[Feature] SPORTS! (but not the Huey Lewis and the News album)

Published on February 11th, 2014

So, having been without working headphones for a week or two, I’ve currently been catching up with the Ready Player 2 podcast. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate the team on their stance on the bullying of Zoe Quinn and the increasingly disturbing nature of online bullying in general, as discussed on Episode 25. It’s an issue that I will absolutely be writing more about in future, especially in light of the recent Flappy Bird debacle, with online death threats being one of the alleged reasons for Doug Nguyen pulling his game from public circulation.

However, that’s a discussion for another time.

For the purpose of this article, I’m actually going to be writing about something that bothered me to a much lesser degree, but bother me it did nonetheless – namely the Top 3 feature. It’s always a hugely entertaining part of the podcast, and the answers provided – no matter how off-the-cuff – are always great. However, this particular Top 3 quickly descended into farce, as I listened to Rich, El and Lewis scramble around pretending to have played 9 sports games. I felt genuinely sorry for Ross, and would personally have disqualified at least two of them (Rich probably gets a pass for at least being able to adequately describe Death Row on the original Xbox).

I lamented this on Twitter with Ross, and that’s when I realised that I was perhaps being a little harsh. After all, some people don’t like sports games. To quote El herself, “different strokes for different folks”. So, I write this in support of fellow sports game aficionado, Ross…my own top 9 sports games of all-time. My only restrictions were that I may only choose one game per franchise, and that only competitive sports driving games could be considered (sorry, El, but Crazy Taxi just isn’t going to cut it here).

9) International Karate + (ZX Spectrum 48K)

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I was determined to get one Spectrum game on here, because I’m an old man, but that shouldn’t take away from the rollicking good times I had with this game. Yes, you could argue that three-man karate isn’t a sport, but karate is, and this is my list and nyah, nyah, nyah to you. In all seriousness though, IK+ is well-loved – even to this day – because it’s actually a pretty good representation of the martial art it takes its cues from. It played at a nice pace – methodical, but not glacial. It had a lovely graphical style, coupled with good animation. It had decent collision detection, which – as anyone who ever played a Spectrum game will know – isn’t the easiest thing to implement. It kept everything simple with its most extravagant move being the splits kick which allowed you to make contact with an opponent at either side. And, of course, if you left the combatants standing still for too long, their trousers fell down. What’s not to love?

8) The Bigs 2 (Xbox 360)

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I’m sorry, baseball is a dreadful sport to watch. The episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gives up drinking, goes to a baseball game and suddenly realises how mind-numbingly dull it is, perfectly represents my feelings on the sport in general. So, why is there a baseball game on this list? Simple…they took the only interesting part of the game of baseball – the batting (or more specifically the actual hitting of the ball with the bat) – and turned it into a proper spectacle. There aren’t many more satisfying individual gaming moments than catching a 95mph fastball flush and watching it fizz away like a comet (complete with trails), as fireworks lit up the sky like a Wrestlemania opening segment. It even attempted to make the other side of the sport more interesting by allowing the pitcher to save up specials and score three outs in super-quick succession. Joyous.

7) Virtua Tennis (Sega Dreamcast)

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For me, there’s still never been a better representation of the sport of tennis than this Sega classic, and I speak as someone old enough to remember playing Match Point on the Spectrum, so I know my tennis games. Even later iterations in the franchise couldn’t match the accessibility of the original, which combined simple controls and the natural pace of the sport it was simulating, and wrapped them up in that glorious 1990s Sega colour palette. It was also one of the first console tennis games to give its players genuinely different characteristics, which provided each game with a level of strategy not often seen in tennis games up to that point.

6) WWF Wrestlefest (Arcade)

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Truth be told, Wrestlefest would feature higher on my favourite games list than it does on this sports games list, and that’s only because wrestling in this guise isn’t technically a “sport” per say. However, IT’S STILL REAL TO ME, DAMN IT, so on this list it stays. Wrestling games are a notoriously difficult genre to get right. For every Wrestlefest, Wrestlemania 2000, Fire Pro and WCW/nWo Revenge, there’s a WWF Attitude or TNA Impact: The Game. WWF Wrestlefest got on the right side of the equation by nailing the late 80s/early 90s aesthetic of the wrestling world – huge men in colourful spandex – and tying it to an unfussy control scheme which naturally progressed towards the finishing moves that each wrestler was known for. DDT for the win, yo.

5) NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Sega Megadrive)

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Leaving the NBA 2K series off this list was the most difficult decision I had to make, but I was trying to avoid repetition of sports on this list, so I had to go with this, the best arcade-style basketball game of all time. In fact, it’s probably the second-best arcade-style sports game of all time (no.1 on that list follows shortly). NBA Jam actually offered up a pretty decent representation of 2-on-2 basketball in its own right, but it was everything else around it that made it so great. You want to be able to blatantly foul an opponent with no recourse? NBA Jam’s got you covered. Want the ball to act like a flaming homing missile, once you’ve drained three shots in a row? Yeah, that can happen. Want to launch into triple-somersault slam dunks, capable of knocking over players, as you hear “BOOMSHAKALAKA” being screamed over the crowd noises? NBA Jam, baby. Just all-out, balls-to-the-wall, riotous fun.

4) FIFA 09 (Xbox 360)

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There are two football games on this list. Yes, that represents a repetition of sports, but it also represents two completely different takes on the sport. For this take on the sport – the actual physical (well, virtual physical) playing of football, FIFA 09 is the best football game of all time. The last FIFA to truly strike the balance between fast-paced arcade-style play and methodical sim-based game mechanics, FIFA 09 was happy to reward you with goals created from 25-pass moves, but was also happy to occasionally let you blast in the odd 45-yard volley into the top corner. Playing it now makes it feel like even more of a throwback, coming as it did in a time before introducing complicated defensive moves and overpowered trick stick showboating.

3) John Madden Football ’92 (Sega Megadrive)

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I think if I had been aware of the two cheap plays that worked every single time on Madden, then this game probably would have featured much lower on this list. Every game would have ended up something ridiculous like 105-3, and I’ve have gotten bored pretty quickly. Instead, I went into the game knowing a bit – but not much – about American football in general, and found a deep, but accessible and hugely enjoyable simulation of the sport that caused me to lose several hours at once in any single play session. I learned about the sport and had fun doing so. Throwing up Hail Mary passes, snapping a defence with a long run and demolishing opposing QBs was all in a day’s work. And, secretly, I liked it when a player got injured, just to watch the ambulance cart mow over half a dozen players on its way to the field. Good times.

2) NHLPA ’93 (Sega Megadrive)

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Disclosure: I have absolutely no interest in ice hockey as a spectator sport. I get my fast-paced end-to-end sporting kicks from the NBA. Ice hockey as a video game? MUCH different story altogether. NHLPA ’93 is the only reason I know who Mario Lemiuex, Jaromir Jagr, Jeremy Roenick and Mark Messier are, but they were gods in that game. In my entire history of playing sports games, there wasn’t much more satisfying than going one-on-one with the goaltender on a fast break, pulling the double shimmy, then flicking the puck into the opposite corner. And who didn’t love smashing an opponent into the boards? Probably my favourite local multiplayer game of all time. And, yes, the Megadrive was definitely my go-to console for sports goodness.

1) Championship Manager 01-02 (PC)

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Hey, at least it’s a PC game at no.1, right, guys? Guys? Why are you running away? Oh well, never mind. As someone who has been playing the Championship/Football Manager franchise for approaching 20 years now (shut it), choosing one iteration was nigh-on impossible. I eventually settled on Championship Manager 01-02 as it was one of the last truly accessible entries in the series, whilst still providing a huge depth of players and statistics for you to delve into. Thanks to Sports Interactive eventually releasing the game for free, and to an avid community of fans and modders alike, the game is still being updated to this day with up-to-date rosters and a ton of new tactics, so I can enjoy it as much now with the Messis and Ronaldos of the world, as I did back then with the Zidanes and other Ronaldos of the world.

Honourable mentions: Windjammers (Neo Geo), Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360), NBA 2K13/14 (Xbox 360), PGA Tour Golf 2 (Sega Megadrive), Footballer of the Year (ZX Spectrum)

 

Andy’s a top man to the RP2 cause, and writes occasional wordy wonders.
If it tickles your fancy you can follow his ramblings on twitter here: @PsychTyson
Or leave a comment below.

Images used under creative commons, rights to respective publishers/ manufacturers.

 

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