Sports video games have always been bestsellers in the video game industry. Their ability to generate yearly revenue for video game companies has led to many franchises being produced in annual editions. However, this trend has not necessarily resulted in improvements from year to year. This list of games presents the best years in major video game franchises. Some franchises have experienced continued success, while others achieved greatness on now obsolete consoles. Whether they are games with active followers or titles played only for the nostalgia factor, the greatest games have withstood the test of time.
Sports video games give gamers an opportunity to portray their heroes from the comfort of their living rooms. Unlike the real-world versions of professional athletes that may succumb to injury, age, and media pressure, video game athletes are almost always at their pinnacle. Their on-field accomplishments may only be garnering video game headlines, but the impressions they can leave on gamers can be significant. Mike Tyson, Bo Jackson, and Michael Vick have become names synonymous with video game dominance and will remain so long after their sports careers end.
Annual editions of many games make the quest for truly great sports games increasingly difficult. These games represent their respective leagues and sports in a snapshot moment of time. The great versions of games become immortalized, while the lackluster editions fall by the wayside. Even decades later, truly great sports games still have dedicated user-bases that drive impressive modification efforts and roster updates. Long after developers have abandoned support for their products, faithful gamers give life to games too good to allow to collect dust.
20 Jordan vs. Bird: One on One – NES
Jordan vs. Bird finally gave video gamers the opportunity to determine who was the greatest player in the NBA. Players faced off in half court one on one games to decide for themselves. The game also incorporated basketball video game mainstays like a slam dunk contest using Michael Jordan and a three point shooting contest using Larry Bird. Players also had to contend with the sensitive game referee, who called every foul in the rule book. Gamers could also engage in a casual game of horse between two of the NBA’s all-time greats.
19 SSX Tricky – PlayStation 2
Few things in video games have ever been as satisfying as stomping a seemingly impossible trick in SSX Tricky. Walking the dog, kickflips, and even the legendary Headspin to Poseur Air were all within the realm of possibility when you boost meter was full. Throw in compelling characters voiced by actors like Oliver Platt, David Arquette, and Lucy Liu and this game was a Playstation 2 essential. After extended periods of play, many players experienced the symptom of getting Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” stuck in their heads. Just one side effect of playing the greatest snowboarding video game of all time.
18 Madden 2004 – GameCube, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox
2004 will always be remembered as the year when Madden unleashed Michael Vick on the video game world. Vick was almost unstoppable in this version of the game in the hands of expert players who could utilize his scrambling abilities to devastating effect. The game also gave players a new level of depth with Owner Mode, giving players an eye into the financial aspects of the game. They could also set concession stand prices, hire and fire coaches, or even move their franchise to a new city. The soundtrack is also one of the best in Madden history.
17 Football Manager 2014 - PC
This past year’s edition of Football Manager 2014 was the greatest version in the history of the franchise. The level of realism seems to grow with every edition of the best management simulator franchise. The 3D match engine complete with somewhat realistic player models produce movement that represents the passing that takes place on the real life pitch. With 117 leagues available to play in 51 countries, nearly every football fan can take their favorite club to the top. The ability to play online against friends means that Football Manager is now more addictive than ever.
16 FIFA 07 – Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360
FIFA 07 gave sports gamers an opportunity to control over 10,000 licensed players from 27 leagues around the world. For the first time in the FIFA Franchise, it allowed free kick takers to add spin to their free kicks, which made players like Beckham and Ronaldinho almost unstoppable from inside 35 yards. The game also introduced the finesse shot modifier, which allowed players to attempt to curl the ball around the keeper. Manager mode also introduced real world currency in the mode, giving the game an enhanced level of realism. The game boasted an awesome eclectic soundtrack and for the first time gave online players the ability to compete in online leagues.
15 NBA Street Vol. 2 – PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox
NBA Street introduced sports gamers to the EA Sports BIG model of taking sports to the extreme scale. NBA Street Volume 2 one upped them with enhanced gameplay, graphics, and three different playable versions of Michael Jordan. Players could utilize double and triple alley-oops to leave defenders helpless. This, combined with the considerable repertoire of street moves available to Volume 2 ballers, could lead to the dreaded Level 2 Gamebreaker, which were nearly impossible to stop. Streetball legend Bobbito Garcia provides the announcing on this classic basketball title.
14 3 on 3 NHL Arcade – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Released only as a downloadable title or add-on to NHL 2013, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is one of the most criminally underrated games of all time. Players choose three skaters and a goalie from a list of All-Stars and are matched up in a free-for-all battle in a race to 10 goals. Players can earn power-ups by checking opponents, while the announcer delivers a slew of ridiculous commentary. The menu sounds alone are worth the download, but getting together with a few friends for all out mayhem on the ice can be one of the best video game experiences available. Blorp. WHOOOSH!
13 Fight Night Round 3 – PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360
Fight Night Round 3 is the best boxing game made since Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. It improved on the earlier engine created in the Fight Night franchise and introduced “Impact Punches” which could be utilized to knock opponents into next week. Fight Night Round 3 also gave PS3 players the ability to play in first person mode, giving players a unique boxing game perspective. The career mode allowed fighters to climb through the ranks of low level boxing before reaching the fight cards of ESPN. Despite some quite obnoxious product placement, the game was an overwhelming success.
12 Blades of Steel – Gameboy, NES
Blades of Steel holds the honor of being the oldest game on this list. First produced in 1987, the game had a lasting legacy that gave it years of playability. Players could choose from eight teams and battle for The Cup. The game also encouraged fighting in a revolutionary fashion, by punishing the losing fighter with a trip to the penalty box. The game boasted an arena announcer, crowd reactions, and an in game advertisement for Contra. For NES gamers, Blades of Steel is the essential hockey game to add to their collections.
11 NFL Street 2 – GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
NFL Street 2 continued the EA Sports BIG trend of taking mainstream sports to the extreme level. Players could choose their own 7 on 7 squads from a list of NFL elites like Randy Moss, Ricky Williams, and Michael Vick. With the ability to run spectacular trick plays and “wall-juke” opposing defenders, mobile quarterbacks like Vick ruled the game. When devastating Gamebreaker 2’s were unleashed, it gave the player unlimited turbo and allowed him/her to toss aside would-be tacklers with easy. They could also be used to create timely turnovers which could turn the tide of a game in an instant.
10 NHL 09 – PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
NHL 09 was the first version of the franchise to incorporate the active stick on defense. After years of being an offensively dominated game, defenders finally stood a chance by utilizing the stick lift and poke check to great effect. Players could team up online with their friends to play other groups in 6 on 6 online play. The game also had the throwback option of selecting the controls of NHL 94 to make it easier for less experienced gamers to play. With an engrossing Be A Pro mode, spectacular online play, and dramatically improved gameplay, NHL 09 was the best modern edition in the EA Sports franchise.
9 Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr – N64
Baseball has been a sport that has struggled to make entertaining games over the years. Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. bucked that trend by giving players exciting gameplay and a great arcade style pitch and hit system. The game gave players a chance to control superstars like Griffey, Bonds, and Jeter. It also had an exciting home run derby mode, which required precision timing from hitters. The game also featured all 30 Major League stadiums, rosters with over 700 players, and an engrossing season mode.
8 NFL Blitz – N64, PlayStation
Midway once again struck gold with an arcade style game, this time taking the NFL game to extreme lengths. Players engaged in 7 on 7 full field action where hitting during and after the play was encouraged. Extra points were removed from the game unless players elected to go for two. Players could taunt their teammates with celebrations and take out their frustrations with professional wrestling moves like the German suplex. Dedicated players could unlock bonus characters like Mortal Kombat’s Raiden.
7 NFL 2k5 - PlayStation 2, Xbox
ESPN and 2KSports teamed up to create a challenger to the Madden franchise. When they sold their game for only $20, they severely cut into the market share stranglehold enjoyed by Madden. The game offered players an opportunity to play “first-person football” for the first time. It also gave players the chance to compete against celebrities like Funkmaster Flex and Carmen Electra. The game was a top-seller and went on to have a healthy following years after its release. However following that year, EA signed an exclusive deal with the NFL, giving Madden a monopoly on licensed football video games. A sequel was never made.
6 FIFA 10 – PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360
FIFA 10 gave soccer gaming fans everything they could want and more. Improvements to manager mode gave players an even more gripping experience than previous versions. FIFA 10 also introduced the world to the Ultimate Team gameplay mode, where players could create their own teams utilizing squads of international superstars. Players could also actually incorporate themselves into the game, utilizing the EA Sports Gameface feature, which has now become a standard. As always, FIFA delivered a kicking soundtrack, spectacular gameplay, and an unprecedented level of immersion.
5 NBA Jam T.E. – Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
NBA Jam was a fixture in the childhood of a generation of sports video gamers. Its sequel, NBA Jam TE, turned the franchise into one of the greatest of all time. The game pitted duos of NBA players against each other in a highflying full court battle. Despite not including either Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal, the game managed to garner enough star power with the inclusion of Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, and Charles Barkley. Perhaps the most unforgettable element of the game was the announcer, who celebrated dunks with exclamations like “Boomshakalaka!” and “He’s on fire!” The game gave players the ability to play as President Clinton, the Fresh Prince, and the legendary Airdog.
4 NHL ’94 – Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
The NHL ’94 engine revolutionized the way gamers played hockey. The engine introduced a vertical view of the rink and incorporated a variety of real hockey strategies like one-timers. The one-timer was so devastatingly effective that it became one of the most popular scoring strategies within the game. Other techniques like “The Move” became legendary sports video game tricks. Although fighting was removed from the game, it made up for its absence by including a fantastic season mode. The game still boasts an active community that issues yearly roster updates for dedicated players.
3 Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 – PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo 64, PC, Sega Dreamcast
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 is one of the highest rated games in video game history. It earned a 98 on Metacritic.com and remains the second highest rated game on the website. An awesome soundtrack to go alongside slight gameplay improvements gave players complete control over their skaters. The introduction of the manual allowed skaters to link combinations, which led to astronomical point totals. Create-A-Skater mode allowed players to put themselves in the action, adding a new level of immersion, which allowed the game to achieve its classic status.
2 Tecmo Super Bowl – NES
Few things have ever been as fearsome as Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl. Jackson was capable of outrunning opposing defenders and leading them around the field like cattle. Bo remains one of the most iconic video game characters, and the game itself still enjoys a healthy community of players. Dedicated individuals like the folks over at TecmoBowl.org update the game’s roster for the dedicated user base. Thanks to emulation software, the game has enjoyed over 22 years of success. Whether or not the current generation of superstars like Adrian Peterson and JJ Watt match up against legends like Bo Jackson and Lawrence Taylor is certainly up for debate.
1 Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out – NES
In the sequel to the very successful Punch-Out, a new final boss was added. “Iron” Mike Tyson would go down in video game history as one of the toughest bosses of all time. The game featured minor changes to the storyline, but still featured the undersized Little Mac progressing through opponents like Piston Honda, King Hippo, and Glass Joe. Star punches were earned by landing critical blows and could be utilized to send opponents to la-la land. However, once Little Mac reached the mighty Mike Tyson, it became virtually impossible to defeat the athlete that represented destruction in its purest form.
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