Like hockey? Of course you do. Why don't you click and see if this is the game for you?
Hockey is a very under-appreciated sport. People say basketball is the fastest, or that football is the most violent, or that soccer is the most dramatic. But, hockey fans know that they’re all just saying that because hockey is a very technical game. Because of this, it’s also the most difficult sport to translate into videogame form. Midway, and developer Blackbox, didn’t seem to have this problem, as they threw out the all the technical stuff and produced an over-the-top arcade style 3-on-3 hockey game that anyone can pick up and have a blast with, while still capturing the essence of pro hockey.
When you first start up NHL Hitz, you can jump right in and play a quick game, start a tournament season, create a team and take them through the franchise mode, do some shopping in the hockey shop, try out your skills, or set options. After selecting a mode and entering your player name, you can start playing right away.
The meat of the game lies in the tournament season, where you take your favorite NHL team and attempt to work your way through all 30 teams in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Once you do, you can choose another team and try to win it again with them. This basically means you’re going to be playing at least 900 games if you want to win the Stanley Cup with every team, which is no easy feat, as the difficulty of the teams you face increases slightly with every win you collect. This alone will keep you busy for a while.
Control is fairly simple. Pass or switch players with A, shoot or poke check with B, deke with Y, and do some fancy stick work or body check with X. L and R are your standard turbo buttons. Some of the buttons have extra features as well, such as holding B to charge up a slap shot, or varying your checking power depending on how much turbo you add to the X button. There are even advanced functions like one-timers (A then B), fake shot-passes (B then A), fake shot-passes-one-timers (B, A, then B), etc. It’s a very solid control scheme that really can’t be improved upon in anyway, although it would have been nice to see the C-Stick used in some way.
Once you do start playing, you’ll find that the gameplay is extremely fast. You’ll be going back and forth across the ice many times in a period, something that happens quite a lot in the real game. And like the real game, your opponent is actually pretty crafty. If you decide to send all three of your players up ice to try and score, then neglect to send them back on defense, you’ll find that you’re going to get a lot of goals scored against you. You need to actually play defense to win most of the time, unlike other arcade-style games, which adds an element of strategy, making the game that much more enjoyable.
However, the blistering pace of the game does cause some problems. When everyone is moving around the middle of the ice, you’ll begin to see some extremely choppy framerates, which go on for a few seconds, rather than instantaneously. This happens at least twice per game, so it’s not a minor problem, but it doesn’t really affect gameplay enough for it to be any more annoying than it already is. However, you do have the option to slow down the action via a gameplay speed adjustment, so this problem isn’t as bad at lower speeds.
Aside from the framerate issues, the graphics are well done. The players’ faces are wonderfully rendered, although the bodies are a bit blocky, and could have been smoother. The small arenas help to keep things all close to the action where you can see how nice the game looks, and the polygonal crowd also really makes it look like you’re really a part of the action.
It sounds like you’re actually there too. You can hear every skate stroke, stick bang, and slap shot perfectly. The crowd really gets into a game, cheering for you if you’re winning, and booing you if you begin to fall behind. (You can also make the crowd boo on demand by pressing Z.) The big checks also have some great sounds as well; there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a giant boom of a check, followed by the shattering of a pane of glass as you send someone through the glass and over the boards, out of the rink. However, the announcer’s (the same one from the Blitz games) play-by-play action, while spot-on, tends to get tedious, especially toward the end of a game, when you’ve heard the same players’ names the exact same way over and over again. This is more than made up by the fact that his comments are absolutely hilarious, and are varied enough so that they don’t come too repetitious.
The big hits and over-the-top commentary is just beginning of the fantasy aspects of the game. If someone scored three goals in a row in an actual hockey game, he usually wouldn’t get struck by lightning and burst into flames. Winning a big fight in the NHL usually means 5:00 in the penalty box, instead of staying in and making the other team substitute the loser in for someone else. Your goalie also tends to be bit more territorially protective than those in the NHL, absolutely leveling anyone that gets near him. All of this all part of the arcade style of NHL Hitz, and it makes the game extremely fun.
It’s made more fun by all the goodies you can unlock. For every game you win (and every trivia question you answer after every game), you earn points that you can spend in the hockey shop. There, you can unlock nostalgia NHL jerseys from the past for use in exhibition games. You can also buy whacked-out arenas like the moon, a pirate ship, or a disco floor. They come complete with matching fantasy teams, like the Sharks (no, not the ones from San Jose... they’re actually players with shark heads) or the wood-headed Woodsmen. If you don’t want to part with all the points, you can just buy the individual heads for use in the create-a-player option, which isn’t anything special, but a welcome addition nonetheless. You can even create your own team with players you’ve created, and see if they can win the cup. All of this makes you want to play the game more and more so you can unlock every last thing in the game, which does wonders for replay value.
There’s still a lot more to this game, like the mini-game skills competition, the making-of documentary movie, or the match-up code screen that made Midway famous, but you’re just going to have to try out this game and see it all for yourself. Even if you’re waiting for EA’s NHL game, you should definitely rent it to see if it’s right for you, because no simulation can be as fun as what Hitz is all about.