Today, only a handful of companies publish licensed sports games. These include EA, 2K, and Sony Interactive Entertainment. The previous two decades were another story. Companies like Sega, Acclaim, and even Nintendo published their own MLB, NFL, and NBA games. One name that stood above them all, in my opinion, was Midway.
Midway was responsible for classics such as NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, and they also made MLB Slugfest, which I grew up with. Today, I’m talking about a GameCube game that I found at a game store recently and didn’t know it existed until then. That game is NHL Hitz 20-02.
This game happens to be a GameCube and Xbox launch title, though it was released two months earlier on the PlayStation 2.
Like Midway’s other sports titles, this game is very over-the-top in tone. It actively tries to draw you into the craziness with an early 2000’s soundtrack and fast-paced gameplay. It works, and it mostly shows in the gameplay.
NHL Hitz 20-02 is the first in the NHL Hitz series, and it is pure chaos. Like real hockey, it is very fast-paced, and it partly relies on finding the right opportunity to strike. Unlike real hockey, it’s 3 on 3 the entire time, there are no penalties, no power plays, and no mercy. It bears a striking resemblance to Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the Nintendo 64. The simple controls of pressing A to pass, B to shoot a goal, Y to spin, X to check, and R to activate your turbo are easy enough to learn. However, it seems a little random as to whether or not the puck goes into the net. Sometimes I think that finding the right window is key, but other times I feel like it should’ve went in when it didn’t. Also, the simple fighting system that eliminates the losing team member for the rest of the game can get quite frustrating (blocking is key).
Like other Midway sports games, it utilizes a cheat code system in which you have to change three symbols and a direction on the D-pad to get a code. A lot of these are cool, like telling you how fast you shoot the puck, making every check more powerful, and the expected big head mode. If you don’t know the codes, then you’re in luck since four very nice fans hold up signs telling you what to do.
Presentation-wise, the game is fine. It’s not the prettiest GameCube launch title, but the graphics are fine enough. The soundtrack is early 2000’s rock, including the intro playing Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’.” The Undertaker would be proud. There is also commentary by the legendary Tim KItzrow, who did Midway’s other sports titles like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. He does a fine job here, and it’s entertaining hearing him yell all the players’ last names.
Despite the seemingly random scoring and occasional frustration, NHL Hitz 20-02 is still a very fun game. I think it’s just as good as Gretzky, but I give Hitz an extra nod because more of my friends are familiar with the GameCube than the N64. It has been very popular among the Mid-American Culture crew because it is hectic and easy to play. If you have a GameCube, Xbox, or PS2 and you need a fun multiplayer game, I recommend giving this title a shot. It’s a fun time.
Thanks for reading!