The Top 35 Must-Play Sports Video Games of All Time
A great many of us are athletically challenged, and only a handful of us actually go on to play sports in high school or college, much less professionally.
Thankfully for the rest of us, there are video games.
They allow us to pretend we're Joe Montana or Michael Jordan—and occasionally a hockey-playing mutant—when we're sitting in our boxers on the couch.
I've compiled a list of my top 35 sports video games. I ranked them mostly according to my personal preference, though I threw some in that I know I'd be skewered for if they weren't included.
Enjoy, and please save your scalding criticism 'til the end.
35. World Class Track Meet, NES
I don't know a lot of people who've played this, probably because there weren't many people who owned a power pad.
But I did, and I was the coolest kid on the block. Plus, I had a pool.
The objective of the game was simple: stomp your feet down really fast on the power pad. That's right, it required no thinking, but damn did we feel like we were accomplishing something.
As an adult, it's none too challenging and would probably only be good in the way of nostalgia, but it was awesome in its day.
If you could stomp fast enough, you could beat Cheetah, the champion.
34. Mega Man Soccer, Super Nintendo
This game combined my love of Mega Man and soccer. They called it...Mega Man Soccer. Shut up, they were busy that day. Sure, it wasn't the most technical game, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.
As with other Mega Man games, you would fight your way through enemy robots on your way to defeating Dr. Wily. Only this time, you defeated enemies with your feet, and instead of stealing their powers, you got to play as them.
You could even do a super shot twice a game that would send your enemy into convulsions if it hit them, unless you were playing Dr. Wily.
That bastard was invulnerable.
33. Sports Talk Baseball, Genesis
This was the first baseball game with commentary, so that's either a good thing or bad thing depending on who you ask, as it could be annoying.
As for me, I employ a two-television system. On one TV, I play the game on mute. On the other TV—adjacent to the first TV—I watch ESPN.
You should give it a try sometime. It works beautifully and, most importantly, you never miss a thing. Plus, I hate sports game commentary, so playing on mute is great.
As for the game, it's a lot like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball—you'll be seeing that later. I just wanted to appease the Genesis fans, like myself. People are weird about their consoles.
In any case, it's a fun game and definitely worth playing.
32. Greatest Heavyweights, Genesis
Fight your way through the greats by punching them high, low, or with an uppercut. Yeah, that's about it, but it's effective.
Perhaps you haven't heard of my book, "Jumpkicks and Uppercuts: How to Defeat Anyone at Mortal Kombat."
It took me a while to realize that I couldn't taunt my way to the top, but I tried anyway. I felt the newspaper headlines after a victory were also a nice touch.
You want to know what really sets this game apart from other boxing games on the console? Michael Buffer. That's right: he introduces the fights.
What can I say? I'm easily impressed.
31. Hot Shots Golf Series, Playstation
Best Installment: Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds (PS3)
This game is for the casual golf fan who doesn't take his gaming too seriously.
The game hasn't changed much in terms of game play over the years, which is good because it's remained simple and easy to learn. Pretty much anyone can pick this game up and have fun and be successful.
You can pick between various golfers with big heads and play on many surprisingly realistic golf courses. The newest installment also features some very entertaining online play.
30. Cool Boarders Series, Playstation
I was split between Cool Boarders and 1080 Snowboarding, but personally I found the former to be more entertaining, and I want to give it some love since nobody else seems to.
Also, I'm partial to Playstation.
It terms of graphics, it couldn't compare. But hey, some of the best games of all-time came out on the NES, so graphics can go to hell.
My personal favorite was Part 2, mostly because it was a bit campy and you could play as an alien, but they were all fun.
It seemed like Cool Boarders 3 transitioned into more realistic game play, and the characters weren't nearly as square. Not to mention, you could punch other riders, and that's always fine by me.
29. WWF Royal Rumble, SNES, Genesis
This game is hilarious. I don't think that's what they were shooting for, but play it for a couple minutes and you'll see what I mean. You can always watch the video, too.
This game was simple and fun to play, especially with a friend. There wasn't much in the way of characters, since nothing really distinguished them aside from their finishing moves, but the various game modes made up for that.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed choking guys out Homer Simpson style, followed by hours of kicking them. Screw the finishing moves, there's only one way to beat a man down.
28. Mutant League Hockey, Genesis
You ever playing a game and say, "man, if this game only had mutants in it, it would be complete." Well, have I got the game for you!
It has everything you would expect out of a hockey game, with the passing and the shooting and punching—except you're a mutant!
And you know what happens when a mutant punches something? It explodes! And if you can manage to destroy the other team, they forfeit and you win.
Need I say more?
27. Road Rash Series, Genesis
Why does violence make a game so much better?
You play as a motorcycle racer who hates other motorcycle racers, and occasionally a pestering cop. You'll use whatever it takes to hurt your enemies, whether that be your fist, a club, chain or friendly bump into a cow.
That's just how you roll.
Even when you crash, this game is awesome. Go right on ahead, run into a stop sign or goat and laugh the night away. Don't worry, you won't die.
It'll take you a while to get back to your bike, though.
26. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, SNES
This game did its best to look and feel realistic, but the players' bodies looked funky and bent out of proportion. They had huge upper bodies, little legs and a tiny head.
Actually, that sounds exactly like a baseball player.
Even so, it was still plenty of fun. There wasn't much too it, but that's what I love in a baseball game since I'm not a hardcore fan. I just want to swing the bat a few times and hit a home run or two.
I play this now and again when I want to feel like a big man and blast me some balls deep. Yes, I'm still talking about baseball, you pervert.
25. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Nintendo 64
I felt this game was under-appreciated, so I'm going to give it some love.
I enjoy the departure from realism, as always, and there is a long list of colorful characters to choose from.
The story mode is challenging enough to get you hooked, and the arcade style of play makes the controls easy to figure out, so you'll be knocking guys out in no time.
I also like how there isn't much of a crowd when you start your career, then as you win more fights the arena fills up. I know it sounds corny, but it makes me feel like I earned it.
24. NBA Street Vol. 2, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox
Like NBA Jam, this game is a departure from realism. It's my kind of game, mainly because you don't have to worry too much about all the technicalities that come with playing an actual NBA simulation game.
This game is about embarrassing your opponent with slick moves on your way to posterizing them—just like real street ball. It's not concerned with the rules of real NBA games, and you're actually rewarded for your sick moves.
You have to give this game a shot a least once in your life.
23. NFL Blitz 2000, Playstation, N64
Football isn't violent enough, so Midway games decided that you should be able to punch and body slam other players, especially after the play is over. So they created NFL Blitz.
And it's exactly as fun as it sounds.
I won't get too much into game play, mostly because I only really cared to hit people, but you can rest assured that you'll quickly blow through a couple hours on this game.
You can play with up to four players, so beat some of your friends up.
22. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010, All Major Consoles
There are others in this series of games, but I felt this installment was the best.
There's far too much depth to this game to go into it all, but between all its features and stellar game play there's plenty to keep you entertained. Basically, they took exactly what you see on TV and put it into a game.
And I mean exactly.
All in all, it's not terribly different from the Smackdown games before it, but you could now partake in a bra-and-panties match, and that's enough to sell me.
21. Super Monaco GP, Genesis
I remember looking at the chick in the bikini on the title screen and thinking that this was the greatest racing game ever. I was young, what the hell did I know?
It did turn out to be a great racing game, though. I was surprised by the amount of courses to choose from (16), and how advanced the game was for the time.
Compared to, say, Burnout—the only racing game I'll play today—this isn't all that entertaining anymore, but I still play it on the ol' emulator from time to time when I'm bored.
Plus, there's this thing called the Internet, so the chick in the bikini has competition now. Lots of competition.
20. NCAA Football 10, All Major Consoles
For the life of me, I don't understand why anyone would want to play this over Madden, but then again, I don't understand how anyone can like college football over the NFL.
Yet, here we are.
Basically this comes down to taste. Do you want to play as an NFL team, or your favorite NCAA team? I guess I'm biased because I don't have a college team, and I only watch college football because there's nothing to watch on Saturdays.
That's not to say that this isn't fun, because it is, but why date the ugly sister when you can date the hot one? Nevertheless, it's a solid game, and that's why you'll find it at No. 20.
19. Madden 95, Genesis, Super Nintendo
This was the first Madden to feature both actual NFL teams and players, so now you weren't just playing as a team with the same colors as the Cowboys and a running back with the No. 22 on his jersey, who may or may not be Emmitt Smith.
Personally, I played NFL 95 because it was simpler and featured the phrase, "I'm gone!" when scoring a touchdown.
I found the phrase useful when I stole something and was running away, and I swear I still say it at times without even thinking about it. And let's not forget the phrases "my turf!" and "call an ambulance!"
But, alas, the game play was weak, and Madden took the throne once and for all with this installment. I'll admit, it was pretty fun, though.
18. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002, PS2, Xbox
I never much cared for golf, with the exception of miniature golf, and have steered clear of most golf games. As it happens, this is the only Tiger Woods golf game I've played. I sucked at it, and I threw the CD at a cat crapping in my yard.
From what I'm told, though, this was a great game. I personally like the more cartoon-like sports games, and this was too real for me and about as fun as watching golf on TV.
If I can't figure it out in three seconds, I'm done with it, and I definitely hate having so much choice, which this game offers in every aspect. However, for those of you who are serious golf gamers, you'll want to pick this one up.
17. NHL 09, PS3, Xbox 360
It's amazing the amount of detail that goes into games nowadays. I miss NHL 94, when I can press a couple of buttons and be awesome. Alas, those days are gone. I'll always have Final Fantasy, though.
Wait, that's been changing, too! Damn this world!
The thing is, I don't watch hockey. And I mean, at all. Zero hockey. But this game is great. You know you have something special when you're attracting those who don't even care for the sport.
You have a lot more control over your stick in this installment, and the speed has slowed down quite a bit from previous games. If you haven't played this, you'll want to give it a go.
16. Fight Night Round 2, Playstation 2, Xbox
This game's a little too complex for my liking, and, as a result, I've only played it a few times, and I was beat down severely.
The game really comes down to how much time and creativity you want to put into it. You have a hell of a lot of control over your punches, so there are plenty of ways to tenderize some faces.
Personally, I love when the game slows down when you connect on a punch to your opponent's face and sweat, spit and blood goes flying all over the place.
Unfortunately, I was the one whose blood was everywhere, so I only enjoyed it for a minute.
15. FIFA Soccer 96, Genesis, SNES
FIFA 96 took it up a notch. There was commentary that didn't make you want to hit the mute button, a practice mode and 237 teams.
That's a lot of teams, which should help eliminate the, "how come you only pick that team?" argument.
Sure, the game play was a bit slow and the characters moved about as fluid as they were going to get for the time, but FIFA 96 was still highly enjoyable.
For the most part, it's kind of mindless, but in the spirit of fun, pass, shoot and score your way to happiness.
Or drink a 40, whatever floats your boat.
14. Wii Sports, Wii
I spent a good semester playing this game, or set of games to be accurate. Of course, what made this great was that women in the dorms liked it, too, and that's just fine by me.
I suspect this game was responsible for getting hundreds of men and women action. My hypothesis is that the birthrate spiked shortly after this game was released, or at least overall happiness. I'll look into that later.
My personal favorite was bowling. With a flick of the wrist I had a strike, which is much better than the shame and embarrassment that comes with rolling a gutter ball in real life.
13. MLB 2010: The Show, PS3
According to IGN's editor Hilary Goldstein, it "gets many of the details right to the point that this is easily the most realistic console baseball game [he's] ever played."
Well doesn't that just sound awesome? Seriously though, he's not kidding.
This is probably as close as you're going to get to playing real baseball on a console, unless you're holding a bat and are playing in 3D or something.
It's not perfect, but it's incredibly detailed, and any hardcore baseball gamer will love it.
12. Blades of Steel, NES
I chose this over Ice Hockey for a few reasons. It looked better, it was more challenging, and it had a better name. That's right, name matters to me.
I spent most of my time getting into fights and trying to play goalie, which is more than enough fun in itself. The sound effects were a major downside for me, though, but I guess that goes for most NES games.
This game should kill a few hours of your life, but that's OK, you won't want them back.
11. Madden NFL 99, Playstation, N64
With Madden 99 came the introduction of the franchise mode.
For the first time players could manage their team from the start of the season, all the way through to the draft and into the next season. You'll even receive a performance ranking to see how you're doing.
This, of course, makes one feel like they're accomplishing more during the day than just sitting on their ass.
At least now you can say that you took your team to the top, especially when your wife leaves you for playing too much.
Hopefully, the judge is a fan and will agree that you're the greatest GM ever.
You'll still lose the house.
10. Gran Turismo Series, Playstation, PC
Best Installment: Gran Turismo 5
This game frustrates the hell out of me, and personally I've never liked it—that goes for all of them. I also hate driving in real life, so it's no surprise I hate a realistic driving simulator.
I'd rather play a dishwashing simulator game. But from what I hear, there are a great deal of people out there who love this series, so I placed it highly.
I know my roommate in college loved it. He had the steering wheel attached to his desk and everything.
That being said, developers really put a lot of love into this series. Every game is beautiful to look at, but for casual gamers such as myself, that's about all you'll do. They're not kidding when they say it's "realistic."
With each installment comes new cars, new tracks and more game play. Good luck with this one, and may God have mercy on your soul.
9. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, PS3, Xbox 360
If IGN is to be believed, then you "will not find a better game of golf on any system, period."
As I've mentioned, this game isn't really my cup of tea, but it is about as realistic as a golf simulator can get, so it makes it high on the list.
There are plenty of game modes to keep you entertained, and since the real Tiger Woods can't seem to win anything lately, at least he can here.
8. Tecmo Super Bowl, NES
You're going to want to watch that video.
By today's standards, this game is primitive. Hell, it was primitive back then, too. But that doesn't stop it from being one of the greatest football games of all-time.
I still play this from time to time, and I prefer it to Madden because I don't have to think much. God I hate thinking. This game comes with more plays and actual team names and characters, which is saying more than its predecessor.
This game also had some cool, action cut scenes, with players catching the football and cheerleaders jumping around at halftime.
Truly, this is an American classic.
7. NHL 94, Genesis, SNES
This was a pretty solid game from top to bottom. Personally, I still prefer Mutant League Hockey, but I'm probably alone in that.
Like most Super Nintendo games, it was pretty simple to play. Basically you pass, shoot and score. But that's fine by me. I still play this game on my SNES emulator.
Unfortunately, the computer is kind of stupid, so once you start kicking ass, there's nothing to stop you. You can always go grab a friend and kick his ass, though.
At the game, that is.
6. Madden NFL 05, Playstation 2, Xbox
This installment introduced the "hit stick," so you could now crush and devastate your opponent more than ever before. The only bad part was that if you missed, you'd fly past the ball carrier and look like an idiot.
That was me, especially because I suck at all Madden games. Plus, I play video games angry and take all things personally.
This game also introduced the defensive hot-route system, so you could now have more control over your defense as you read your opponent's offensive set.
They say defense wins championships, and this game puts that into practice.
5. NBA 2K11, PS3, Xbox 360
Michael Jordan, man!
His Airness is back to make you all forget about Kobe. You know, that guy who just got swept out of the playoffs. Lakers fans, you may direct your hatred towards me in the comments section, but I warn you—it only makes me stronger.
This is a remarkable game, as is the attention paid to detail. Only the most hardcore of basketball fans will truly get into and appreciate this game in its entirety. I really can't imagine a basketball game getting any better than this.
As I've said earlier, I like campy, so this game isn't personally high up on my list, but I include it here out of respect. If you love serious sports games, you must play this.
4. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Playstation, Xbox, N64
If you didn't own this game, you sucked at life.
There are plenty of other Tony Hawk games, but this one truly put the series on the map. Fact of the matter is, you really can't go wrong with any of them, but this installment will always have a special place in my heart.
I spent a ridiculous amount of my youth playing this game, and I'm sure a lot of you did as well. I was in middle school at the time, and I seriously can't remember a single person who didn't own it.
From the soundtrack to the ridiculous amount of combos you can do, I loved everything about this game. And damn, did it take me long to find some of those secret tapes.
3. NBA Jam, Genesis, SNES
What made NBA Jam so great was that it stripped basketball of everything but two things: punking people and slam dunks.
That's right, they had perfected the game.
Basically, you would run up the court, knock the opposing player on the ass, steal the ball, then run back down the court and dunk it in spectacular fashion. You would repeat this for 18 hours straight, or until you had a seizure.
Whichever came first.
I know, you'd think it would get old. But it doesn't.
2. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, NES
Also Notable: Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
It seems hard to believe now, but there was actually a time when Mike Tyson was an 8-bit character trapped in a video-game cartridge. Don't ask me how they did it—pigeon ransom—but God help you if your name was Little Mac.
By the way, you're Little Mac.
As you fight your way up the boxing circuit, fighting an array of increasingly stereotypical fighters, you'll eventually reach Iron Mike. He'll then knock you out in one punch and eat your children.
Don't worry, they would eventually cut the second part. Something about this country frowning upon cannibalism. Plus, the NES graphics couldn't really capture their little screams and bl—you know, it's not really important.
I never did actually beat Tyson, but it's on my bucket list. Then again, it's been so long now I don't care to try. I think I'll just wait till he's 70 and punch him in real life.
This game was too much a part of my childhood to not be No. 2.
1. FIFA 10, PS3, Xbox 360
Personally, I felt FIFA 10 was bloody brilliant.
It looked great, no, I take that back—it looked gorgeous. If it were a woman, I'd make love to her repeatedly. Sometimes, I like to put lingerie on top of the TV when I play this game, but that's due to a completely unrelated issue.
This game introduced the "Virtual Pro" mode. You can now create a character and develop him through a season, as every tackle and goal is recorded on your way to shaping your legacy.
Don't worry, he won't be confined to this mode. You can use him in virtually every aspect of the game, so your work won't go to waste.
And let's not forget the "Ultimate Team" feature. Personally, I think this is the best way to play online, as you and your opponent have completely chosen every player on your respective teams.
In all, I must have played over 500 matches on this game, and it may or may not have led to a breakup, but that's fine—there are other fish in the sea.
But there's only one FIFA 10.
Did I leave your favorite game out? Are you pissed as hell? Well call Maury, or tell me all about it in the comments section.
I'll address its exclusion the best I can, and if I can't, nuts to me.
Thanks for reading!