NHL 2003 (GameCube) Review

By Dave Beasley 09.05.2003

Ice Hockey is a game little seen over on these shores however it is still quite popular and even if you don't like the fast paced action of the sport there's still a few good fights to go round.

With EA also producing another well known Hockey game of annual installments they needed to come up with something that would define the two genres, one as simulation and one as arcade. This being the simulation is a much more realistic recreation of the sport although you can tweak it to make it a little more interesting. Not that the original game is boring, the five on five action can be very fast paced and with big hits flying in at you left right and centre it you know this game isn't going to be easy.

There are four main modes of play, Exhibition, Franchise, Playoff and International. In the franchise mode you take control of a team of your choosing to play either a 29, 52 or 82 game season. The franchise mode lasts for 10 seasons so if you go for an 82 game season it's going to take a while. At the end of each season players retire, are traded and can be drafted to your team is constantly evolving. During the season you can trade players and will be offered trades from other teams, you have to be sensible though, you are unlikely to get a player like Paul Kariya if you only offer one of your benched players. Playoffs are as they state, go straight for the Stanley Cup without the hassle of the full season. The usual multitude of trophies are given out at the end. International mode is a competition between up to 16 hockey playing nations. You can select to play a straight league or a league and then playoffs.

Screenshot for NHL 2003 on GameCube

During each game you are given tasks to complete that range in difficulty from simply scoring a goal, to scoring a hatrick with two players in one game or scoring a point with every playing on your team in one game (points are given for goals and assists). The number of points given varies with the skill level you are playing on (easy, medium or hard which can be changed when ever you want during the season) and also on the difficulty of the task you complete (level 1, 2, 3 or 4). These points can be traded for NHL cards, there are 189 to collect in total and it's much like one of those old Pannini sticker books. You buy a pack with no idea of what's inside so you may get doubles or a totally new rare card. This isn't a totally pointless exercise though, the cards can be used in games to boost your own players' stats, bring opponents stats down, cheat or give your players new celebrations you can use when they score. There are also Easter Egg cards (don't ask me why), these are used to deliver things such as Big Head Mode and Player Shrink and Grow.

Screenshot for NHL 2003 on GameCube

There are a whole host of options available to tweak the game to your desired liking. You can change the speed the game moves, the speed of the puck, the bounciness of the puck, the number of penalties that are given, ref harshness and hit power to name but a few. These all make for your own unique style of play and can benefit your opponents as well as yourself. The computer will react to the option you select, so if you turn penalties off prepare to be shoved, tripped and boarded all over the rink. The option is also there to create your own team and player(s). There is no restriction on the stats you give created players and it is far too tempting to name him after yourself and boost all stats to 100. You also have total control over the management of your team; you can change the strategies before, during and after a game. You can set up your lines to your liking and swap them manually on the fly. You decide what players play where and who is and isn't dressed. This control all adds to the overall addictiveness of the game. You really feel like it's your team and you made them as good as they are. You'll love your star players and feel despair if they get injured even for a week. The game keeps countless stats and you'll want your team and players to be at the top of everyone and to win every end of season and playoff trophy.

The actual controls of the game are very easy to master and are customizable to your own particular liking. A 'manual deke' (trick past a player) option had been added too. You can press Y to do it automatically or fiddle with the C-stick to make your own up. Honestly it's not worth using the C-stick, the computer ones are much better. There is also an option to use manual or auto shot targeting, this falls down on a few major points, there is nowhere to practice manual shot targeting, you are not told how to use it and it is incredibly difficult to score using it so it seems a little pointless trying when auto targeting works much better and you don't feel your doing anything different. Although this is a simulation EA have included a game breaker meter a la NBA Street (although it isn't that affective). After dekeing or scoring goals the game breaker meter is filled a little, at full power you are able to slow the play for a short while (much like the breakaway cam) so you can pull off better moves and fool the net minder. It isn't really that useful but is a nice addition to the game.

Screenshot for NHL 2003 on GameCube

The graphics are what you would expect from this type of game. Nothing spectacular, it's a rink, some players and the crowd. There is good crowd detail, but during play 2D flat crowds are still lazily used. The rink is clear and due to the variable puck speed option you can see the puck well and are not chasing a blur for 60 minutes. On occasion you will get a breakaway one on one opportunity, there the play slows and the camera zooms in on your player, this all looks very good but opposing players can get in the way of the camera.

The game commentary is excellent. It occasionally gets repeated but the comments are quite funny, one commentator playing the clown, the other the straight guy. The music is very good with tracks from bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Papa Roach and Default. The game and crowd sounds are good too. You have the classic tunes from the hockey organ any hockey fan will instantly recognize and the crowd joins in with these, shouting 'charge' at the right time. There are authentic 'slap shot' noises and skating sounds that make you feel like you're in the middle of a great game, which you are.

Like most sport games this game is a long as you want to make it. If you play an 82 game season over 10 seasons it's gonna take a while, a 29 game season will still last though. The NHL Card's and task list hold a great deal of appeal and some of the tasks are very hard. There are numerous season and post season trophies to be won that also hold a lot of interest. The fact you can change the skill level at any time during a season is also a good addition. During a long season you are bound to improve so you can change from medium to hard so you don't walk away with it and the game become boring.

Screenshot for NHL 2003 on GameCube

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

This is a true hockey sim. You control every aspect of the game and to some this may seem a little too much detail. If you don't understand the draft system you may find yourself a little lost as there is no real explanation. It plays great though and multiplayer hockey games are always great fun. There is a real sense of control over the team in every respect not just on the ice but for non-hockey fans it may lose its appeal quickly.


EA Sports







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


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