Ranking the Top 15 Sports Video Games Since 2000
Every year, piles upon piles of sports-themed video games are dropped into our laps. The more virtual nourishment that gets thrown our way, the more money we tend to blow.
Dating back to the year 2000—Y2K for short—next-generation consoles allowed developers to build games that pushed the creative boundaries we were accustomed to seeing.
Games got faster, the graphics got better and the gameplay itself embraced new technologies and engines.
Taking an in-depth look at all of the sports titles that have been released since the start of the millennium, we were able to devise a list that counts down the top 15.
How we decided what made the cut was by putting together a home brew consisting of graphics, technological advances and the most important element of all: how much fun you could have playing each game.
Start the slideshow and let's get this great debate underway. Here now are the top 15 sports video games since 2000.
- Top Spin 4
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
- Fight Night 2004
- Madden NFL 13
- FIFA 12
- MLB 09: The Show
- NCAA Football 14
- NBA 2K14
Before we jump into the definitive list, we have to tip our caps to a few titles that just missed the cut.
All of these games were great in their own right, even if they didn't make the final countdown. For clarification purposes, these honorable mentions are not ranked in any specific order.
15. Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX (2000)
The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater movement paved the way for other forms of extreme sports to get their shine on. BMX riding became one of the more popular choices of that genre.
Dave Mirra and Mat Hoffman were two of the sport's biggest names at the turn of the century. Going off their star power at the time, each rider was given his own video game series.
No disrespect to Hoffman, but Mirra's games ended up having a longer replay value.
The original game, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, was the best one of all. Channeling vibes from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Mirra's debut game featured challenging tasks and outlandish tricks, and it dressed all of that up with a crazy soundtrack.
This was the type of game that made you want to grab your bike and try rotating your handlebars as you flew over a mound of dirt. Sadly, unlike the game, where things were made to look easy, real life served as a cruel reminder that you should probably leave that stuff to the pros.
Great games are predicated on how much fun you have while playing them. In the case of Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, the fun rarely stopped.
14. Wii Sports (2006)
Nintendo's original Wii system was groundbreaking at the time. Introducing motion technology on a grand scale, Wii was able to get people up and moving around instead of assuming their stationary video game-consuming positions for hours on end.
Of all the Wii titles to come out focusing on sports, Wii Sports was one of the absolute best.
Serving as a variety show of sorts, Wii Sports featured multiple games you could play ad nauseam. Games like boxing, baseball, tennis and bowling quickly became party favorites among friends.
The beauty of Wii Sports was that it brought back the one-on-one user experience. With the gaming dramatically shifting toward online play, Wii Sports stood out as a throwback.
13. Fight Night Round 3 (2006)
The Fight Night series has been a fitting tribute to all of the inner workings of boxing. It consisted of five installments over the years, and EA Sports did a bang-up job of bringing the sport over to the world of joysticks and buttons.
Out of all the games that came out, Fight Night Round 3 was the one that managed to break the mold while staying true to the franchise's core values.
Listing 27 playable characters and over five venues to duke it out in, Fight Night Round 3 captured the essence of the sweet science like never before. Boxers moved around the ring without any weird hitches, all of the punches they threw were crisp and all of the counters were pungent.
Visually, Fight Night Round 3 was gorgeous. The characters were so detailed, and the motion they used in the ring was reminiscent of how the fighters acted in real life.
When all of those elements came together, it made for a perfect storm of boxing voodoo.
12. SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain (2003)
Making the move to next-generation consoles wasn't easy for the world of wrestling. Finding a new game engine to replace the one fans were used to was the biggest obstacle.
Sticking with THQ as the company's developer, WWE launched WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain in 2003. The result of this joint effort was herculean.
A loaded roster filled with WWE superstars and a re-imagined set of mechanics set the tone for years to come in the industry.
The grappling system that was built was kept simple but sped up. Because of that, wrestling felt more natural, and the pace was perfect. That concoction really helped the gameplay veer into the land of excellence.
One negative aspect about WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain was that it featured no commentary. While this wasn't a problem for the earlier THQ games, it felt weird during the next-gen era.
Brushing that piece aside, WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain found a home thanks to a comprehensive storyline mode. It was a place where you could pick your favorite character and run him through a gauntlet of tasks and matches.
Some will argue until they turn blue in the face that WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is the greatest achievement in wrestling video games. Even if you go the other way on that debate, you can't deny the sheer fun this title brought to fans.
11. Skate 3 (2010)
Those who were searching for a more realistic alternative to the compelling Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise found a place of comfort when the folks at EA Sports came up with Skate in 2007.
Focusing on realistic movements and trick combinations while making those efforts harder to pull off was a total 360 from everything Tony Hawk. Thankfully, it worked.
Building off of the success of the initial Skate and its follow-up, Skate 2, EA plopped Skate 3 onto the industry's plate in '10. Skate 3 took everything we loved about the first two versions and pumped it full of virtual steroids.
Adding another outstanding chapter of story mode into the game, EA was able to breathe life into the world of skateboarding. When you factor in the base of moves, the lush backgrounds, staggering in-game physics and the downloadable content that was made available, what came out the other end was a game that really made folks question their love for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
As a friend of mine told me, "Just watch the intro to Skate 3. The effort EA put into that alone was mind-blowing."
10. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (2009)
This year, we bid farewell to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series thanks to the partnership between Woods and EA Sports coming to an end.
Replacing him on the cover is golf's new main man, Rory McIlroy.
Even with Tiger vanquished from the front lines, fans of golf got some outstanding games with Woods' name plastered on it. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 was the ultimate edition—especially for the Nintendo Wii. Wii's motion system gave users the luxury of swinging a virtual club instead of flicking a joystick.
Usually a tough thing to emulate, the brains behind Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 figured out a way to make that work without any lag or annoying glitches.
The result was astonishing. Taking a great game loaded with various modes and online features and giving it that patented Wii technology was all Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 needed to stand above the rest.
9. NHL 09 (2008)
Pretty much every EA Sports NHL game has been tremendous. There's something distinctive about the franchise that's made it a staple of the video game community.
Picking one gem out of the whole bunch since 2000 isn't easy. But the best one had to be NHL 09.
"Nate Ahearn of IGN scribed at the time. He was right.isn't just a great hockey game, it's one of the best sports games to be released in the last decade,"
The visuals were astounding, the hits were bone-crunching and the goals were almost too fun to snipe home.
A critical focus of the game was its online presence. When EA Sports decided to give consumers the chance to form their very own teams consisting of friends and family, NHL 09 began to take on a life of its own.
To date, it's challenging to find any online mode as robust as that one. Playing with your friends against other homemade teams made for copious amounts of enjoyment. And as any user who has faithfully stuck with the series will tell you, that mode is greatly missed.
With minor flaws and a breezy style of play, NHL 09 easily fits the criteria laid out on the intro slide of this list.
8. FIFA 15 (2014)
The entire FIFA movement produced by the people over at EA Sports has continued to climb the ladder of brilliance, one rung at a time. Every year, the game finds a way to get better.
FIFA 15 was the latest installment that more than lived up to the hype.
Living in an online world, the creators of FIFA 15 were able to build a dense community there. Individual matches continue to have meaning, as a user is able to scale multiple divisions in search of making it to the top.
Aside from going at it by your lonesome, you once again can enjoy a really dope co-op feature as well. Playing with a friend online versus other duos is a good way to spice things up.
Where FIFA 15 makes its loot is in the Ultimate Team section of the game. That's where a player can assemble cards of various players and build his or her very own dream team.
With a gameplay that's nearly flawless, FIFA 15 has quickly cemented itself as one of the premier titles to surface in decades.
7. Madden 2005 (2004)
Madden 2005 became famous over its awe-inspiring franchise mode. Pulling out all of the stops, EA Sports developers enriched the game with radio shows, newspaper stories, mini-games and a well-thought-out trading system.
Like the video lurking above this blurb shows, that specific franchise mode set the game apart from anything else at the time.
When you're able to interweave addicting modes like that with punishing gameplay, well, you've got yourself one of the most imposing football video games in recent memory.
That's why, to this day, avid gamers respect the masterpiece that was Madden 2005.
6. College Hoops 2K8 (2007)
Before you destroy what's left of my credibility for not having any NBA 2K games on this list, please, bear with me.
The reason for that is because the crew who hang their hats at 2K Sports had another masterpiece up their sleeves back in 2007 that surpassed everything else.
College Hoops 2K8 is still the top basketball title to drop since the year 2000 for a host of reasons.
Getting the ball rolling, College Hoops 2K8's gameplay was extraordinary. Similar to the NBA 2K series, this game had a distinct flow about it. The players who were controlled by users featured smooth movements, and those run by computers didn't stand around like zombies.
The crowds were roaring, arenas were shaking and momentum was a huge part of determining the outcome of a contest. That was all thanks to a feature called the "6th Man Advantage."
Legacy Mode once again became the commanding feature that carried this title. You could build a program, create team unity and try your best to win a national championship.
Better than any NBA 2K game, College Hoops 2K8 makes all basketball fans wish this series was still being produced today.
5. NBA Street Vol. 2 (2003)
Compelling sports titles don't always have to be realistic. When NBA Street Vol. 2 hit the shelves in 2003, fans realized that even more.
The best arcade-style NBA game since the early days of NBA Jam, NBA Street Vol. 2 was a throwback to that wild style of gaming. You could really pour it on your opponent with booming dunks, alley-oops that defied gravity and long-range shots.
As "kid-like" as the game seemed to be at face value, the beauty of NBA Street Vol. 2 was that it never got redundant. With a strong wave of graphics pumped into a sophisticated game engine, NBA Street Vol. 2's replay value was immense.
Giving people a choice to either play with basketball legends or stick to using active NBA stars gave users plenty of weapons to go out and ball with.
It was a classic in every sense of the word, and IGN.com even gave it a staggering 9.4 stars out of a possible 10.
4. ESPN NFL 2K5 (2004)
Die-hard football fans will always miss the days when EA Sports didn't have an exclusive license with the NFL. Because when there was competition, all of the games involved got better.
ESPN NFL 2K5 was one of the very best. Created in preparation for the 2005 NFL season, 2K Sports put out a formidable opponent to test the crown Madden had been carrying for years.
Where the Madden series lacked, ESPN NFL 2K5 thrived. The presentation was impressive. Having Chris Berman introduce users to games and weave a story behind them gave this title an authentic feel.
Even with all of the bells and whistles you'd want, no football game can exist without a powerful gameplay engine behind it. As the video above illustrates, the physics present in ESPN NFL 2K5 were so far ahead of their time. Everything looked crisp, and the animations and mechanics felt realistic.
It's tough to completely criticize the Madden franchise. The game has been a staple of the gaming industry for years. That being said, the advancements ESPN NFL 2K5 made at the time were far too groundbreaking to ignore.
3. MVP Baseball 2005 (2005)
To this day, MVP Baseball 2005 is still unrivaled in the galaxy of baseball video games.
At the time, EA Sports was churning out industry-shaking titles. Following that trend, MVP Baseball 2005 became a painite stone in a sea of diamonds.
Focusing in on the gameplay—specifically the mechanics of hitting and pitching—the developers of MVP Baseball were able to create a breathtaking user experience.
For a slower-paced sport like baseball, MVP Baseball 2005 found a way to keep things chugging along.
Visually, the game looked great as well. Watching the trailer above, you'll notice that graphics are still playable today—a feature that most older games don't possess.
The one element that really set this game apart from anything else was its coveted dynasty mode. Taking control of any MLB franchise, a user could draft players and re-tool their roster for up to 120 seasons.
Every great baseball game to come out since MVP Baseball 2005 has learned from this groundbreaking classic. Whether it's pitching meters, batter's boxes or the element of turning a smooth double play, MVP Baseball 2005 is still the gold standard for all things MLB.
2. WWF No Mercy (2000)
Wrestling games over the years have always found a way to appeal to a niche group of sports fans. But the whole world began to take notice when the legendary Nintendo 64 platform helped birth a unique style.
That's when everything changed.
True '90s babies will remember the WCW vs. NWO: World Tour. Released in 1997 by the gaming company THQ, that cartridge provided the blueprint for excellent wrestling games.
In 1999, WCW's rival wrestling company—WWF—joined forces with THQ, and together, those companies created the greatest wrestling video game of our lifetime a year later: WWF No Mercy.
No Mercy took all of the advancements from the prior THQ games and found a way to perfect them. The graphics were a lot stronger, all of the characters acted more like themselves and the arenas were beautiful for the time.
The best mode of all had to be the various multiplayer options. Nothing was better than playing against a group of your buddies and creating all sorts of carnage in and out of the ring.
Blake Norton's IGN review was filled with warm and fuzzy vibes about this title. Giving it a 9 out of 10, Norton wrote "No Mercy is a terrific game from top to bottom." That's a fitting endorsement for such a special game.
1. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (2001)
When you talk about revolutionary sports titles, you have to bow down and pay your respects to the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. Starting out in 1999, this skateboarding franchise changed the playing field.
Nothing plays like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. The developers' wherewithal to find a mix of rabid fun and monstrous tricks created the perfect way to burn hours of your life away.
After the first game dropped in '99, the third edition—Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3—came out two years later and pushed the bar even further.
This version of the series could very well be the most gratifying one. It was the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game to drop on the "next-gen" consoles at the time—PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Besides additional levels and characters, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 also revamped the process of designing your own skate parks. That allowed users to create the perfect combo of skating fun and chaos.
Graphically speaking, THPS3 crushed its predecessor. The levels looked more realistic, and skaters moved way more fluidly throughout the parks. Additionally, the game's soundtrack churned out classic after classic.
When you're conversing about the best sports games ever released, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 has to be in the conversation. Doesn't matter if you're out there conquering tasks or dueling against your buddies, the amount of fun you can have on the sticks is endless.
All video game release dates and information via IGN.com unless noted otherwise.