I'll beat your face off.
Hockey remains an elusive mystery to me. I mean, I understand the rules, I understand the game flow, and I understand why it's fun to watch. But I can't for the life of me figure out why in the name of all that's peaceful and good-natured they let these guys regularly beat the snot out of each other.
Other sports don't get away with this kind of rumbling. If you throw a punch in a basketball game, you're automatically suspended and fined up the wazoo. Intentionally smack a guy in the head with a baseball bat and you're out indefinitely. But smash a guy into a fiberglass wall, toss off your gloves, grab him by the jersey give him the old one-two and all you get is a 5 minute rest in the corner. I bet Canada would kick ass in a war.
Admittedly, this violence is part of the reason why people watch the sport, and it also makes for some memorable gaming bits. In Midway's NHL Hitz 2002, big hits, big shots and big action take center rink, and the result is actually more fun than it should be.
Hitz is very much in the tradition of action sports games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. It's three-on-three ice hockey mayhem set in a smallish rink featuring all 30 NHL teams. If you've played other action sports games, you should know the drill, and if you haven't, then I suggest taking a shower to wash off the moss stuck to your back from hiding underneath that rock all these years.
There are a number of ways to play. Exhibition and Championship mode allow you to acquire points to spend in the Hockey Shop, where you can buy tons of new goodies like arenas and uniforms. There's also a Skillz mode that allows you to perfect the gameplay mechanics.
In a neat twist, there's a cool Franchise mode that allows you to take a created team through 50 games. As you win, you acquire attribute points to put back into your created players to buff out stats. The only real problem here is that it doesn't really matter how much ass you kick - a win is a win, regardless of the score. So even if you rack up a 15 to 2 victory, you'll get the same points as a 5 to 4 hair-raiser. Stupid communist reward policies.
The depth of the Create-a-Player is actually pretty hefty considering the arcade-style gameplay. You can tweak a plethora of physical attributes to make your own little ice madman. Of course, once I unlocked the zombie heads it was "Team Brains" all the way.
The gameplay is straightforward and moves at a frenetic pace. With a framerate that blazes, things move very quickly and at times it gets a little tough to follow the puck. However, it's very easy to do cool things with the puck once you get it, as the control is tight and responsive. You've got deke and spin buttons to add some style to the moves, though for the most part it's all about quick reflexes and timing.
Probably the best part of the game is the terrific kinetic joy to get when you lay a check on your opponent. Some of the hits are monstrous, at times sending an opponent flying through the glass. It's a definite kick, that's for sure.
What would a game like this be without the fighting? Probably something like wimpy lacrosse. There's plenty of fighting in Hitz, and while the system is pretty simple, it's still leaps and bounds ahead of the crappy fighting in other hockey games. You've got two punch buttons, a grab, a dodge and a block, and when you get used to it you can sort of link together combos. It's not great, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Plus, when you knock a guy out, you don't have to go to that lame penalty box. Instead, the loser gets tossed from the game while the winner gets to gloat and continue playing. Nothing like rewarding violence. Mmmmmm...Lieberman will love that one.
The sound is typical NBA Jam stuff, though I'm impressed with the bazillion nicknames the announcer can call for your created players. The soundtrack is overrun with alternative nu-metal like Limp Bizkit, Korn and Staind, which I'm proud to say I totally hate, but maybe that's just because they don't know how to spell. Whatever.
Like most arcade sports games, the multiplayer potential rocks. The fast-paced gameplay, simplistic controls and brutal hits make for a good party game.
But while NHL Hitz is definitely an easy game to pick up and play, the simplicity also makes for a game with a limited interest factor. After a few hours of checking and one-timers, it starts to get a bit dull. This was the classic problem with the NBA Jam series, and despite the added modes and unlockable goodies, ultimately plagues Hitz.
This could have been alleviated with some advanced moves, or player specific moves, or player specific fighting styles, or really anything that would have bumped the gameplay depth up a notch. Eventually, the fun sort of takes a nosedive because there isn't enough to learn.
However, this still doesn't stop Hitz from shelling out a good deal of dumb fun. Grab a few friends and a case of Labatt's and you've got yourself the perfect rental.