The 5 Best Sports Video Games of the Last Decade

Max Minsker@@MaxMinskerCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2011

The 5 Best Sports Video Games of the Last Decade

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    While talking on Xbox Live with fellow Bleacher Report writers and sports video game junkies Eli Wade and Joe Blair, a debate over the best sports games of our generation escalated quickly.

    We have been playing sports video games for as long as we have been able to hold a controller. From Madden '02 to MLB 2K11, we have seen it all.

    For the record, I am extremely biased against the NHL. Since I have never owned an NHL game, none of those games will be here.

    Games will not be judged on how fun they would be to play today, but rather a criteria based on a few essential questions. First, would you have played the game in the sport's offseason? Second, how did the features compare to the game from the previous year? Third, how much enjoyment did you get from the game in comparison to the other games in the series? Finally, how good was the game in comparison to the other sports games from that year?

Honorable Mentions

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    NFL Street

    The original NFL Street was a great game. The franchise itself was tainted by the sequels, but the original was solid.

    Not only were pickup games with random groups of players and legends awesome, but the create a team function was great as well. This game never got boring because you had a chance to play with different teams every time, and it took forever to beat the ladders.

    Overall, NFL Street is close to the top five, but it's not quite there because it took a back seat to the mainstream games of that year. It had more staying power over the years because the other versions were terrible, but it wasn't the top game in its year, so it barely misses.

     

    Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2

    This game is definitely more underground, but it was unbelievably fun for its time. It was far and away the best of the series, highlighted by the solid one-player story mode. The cheats were also pretty sweet. You could unlock unlimited hangtime or even play as Spider-Man. IGN gave it a 9.6/10, and gamespot.com gave it a 9.9/10.

    It was originally made in 2000 for PlayStation, but I played it well into 2005. In my opinion, this was by far the best game of that year. I'm not sure everybody would consider this a sports game, but it was a great game nonetheless.

     

    MLB The Show '06

    MLB The Show was a revolutionary game. It marked a lot of firsts for MLB games. Most importantly, it was the first break point game in MLB video games, which is extremely important. It was also the first MLB game to employ a My Player version called "The Show." It also allowed players to manage minor league teams in franchise mode, something relatively new to baseball video games.

    Sadly, The Show was not one of the best two games released in 2006 and does not make it into the top five.

5. MVP Baseball 2004

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    MVP Baseball was possibly the most well-received baseball franchise ever. Most serious MLB fans remember the good old days of MVP, when the game was simple yet fun and gamers didn't expect all that much from these franchises. 

    Back in 2003, the original MVP was launched, and it did surprisingly well. To put things in perspective, when MLB 2K9 was launched, it did pretty well, but looking back we realize it was really a pretty awful game. I remember having slugfests with Joe that would end 19-17. How realistic is that? Outfielders routinely missed fly balls, and half of all hits were home runs. It just didn't make sense.

    If you have played both and you had to play either MVP '04 or 2K9 right now, which one would you pick? I don't know which one you picked, but I know you had to think about it, and that's what counts.

    Personally, I was a big fan of 2003, but 2004 was definitely a lot better. They cleaned up the gameplay, improved the dynasty mode and finally put in minor league teams. MVP Baseball was undoubtedly much better than any other baseball game made to that point.

    If you were going to play one game from 2004, when the graphics were questionable at best, and with the rosters now outdated, I bet you would play MVP. It was by far the best game made that year, and I believe it was the fifth-best of this decade.

    Photo: ign.com.

4. NCAA Basketball 10

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    Of the games on this list, NCAA had by far the worst graphics for its time. However, that doesn't mean it wasn't a high-quality game.

    It had its fair share of quirks and deficiencies, but people who really got into it just couldn't get enough. I have friends that aren't even that into college basketball that still play that game. It may not be the most technically sound game ever made, but it certainly passes in the enjoyment department. I've had more classic matchups in that game than I can count, and the one-player franchise mode is very entertaining.

    I think this game definitely gets a boost for being the only semi-respectable NCAA basketball game around, but if I was going to play one game from 2010 right now, it would definitely be NCAA Basketball 10. In fact, I just played it with a buddy of mine a couple days ago. I go to work with Greivis Vasquez.

    There were a lot of things that could have been better about NCAA 10, but it was a fun game, and a game I definitely played for countless hours out of season. There are definitely arguments against this being a well-made game, but it was definitely one of the more enjoyable games of this decade. There is no doubting that.

3. Madden NFL 06

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    In my opinion, Madden NFL 06 took the series to new heights and was the most evolutionary Madden game. I have owned every Madden since 2003, and 06 was by far my favorite.

    Many people hate on passer vision, but I was one of its few fans. It makes the passing game more skill-based and gives people an incentive to run the ball. I think it improved Madden and further rewarded teams with good quarterbacks. Precision Passing was also introduced in this Madden to go along with passer vision.

    The other big thing in Madden 06 was Superstar Mode. Still in its early stages, Superstar wasn't nearly what it is now, but it was big back then. Everyone was interested in Superstar, especially since you could import your player from NCAA Football.

    Madden 06 also brought us Truck Stick, which most of us couldn't live without. Truck Stick is a feature that allows powerful running backs to shed tackles at will, and it has become a staple in all Madden games since. 

    In my opinion, the graphics also took a huge step forward in 2006, and as usual, the gameplay was cleaner than ever. Playing Madden 06 isn't nearly as fun now, but it laid the groundwork for every Madden game since then. I'd say more development was made in Madden 06 than in the previous two or even three Maddens. This is a game that definitely kept my interest past football season.

    The only reason Madden 06 isn't in the top two is because it was the second-best game that came out that year.

2. NBA 2K11

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    NBA 2K11 is one of the best sports games ever created. It's possibly the best all-around sports game ever created.

    NBA 2K11 brought on so many new features that it has to be considered one of the great games. Being a huge NBA fan, I am biased, and I'll admit as much, but you have to hear me out.

    It starts with the classic teams and the Jordan Challenges. You can play with Michael Jordan in many different stages of his career against some of his biggest competition, including Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Patrick Ewing and more. There are 10 challenges in all, and they range in difficulty. After beating the challenges you can start a My Player with Jordan.

    The My Player feature starts you at the combine with some five-on-five scrimmages with the best rookies around. Depending on your performance, you get drafted and you're off to the races. There are quite a few ways to improve your player, and it's easy to get addicted. Trust me. I would know.

    If your My Player gets good, you can team up with friends and start a crew and play other crews using your players.

    The dynasty mode is better than ever and includes features that will definitely keep you busy for a while. My biggest complaint comes in the fantasy draft category. When you pick a player, they reassign contracts according to the pick, so it's impossible to pick a team that isn't already $20 million above the cap. Still, it's fun either way.

    While the 2K servers are terrible, the game is one of the most versatile sports games ever. Between the gameplay, Dynasty mode, My Player, Jordan Challenges, classic teams and crews, this game is the complete package. It definitely passes the game of the year and "playable during the offseason" tests, as I had to take a break from playing with my crew to write this article.

1. NCAA Football 06

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    NBA 2K11 made it close, but NCAA Football 06 is the best sports game of the last decade. I got it for Christmas the year it came out, and I quickly became addicted to playing it. It was the introduction of Race for the Heisman, and the dynasty mode improved quite a bit.

    In 2006, almost every major sports franchise came out with variations of "My Player," and NCAA was no different. The Race for the Heisman was the original—at least it felt that way.

    You had your trophy case, your weekly letter, the depth charts and, most importantly, the picture of your girlfriend constantly changing with the increase of your Heisman hype.

    You do a simple drill at the beginning to determine which schools you can attend, and from there you start immediately and jump right into college culture. As soon as your four years are up, you can import your player into Madden to start your Superstar, which made it feel much more worthwhile.

    NCAA 06 brought the dynasty mode in NCAA to a whole new level and made it much more fun to play. NCAA 06 also introduced the impact player and cleaned up the gameplay.

    By the time NCAA Football 07 came out, I was too obsessed with 06 to buy it. I rented it and decided I would just go with 06 for another year. Or two.

    The thing that really pushes that game over the top is its soundtrack. No other game can come close to competing with that soundtrack. Every time a new song comes on, I say to myself, "I forgot how much I love this song!" Every time. My favorite from the soundtrack has to be "Teenage FBI" by Guided By Voices.

    No other NCAA game has had a soundtrack before or since. My guess is that they realized their next soundtrack could not possibly live up to expectations, so they decided to not have one at all. There is no debate among any of my friends about which sports game has the best soundtrack—no other game can touch NCAA 06.

    This was the most enjoyable game of all time. I've logged more hours than I'd care to admit playing NCAA Football 06, and after much deliberation, I, along with Joe and Eli, decided NCAA 06 is the greatest sports game of the last decade.

    In the best year ever for sports games, this one was the best. The best game in the best year takes the title.

     

    Make sure to check out the Bleacher Report profiles of Eli Wade and Joe Blair, and Follow me on Twitter @MaxMinsker.