Adriano of Inter Milan.
Excelling at a given sport requires practice, skill, and a love for competition. Those very same attributes that drive people to do well in their favorite sport can also be applied when playing their favorite video game. Combine the two passions and you have a formula for something that has eaten away countless hours from armchair athletes across the globe: sports video games. But video games based on sports also invite a level of role playing, where players can become their favorite athlete, or participate in their favorite sport, and perhaps this is why they are so cherished, and among the top selling games each and every year.
Below is our list of top 10 sports video games of all time. The list considered how good the game was at the time when it was released. So, while Baseball Stars may not be the game of choice today, it was fantastic at the time. Even so, some games are truly timeless and defy our sense of what graphics should look like because the game play is so appealing, such as our number 1 choice.
Bonus: RBI Baseball (1988, Nintendo Entertainment System) – Professional Athletes are allowed some of life’s finest amenities. Perks of the job, we’ll call them. And given their age group, many of them are into video games. What major game system will you find in the Cleveland Indian’s locker room? Not a Playstation 3 or an Xbox 360. Not even a Playstation 2. Nope. We’re talking about the original Nintendo. And the game most likely to be found in the deck? The original RBI Baseball. Professional baseball players on the Indians love crowding around the TV and have contests with one another, even to this day, on a game that came out nearly 20 years ago.
10. Pro Wrestling (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System) – This was the first wrestling game for the Nintendo, and it was awesome. It had a variety of faces (heroes) and heels (villains), each with their own signature moves and styles. Starman could perform a flip and kick his opponent in the face, while the Amazon would utilize brass knuckles to clobber his opponent before hiding them from the referee. Wrestlers could even be thrown from the ring where the fight continued until both wrestlers made it back into the ring or someone was disqualified. Pro Wrestlingpaved the way for future wrestling games, and even the most current spandex grapplers out there share ideas that originated in Nintendo’s first wrestling title.
9. F-Zero (1991, Super Nintendo) – F-Zero, a futuristic racing game, came out shortly after the Super Nintendo was released and quickly made waves. Using what Nintendo referred to as Mode 7, this game brought racing home with some of the best graphics seen on a home console. But even better was the gameplay. With silky smooth controls, the game allowed players to pilot their crafts around tracks at incredible speeds. Throw a few jumps into the mix and introduce pit stops where the vehicles never need to stop, and you have the ingredients for a great racing experience.
8. Tecmo Super Bowl (1991, Nintendo Entertainment System) – The original Tecmo Bowl was awesome. It was simple to learn, had fast gameplay, and Bo Jackson was unstoppable. But then something happened that rarely occurs. The sequel came out, and it improved over the original in nearly every way. The graphics were better, it had more teams, and it featured a battery save system allowing players to play out an entire NFL season for the first time. On top of everything, the game also tracked your stats, so you could check on a weekly basis where your players ranked. Tecmo Super Bowl is still played by many today, and will go down as one of the best football games ever.
7. Mutant League Football (1993, Sega Genesis) – Lots of football games allow for injuries. A guy gets hurt, maybe he’s out for a quarter, or even for a few games. Not Mutant League Football. The variety of mutants within this game died when their stamina was depleted. This led to interesting strategies. For example, if your fastest receiver kept getting pounded after catching the ball, you’d better sub him. And if you have a hard hitting defense and you wiped out enough players on the other team, you could actually make them forfeit for not having enough players. Each team had mutants based on real players, which added to the fun. There was Reggie Fright, Bones Jackson, and the match you never wanted to be on the wrong end of: Joe Magician hooking up with Scary Ice for a pass down the field. Some plays were designed just for killing or maiming guys on the other team, like turning the football into a bomb and then throwing it out there. Heck, you could even bribe the ref to get calls. Few games had as much strategy and were as much fun as Mutant League Football.
6. Baseball Stars (1989, Nintendo Entertainment System) – Baseball Stars was the first game that really allowed the player to manage their baseball team. Teams could be created from scratch and built up into powerhouses. Every player has strengths and weaknesses, and for true fans of the game, this add personality to each baseball player. Close game in the bottom of the 8th and you just got a single, but the base runner is slow? Call in your speed demon off the bench. Another interesting twist that Baseball Stars threw in was allowing women players. But the pure customization is what drew people and kept them on board. Is there really anything more rewarding than taking a team of slouches, fiddling around with it, and eventually turning it into a powerhouse? Baseball Stars allowed that kind of freedom, all while enjoying America’s pastime.
5- Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (2003, Gamecube) – The Mario Kart franchise has always been synonymous with multi-player fun. While these games are really exciting against the computer, if you mix in the human element, the game becomes a near riot. Mario Kart: Double Dash is the pinnacle of the series. All of the classic modes are included, from popping each other’s balloons with homing turtle shells, to racing for the checkered flag. But the new mechanic this game offers to the series is 2 players per kart. If, 2 humans are racing in a single kart, one can drive while the other shoots items and uses their body weight to put some extra lean into the kart on sharp turns. Multiply that by 8 total karts on the track, and it’s possible to play with 16 people, all gunning for each other. All of that probably sounds great, and it is, but the following may illustrate just how much fun the game is. I have a friend who doesn’t really play video games. We’ll call her Andrea. I invited Andrea and her boyfriend over and we ended up playing some Mario Kart: Double Dash. It wasn’t until around 2 in the morning that we finally called it quits.
4. World Series Baseball 2 (1996, Sega Saturn) – This is the best baseball game ever made. Sadly, not many people were able to experience it. It came out for a system that never really took off, and quietly made a splash to those who were lucky enough to get their hands on it. It’s not the most realistic game of baseball, but it is the most fun. Featuring all of the real team, great graphics, and incredibly fast and satisfying gameplay, World Series Baseball 2 dominated the competition. But the experience was even deeper for players who decided to create their own teams and players. With a robust yet streamlined player creation system, you could make baseball players by assigning them several attributes. Sure, there were the obvious choices, like Power and Speed, but then there was one called Mysterious. Original ideas like this in conjunction with a baseball game that offered more pure fun than any other before it is the reason this one ranks so high.
3. Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (2008, Playstation 3, Xbox 360) – Birthed from a series that began on the Super Nintendo called International Soccer Superstar, it has evolved over several console generations into what is the best soccer (or football, if you’re on the other side of the pond) game around. The gameplay is so robust that no two goals ever seem quite the same. The ball can ricochet off the post and then hit off the keeper’s foot and go in. Or a ball that is bicycle kicked can end with a diving header into the net. If it’s possible in real life, chances are it can be reproduced in this game. But it doesn’t stop there. Add one of the most intricate player creation options, a franchise mode that allows you to manage your club for years, and a deep set of moves that will take months to master, and you have an incredibly solid soccer game that is infinitely playable. Where gameplay is king, this game of soccer rules the landscape with a mighty fist.
2. ESPN NFL 2k5 (2004, Playstation 2, Xbox) – This is the pinnacle of video game football. No game is more realistic or as much fun as NFL 2k5. What makes this game stand out is the responsive controls and the plethora of animations that allow things on the field to play out smoothly and realistically. Add to the great gameplay all of the options and extras, such as pimping out your crib (a house where you can buy decorations and even play mini games such as air hockey and paper football) and playing in online leagues, and you have the most polished, complete football experience ever made. However, one of the most creative and original options in the game is the profile system. The game saves a profile for each player, recording their tendencies. After playing a friend of mine a few times, I then played against his profile, and it was uncanny how similar it played to the human counterpart. All of these things combine to form the perfect football package. How great is it, you ask? Following the release of the game, Electronic Arts (the makers of Madden Football, and the direct competition to this game) purchased the rights to the NFL to keep 2K sports from making NFL games. In the meantime, fans of the NFL 2K5 game have formed a community where yearly roster updates are created and offered for free online just so they can continue playing their favorite football game.
1. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System) – Boxing is a sport about turtling down and waiting for that opening. And then, when it’s there, unloading fury on the other guy’s face. While boxing games have attempted to capture this, none have been able to in the way that Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out does. The boxers in the game each have their own personalities, fighting styles, and patterns, and the art direction used to portray them creates a cartoon-like universe. Even so, the look of the game belies the beauty of the gameplay. Jabs to the face and stomach require timing. Dodging left and right require skill. And there’s no feeling like hitting a guy with a left to set him up for a big uppercut. With each fight, you’re challenged more and more until the final bout arrives, and before you realize what’s happening, you’re standing toe to toe with Iron Mike. Those who could get to Tyson were good. Those who could defeat him were amazing. From the graphics that displayed sweat flying off a guy’s brow on hard hits, to the truly memorable gameplay, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out has stood the test of time, and is our number 1 sports video game.
Punch Out is right around the corner.
And with Punch Out winning the honors, it should be noted that in fewer than two weeks from now (May 18th), a new iteration of Punch Out (pictured to the left) will be released for the Nintendo Wii. The best sports game in history will get another long awaited follow up.
Blades of Steel
John Madden Football ‘93
If you love sports games and missed some of these classics, do yourself a favor. Go back and try a few of them. Some are harder to find than others (good luck locating World Series Baseball 2), but each is incredible in its own way. And, as always, please let us know what you thought of our list. Was it spot on? Did we miss something? Would your list be completely different? Your opinion is important.