On December 25th, children all over the world will scurry from their bedrooms in the wee hours of the morning to see what Santa Claus has left them while they slept so soundly. For many people such as myself, our Christmas mornings were ripe with toys, clothes and of course video games. It is in this spirit that I give you my personal top 10 sports video games.
10. Major League Baseball Feat. Ken Griffey Jr: While this game wasn’t as realistic as others, it definitely packed the most punch. Released on May 25, 1998, Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. ate up more summer hours for me and my friends than I care to mention. Whether it was playing out a full season as your favorite team and trying to win the World Series, or just playing the kid down the street in a head to head match up, this game really knew how to keep you smiling for hours. The game’s true value however came in the Home Run Derby mode. In the late 90’s when steroid riddled baseball players were crushing records and blasting 450 foot homers, this game let you get a taste of the action. Up to four players could select their own 4-man derby team to battle for the most and longest home runs. However, the most lasting memory of this game for me will always be its’ entertaining intro/song with sound bites by Ken Griffey Jr. himself.
9. Mike Tyson Punch-Out!!: At the height of his fame, World Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson became the star of his very own video game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! In the game, players control the fate of a young boxer named “Little Mac” as he fights his way through a cast of colorful and comical characters on his way to a showdown with the champ himself, Mike Tyson. While your controls are limited, the game’s difficulty kept players coming back for more. While EA Sport’s Fight Night titles have become the gold standard in boxing simulation, the nostalgia and difficulty of Punch-Out!! makes it the only boxing game on this top 10 list.
8. Madden 2004: While every edition of the Madden franchise has been a financial success, Madden 2004 was the last installment whose updates truly gave you a bang for your buck. Madden 2004 gave you full control of the destiny of both your team and your franchise as a whole. If your team was playing well you could raise not only ticket prices, but concession prices as well. If your team was terrible and attendance was dwindling, you could lower ticket prices to try and increase your revenues. If you got fed up with your city, you could uproot your franchise and move it to a different city with no hesitation. Madden 2004 let you have as much fun in the front office as it did on the field. Another key addition was the ability to run your team’s training camp during the off-season. If you were able to complete certain training camp mini games with ease, then your young players would blossom and grow at a faster rate.
7. SSX Snowboarding: For Floridians such as myself, the pixelated mountains of SSX are about as close to real life snowboarding as we will ever get. While SSX is obviously not a realistic snowboarding simulation, it is by far the most fun. A wide array of absurd and extreme tricks gave players a quality and intense snowboarding experience. The mountain paths and worlds that you played through were vibrant and challenging. One of the most appreciated aspects of SSX was the quality soundtrack that adjusted itself based on how you were doing during your runs.
6. NBA Jam: Released in 1993, NBA Jam was one of the first NBA games built for arcades as well as one of the first games to feature NBA-licensed teams and players. While current games such as NBA 2k13 are impressive displays of realism, NBA Jam was beloved for its overly exaggerated physics and game play. This game threw the laws of physics and realism to the wind and fans ate it up. Players could jump insanely high which lead to some of the most amazing and out of this world dunks in NBA gaming history. The game was also filled with celebrity cameos including former President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton as a playable team. One of NBA Jam’s greatest legacies however is giving NBA fan’s terms like “he’s on fire!” and “boomshakalaka!” to be used for years to come.
5. Mario Tennis: While Mario Tennis was obviously not the most realistic tennis simulation available, it was definitely the most fun. All of your favorite Nintendo characters from the Mario universe were now at your disposal to be used on the tennis court. Each character having their own strengths and weaknesses helped give the game a sense of diversity as players tried to find characters that matched their play style. The true appeal of Mario Tennis was not only its wacky game play, but also the simplicity of the controls. Anyone could pick up a controller and within thirty minutes have a very good feel for the game. Mario Tennis was able to re-brand tennis for younger gamers and make it more accessible as a sport for years to come.
4. Wii Sports: Love it or hate it, Wii Sports was a true sports gaming revelation. What other game could get your grandma off the couch to hit home runs, or get your mother fired up enough to yell “BOO YAH!” in your face after firing yet another ace in Wii Tennis? While many of the game modes lacked depth, the full body involvement that each game required kept you playing. Wii Sports did a great job in bridging the gap between hardcore gamers and the everyday masses.
3. NHL 13: While this choice may be slightly unpopular, the fun that NHL 13 has given my friends and I during this current NHL lockout cannot be overstated. With no real NHL action being played, my friends and I have dove deep into every game mode that NHL 13 has to offer. League games in the EA Sports Hockey League are always a blast as you and your friends take control of a single player made skater and try to work together as a team towards victory. However, the biggest upside to NHL 13 has been the new “GM Connected Mode” that has given us countless hours of joy. Each player takes control of a single franchise and is tasked with building a quality team while conducting business from both the front office and the ice. As we approach our first playoff series, the trash talking and game intensity has reached new heights. This new mode and NHL 13 as a whole has provided much enjoyment in these somber hockey times.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2: While the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater took both skateboarding and video games to new heights, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 polished the already stellar game play and made crucial additions that the first game lacked. One of the key additions to this installment was the ability to do manuals – balancing on two wheels – which allowed players to string together incredibly long and complex trick combos for massive points. Friends would compete for hours trying to come up with the highest scoring and most impressive trick. The two other main additions were all about customization. You now had the ability to design both a character in your image as well as your very own skate park. Skate park creation was immensely popular as gamers were now able to create their own fantasy parks to fit their skating needs. Lastly, much like the original THPS, THPS2 is also widely known for its’ impressive rock/rap/punk soundtrack that helped mold the musical tastes for many young gamers. For me personally there are few greater moments in gaming then pulling off a 1080 “christ air” while “Guerrilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine blasts through my television’s speakers.
1. NHL 94: While some readers may remember my long love letter to NHL 94, I still have not run out of great things to say about this timeless classic. Although in the ’94 installment of the series fighting was removed, the addition of the one timer took scoring and game play to new heights. Many gamers are still waking up in a cold sweat with nightmares of Jeremy Roenick’s slap shot or Pavel Bure’s blazing speed. And if the 1996 movie “Swingers” taught us anything it is that it’s always fun to make Wayne Gretzky bleed.
This list has just been my own personal top 10 list of sport’s video games. I encourage everyone to share their own favorite games and memories!