From the original Nintendo system of the 1980’s, to the next generation of gaming consoles which are around the corner, sports games have been a staple for gamers and sports fans since the beginning. Here is a look at the ten best sports video games ever to be released.
10) Blitz– PS, N64- 1998
This arcade-style release allowed gamers the ability to play a fast-paced, cheap-shotting football game, which still featured NFL teams and players. A few sequels followed, but Midway lost the NFL license in 2005. Instead, the game now featured a fictional league with accompanying storylines. The sequel to this new beginning, Blitz: The League 2, released in 2008, is chalk full of seedy extras, as the gamer is allowed to “juice” players with specific stat-boosting concoctions, snap limbs back into place, as well as dope injured players to get them back on the field quicker. Slow motion cutaways glorify gory injuries, amping up the brutality of the original arcade game. While the 2008 release pushes the envelope further, the original is too good to beat, and remains one of the most fun and addicting sports games ever made.
9) WWE’13– PS3, Wii, X360- 2012
Okay, so wrestling- at least this sort of wrestling- may not be a sport the same way the others on this list are, but there have been some great wrestling games throughout history, and to omit them completely would be an injustice. WWE’13 is certainly the best of them. This game not only features all of your old favorite characters from the 1990’s, along with the current WWE lineup, but allows you to take control of those ’90’s phenoms as you battle your way through the key moments of their careers. Along with all the other, now regular, bells and whistles included in all wrestling games, playing the careers of legends such as Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, and (my all-time favorite) Mankind, simply cannot be beat by any other wrestling game on the market.
8) NBA 2K11– PS3&2, Wii, X360- 2010
The almost complete absence of Michael Jordan from video games was ultimately righted with the release of NBA 2K11 in 2010. Not only was MJ on the cover and included in the game, but players were able to play as the NBA legend throughout the turning points and historic moments of his decorated career. 2K11was essentially a simulated historical documentary that gave players control of the greatest player of his generation, and it was damn fun to play through and relive it. This feature alone earns NBA 2K11 the eighth spot on this list.
7) MVP Baseball ’05– PS2, Xbox, GameCube- 2005
Baseball games do little to separate themselves, at least within the same technological generation, but EA’s MVP Baseball ’05 did just that. It ranks as the best baseball game ever on this list, with the games following it finding it hard to take the same step forward that MVP did in 2005. Gamers could now read pitches while batting, slide to specific points of each base (whether head or feet first), and could literally control every aspect of baseball operations when building a custom ballpark in “Owner Mode.” 2005 introduced a new batter/pitcher interface, and was also the first time that all minor league levels (Triple-A, Double-A, and A) were included with full rosters.
6) Bulls versus Blazers and the NBA Playoffs– Sega, SNES- 1992
Until NBA 2K11 came along, Michael Jordan’s appearances in video games were few and far between. However, this 1992 release had MJ in all his glory. From the bald head to his patented air reverse, Jordan was at full force in EA’s Bulls versus Blazers and the NBA Playoffs. Likewise, other players actually looked like themselves (which was still rare at the time) and had their own signature moves when appropriate. Horace Grant had his famous goggles, Tom Chambers could bust out a double-pump dunk from the 3-pt line, and Shawn Kemp boasted an off-the-glass self-alley-oop dunk. This only scratches the surface of what Bulls vs Blazers offered, and it remains one of the best basketball games ever made.
The Madden franchise is certainly one of the most well-known and successful video game series ever. From John Madden Football in 1998, to Madden 25 set to release on August 27, the Madden franchise has, and seemingly always will be, a staple in sports video games. The 2005 edition earns the nod here, as it introduced the hit stick to the defensive side of the ball, and reestablished the effectiveness of defense as a whole (many complained that the offense had grown too dominant in the earlier 2000 releases).
While a 2009 version, simply titled Punch-out!!, of this game was released for the Wii, nothing beats playing the original 16-bit edition. Classic characters, such as Glass Joe, Soda Popinski, and King Hippo, each had specific weaknesses which were key to defeating them. Without such knowledge, these foes were essentially indestructible, making the game an instant addiction for all players. The accompanying storyline of Little Mac’s ascent helped to give the game immediate success upon its release, and of course culminated in a final showdown against the man himself: Mike Tyson.
What could make for a better basketball game than one with simple controls, 2-on-2 action, no fouls, no free-throws and no out-of-bounds? Nothing. NBA Jam boasts some timelessness as well, seeing rereleases in 2003 and 2010. The 2010 version seamlessly offers the original Jam experience with updated rosters. Historical players/teams (from the original ’93 release) can be unlocked, adding some nostalgia for those who played it on Sega and SNES “back in the day.” However, once again, its impossible to beat the classic edition in all of its 1993 glory. This game is as fast-paced, fun and as addicting as any on this list, but there really needs to be no other explanation than “BOOM SHAKALAKA!”
2) NHL94– Sega, SNES- 1993
NHL94 was the first game ever to have licensing agreements with both the NHL and the NHLPA, and likewise boasts the introduction of one-timers to virtual ice. For the first time in a hockey game, players had the ability to do what they wanted when they wanted to do it, and with all of the real-life NHL stars. This truly was a breakthrough game for its time, and cleared the path for the fantastic releases EA Sports has provided since with NHL10, 11 and 12 (I preferred these years to 13). The release of NHL14 is now right around the corner, hitting shelves on September 10. This release will feature an NHL94 Anniversary mode, and is one of the most talked-about additions in this installment of the now illustrious annual hockey release. NHL94 is so good that 20 years later, people are excited to spend $60 on a brand new game just so they can get a fresh taste of it. It was a groundbreaking game when it first came out, and still has a demand today- over two decades later. NHL94 is the second best sport video game ever made.
You all saw this one coming, right? Tecmo Superbowl has to be the greatest sports video game ever. If the Madden franchise, with its longevity and success over multiple decades, is The Rolling Stones, then Tecmo surely is The Beatles of sports video games. With its overhead, TV-broadcast view, and simplistic gameplay, Tecmo offered a virtual football experience which attracted more than just gamers or football fans. Anyone could play this game, and if you did, you were hooked. NFL fans would notice details such as the parameter settings, which created specific strengths and weaknesses for key players, upping the authenticity of the game and making it a truly historic release. Tecmo Superbowl remains a ridiculously fun and addicting game to this day, 22 years after its release, earning it the top spot among the best sports video games ever.
Thanks also to Matt Spiegel and Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score AM for providing feedback on this piece. Both agreed that Tecmo Superbowl should take the highest honors, though Zawaski, also author of ChicagoNow’s The Red Light District, put NHL94 right there with it at the top.
–Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey: The fast-paced arcade style hockey game was often referred to as hockey’s NBA Jam, although Mr. Zawaski says those honors go to Midway’s 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge.
–RBI Baseball: Many preferred this line for MLB gameplay in the early-to-mid eras of video games. In the 1993 edition, spitballs were available for those willing to try and sneak one past the ump.
–Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball: Offered ridiculous “special” pitch control; 20-strikeout games were easily-attainable for those who mastered the technique. Likewise, homeruns would often travel unreal distances (my longest was a 715ft blast hit by Paul O’Neill of all players).
–WCW vs NWO: Great multiplayer game with classic characters.
–NFL 2K series: A brief competitor to Madden, which was preferred by many during its time.
–Tony Hawk’s series of skater games: Pick one, but if you’re in the mood for some virtual skateboarding action, you’re bound to be pleased with any of them.
–1080 Degree Snowboarding: Solid gameplay and offered racing, time trial and half-pipe modes. Very addicting, great graphics for its time, and I claim that its popularity eventually lead to success of the SSX series.