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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

NHL Hitz 2003

NHL Hitz 2003 is an ice hockey video game published by Midway Games. One version was developed by Black Box Games and released on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube in 2002. The other was developed by Exient Entertainment and released on the Game Boy Advance. It is the second game of the NHL Hitz series. The Game Boy Advance version can be linked with up to three other systems for four-player play.

NHL Hitz 2003

Midway has been making arcade-style sports games for quite some time. The company usually sticks to a pretty basic formula that consists of taking some of the players off of the playing field, removing almost all of the rules, and adding the ability to turbo-boost into your opponents, wildly knocking them over. Last year marked the company's reentry into the hockey market with a new series, NHL Hitz. Hitz stuck to this formula quite well, and the core game was great. However, it was a little too simple for its own good, making it hard for players to really get into it for extended periods of time. NHL Hitz 2003 takes that core gameplay and adds some much-needed depth to fill it out, as well as additional modes of play. The result is a fun, fast-paced game of no-rules hockey that should appeal to fans of Midway's other action sports games as well as fans of the unbeatable pick-up-and-play style of Electronic Arts' 16-bit hockey offerings.

NHL Hitz 2003 looks pretty nice. The players animate well and look solid, though close-ups reveal some occasionally bad player face textures. The game runs fast and smooth, and the crowd around the rink is done in 3D and actually looks surprisingly good. You'll see the crowd occasionally do the wave--it doesn't just repeat the same animation--and the brief shots of spectators between periods look pretty good. The ice and arenas look great, but the real standouts are the hits themselves. Though you see the action from a fairly high vantage point, the checks in this game look absolutely bone crushing. Between the high speed of the action and the check animations, the nastier checks--such as one that knocks the victim through the glass and into the crowd--will make you flinch. The game sound is also very well done, though the commentary doesn't quite live up to the high quality of the arena effects and the sounds of hockey, such as slap shots and checks. While the commentary that is in place is well spoken and occasionally funny, there simply isn't enough of it, and as a result, you'll hear the same speech segments game after game.

While hockey purists will obviously be turned off by the rough-and-tumble nature of NHL Hitz, it's a great game of hockey that anyone can pick up and play. It's simple enough to even appeal to people who aren't really interested in the actual sport. Great multiplayer gaming and added single-player depth make Hitz 2003 a pretty easy game to recommend.

Unlucky 13 isn't wearing a neck brace, but he is losing the puck... Last year, EA's NHL 2002 came out on top. It was a massive improvement over its predecessor, and although Hitz was a damnably enjoyable multiplayer game, it had serious difficulty equalling the huge number of options and gimmicks in EA's NHL series (like the Cards system, which returns for 2003).

However, in the space of a year, EA has done more or less the grand total of nothing. NHL 2003 is a slight update of 2002, with tweaked AI, tightened control and neatly buffed visuals, and new features are pretty thin on the ground. Returning heroes include the Franchise mode and the aforementioned Cards system, and the presentation is up to EA's usual high standards.

Hitz though surpasses its predecessor in every way. It too includes a Franchise mode, and a full NHL Season mode. Like 2003, you can pick from the various teams in the NHL franchise, but you can also develop your own entirely customised team, choosing everything from facial expression and jersey colour to speed and shooting percentages. Meanwhile, NHL 2003 will merely let you mix and match existing NHL players into your own shuffled fivesome, or build your own player and slot him into an existing team.

Visually the games confer and swap ideas between matches as far as I can tell. NHL 2003 has nice, bulky players with finely detailed textures, and like hockey in real life, there seems to be a fine Teflon sheen to just about everything - the ice, the Plexiglas hoardings, the stick varnish, the ref's shoes... Animation is uniformly excellent, and there's almost zero slowdown. The only choppiness occurs when everyone's bunched up in one goalmouth.

Where the two games differ the most is in their approach to matters on the ice. NHL 2003 is hugely varied in how things unfold, and there are a greater number of strokes and things you directly control. For example, shot blocking is quite an easy task, whereas it's totally alien to Hitz, and player attributes impact gameplay quite a bit - keep an eye on who's on the puck, for instance, because that fancy shimmy you're about to try might only work with your substitute's higher deke skills.

Elsewhere on the ice, NHL 2003 suffers from a number of flaws, like the low scoring, the way the puck is apparently glued to the stick (the press chided EA so hard about this behaviour in its footy games that they stopped doing it), and there aren't as many goals from careful build-up play as there are from one-timers and solo efforts.

That is all there is to NHL Hitz 20-03. What happens on the ice, is that you see a huge cross-section of different games as a result. The dynamic is a lot faster than EA's, and there's more room to manoeuvre on the ice with less players. AI seems to have improved since 20-02, and there aren't as many goals nor is there as much turnover as before. Multiplayer, as with NHL 2003, is the best way to play, and the lack of a full hockey team seems to make this a lot more fun than its main competitor.

It's very difficult to say which of these two hockey games you should buy, or even to say which is the most fun for me. Both games have a fair old stab at simulating and stimulating, and both do a good job. Both pack loads of stats. Both have engaging multiplayer modes. NHL 2003 looks slightly better I suppose, but Hitz' soundtrack and commentary is more agreeable. And in terms of longevity, neither game is going to run dry on you within a good few weeks. Personally though, I've found that Hitz just edges it. There's more fluency to the gameplay, and the "on fire" element is handier than EA's aptly named "gamebreaker". Maddeningly, there is little point in buying them both, but they are both worth buying.

How do you follow up a great title from the previous year? That question is asked by many sports game developers with few finding the right mix that achieves continuing success. By improving the graphics, adding new in-depth features, and retaining the hard-hitting formula that Midway brings to the table, NHL Hitz 2003 manages to find a way by not only offering a comparable performance but also dramatically improve their extreme hockey series from the previous year.

NHL Hitz 2003 still has the same adrenaline charged hockey as last year at its core. A hard check may send a player through the glass, helmets are knocked off and slide across the ice, and of course penalties are non existent, allowing the game to become rather rough. In addition, the control is still as responsive and easy to use as last year, critical for decent multiplayer capabilities as new players can quickly become comfortable with the game.

With the improvements and additions made to NHL Hitz 2003, it should be a welcome addition to any sports fan's library. The multiplayer abilities and extreme style of play will also attract players not historically interested in hockey and may reach a larger audience than Midway's flagship NFL Blitz series has.

As an admitted, closet sports fan, I will admit that I love a good sports game experience from time to time. I generally appreciate management areas more than I do the actual gameplay of a sports game, though nice gameplay can definitely help. Great sports gameplay assists in enriching the experience, usually making the sport more believable to the player of the game. Believability clearly was not the goal of our subject for today, howevever, as NHL Hitz 2003 really thrives off of its NBA Jam style of fun. Developed by Skate designers, Black Box, this game came as a sequel to the well received NHL HIiz 2002, and retains all of the positive features its predecessor has, and adds many more.

  • NHL Hitz 2003North American box art.Developer(s)MidwayPublisher(s)MidwayRelease Date(s) Nintendo GameCube NA: September 16, 2002

  • EU: November 1, 2002

Platform(s) Genre(s)Sports (Ice hockey)Rating(s)ESRB04

In the world of NHL Hitz 2003 (stylized as NHL Hitz 20-03), hard-checking and highlight-reel action is common. This year's installment in the action-packed NHL Hitz series showcases three-on-three gameplay with players who leap, glide, check, pass, and score on defenders. New features include a deeper New Season mode, player trades, a playoff tree, and official NHL awards. The game also boasts bigger, stronger, and faster players, plus improved goalie logic, behavior, animations, and control, making it tougher to score. 041b061a72




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