Long after our dreams of playing pro sports fade, our love of sports video games persists. There’s just something about being involved in the action, even if it’s just virtual action. If you’re like me, you probably have fond memories of late-night Madden and BaseWars (yep) tournaments with best friends and brothers. In that spirit, here’s our sports game hall of fame. You’ll no doubt recognize some classics, some newer stars and some forgotten gems…
Blades of Steel This classic marked the first time we ever heard a human voice in a video game. Blades of Steel was almost two games in one—hockey and fighting. Much like NBA Jam, there weren’t many penalties in this game. The only way you were going to the penalty box was by losing a fight. That Konami halftime ad was great, too.
Bases Loaded Back in the ’80s, the two kings of baseball games were RBI (popular in clubhouses today) and Bases Loaded. But BL was the first baseball game that looked like watching a baseball game on TV. Who can forget the batter charging the mound or the floating catcher’s mitt?
Madden NFL 2005 It’s hard to pick a “best” game from the Madden series, but Madden NFL 2005 stands out for a few reasons. The media coverage during the Franchise mode is what older versions of the game were lacking. And the hit stick was controversial at the time but a hell of a lot of fun when you nailed it.
FIFA 14 You don’t have to like soccer to love FIFA 14. The game play is a lot more exciting and smoother because of the new Ignite Engine. The sheer breadth of the game is phenomenal. There are over 30 leagues represented in FIFA 14, meaning that no matter where you watch soccer (or whatever you call it), you can play as your favorite team. Even if it’s the Montreal Impact.
Wii Sports Golf Seriously, how many hours did you waste on Wii Sports Golf? How many cold, rainy Sundays did you and your buddies get together to hack away? When this one came out, the video game market hadn’t seen anything like it before. It made playing videos games a heck of a lot more social than it had ever been before.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! isn’t just one of the best sports games of all time, it’s one of the best games period. You couldn’t simply punch and punch to win. You had to learn, through trial and error, the Achilles heel of every pugilist beyond Von Kaiser. Remember how frustrating King Hippo was before you knew exactly what to do?
NBA Jam Don’t get us wrong, we love realistic basketball games. But there’s something about the cartoonish action of NBA Jam that makes it extra fun. The two-on-two action masterpiece is also the only game on this list that you can carry in your pocket via iOS. Sometimes you just need to strip the game down, get rid of the fouls and let guys wrestle over the ball like (cartoonish, pixelated) men.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 This game that was as fun to listen to as it was to play. Tracks from Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion and Swingin’ Utters introduced a generation of kids to punk rock and heavy metal. And—hopefully—made them want to get outside and skate, too.
WWF No Mercy Fifteen years past its release, WWF No Mercy is still the top dog among wresling games. The Create-A-Wrestler mode was a quantum leap in terms of customization. Changeable outfits and unlockable wrestlers might have appeared before, but we don’t remember it. Ditto on the branching story lines that could make every game totally different.
California Games California Games isn’t just a great sports game. It’s also a beautiful slice of what was so fun about late-80s NES releases. Even in the middle of a New England winter, we could feel the California sun while riding a BMX, throwing a flying disc that was definitely not a Frisbee or practicing footbag moves.
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe There’s a whole genre dedicated to futuristic replacements of football/hockey/boxing. The best, by far, was Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe. It was a hard game to get going, but once you built your team up, you could become unstoppable. Here in the actual 21st Century, we don’t have anything as cool as this sport. But if you’ve ever found yourself pining for a video game version of Rollerball, this is it.