are on par for what I was hoping for from EA. The only issues I have are with the pre-rendered scenes as I said above. They’re just hilarious. I mean, they don’t affect gameplay in the least, but they just detract from the beauty of everything else. The menu interface is slick. Players look good (on the ice), and the replays are decent.
NHL 2003 has some of the worst play-by-play announcing I’ve ever heard in any sports game. Supposedly they’re great announcers in real life, but in this game, I’d rather have someone driving a steel spike into my head than listen to these idiots. The absolutely moronic phrases that come out of these people irritate my friends and I so much that we’re constantly pressing A, hoping to get back to the game as soon as possible. You know the audio is bad when you’re reaching for your CD player remote. Thankfully, you can turn off the commentary, but that leaves you with a very little else to listen to.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever start a season or go through all the other modes, but at the end of the day, NHL 2003 can be a heck of a lot of fun. Granted, I’m not the perfect person to discuss the finer, more specific points of hockey, but from a casual gamer’s point of view, if you’re looking to head to the rink, NHL 2003 is worth at least a rental.