Sports and video games are inextricably intertwined. One look at the esports world will tell you this, with its packed arenas for “League of Legends” contests. Even outside of esports, video games have long been enmeshed with sports. Yearly installments of Madden, NHL, and NBA are favorites among many gamers. Beyond those, the best sports video games also include whimsical takes on our favorite leagues.
Today, the Gaming Today team discusses the best sports video games of all time.
Ask me for my best sports video game recommendation and I’ll say “Golf Story” hands down. Sidebar Games blends old-school pixelated art with RPG-style gameplay and tight golf mechanics to create, arguably, the most unique pick on this list. Sure, you’ll golf. But you’ll also fly drones, play disc golf, solve a murder, hunt a werewolf, and help folks across the game’s many unique courses. Along the way, you earn new clubs and abilities that amp up your golf game. “Golf Story” blends a real-world sport with the weird and wacky freedom of video games. What more could you want?
EA Sports’ NCAA Football
The year is 2001. I receive a call at 2 a.m. which my girlfriend forbids me to answer. The voice on the answering machine is that of my best friend.
“Buckley…your game is up. (Girlfriend), let him leave for an hour.” Of course, I had to leave. My game was up!
That’s how serious my college buddies and I were about “NCAA Football” and its dynasty mode. Friendships were put to the test, controllers were broken, and taunting was on display after big wins against each other. Even with six of us playing, we could get through one season, including recruiting, in a week. Each year, the game improved – better graphics, more advanced playbooks, and more in-depth recruiting. When online dynasty mode debuted after our college years, our spouses were not amused.
Then…Ed O’Bannon and his lawyers took it away from us. #NeverForget
However, all is not lost! “NCAA Football” is set to make its dramatic return in 2024. And yes, my friends and I are already planning to create another online dynasty.
MLB: The Show
I’ve got “MLB: The Show” at the head of my Mt. Rushmore of sports video games for one reason, and one reason only: Rivalry Mode. They discontinued it nearly a decade ago because people in charge often make bad decisions. Like, really bad. Anyway, in Rivalry Mode, two people could play a series of games with the same teams, all the way up to 83 games.
Enter, my older brother and me in 2006, playing MLB 2006: The Show on our PlayStation 2. We played an 83-game rivalry. I was the Orioles. He was the Angels. Every day over the course of a summer, we’d get one or two games in. He’d win five in a row. I’d respond with a six-game win streak. Then we’d trade wins for a bit, and have more winning and losing streaks.
In the end, we each had 41 wins entering game No. 83. What are the odds of that??
He beat me 5-1. I took a 1-0 lead early, but it was all Angels the rest of the way. That was a bummer. But the 83-game Rivalry Mode summer I had with my brother, thanks to “MLB: The Show,” was a blast.
ESPN NFL 2K5
The game that forced Madden to buy out the competition. I truly believe that if 2K had been able to make a game the following year, it would have at least been on par with Madden in popularity.
“NFL 2K5” was so much better than Madden 2005 for so many reasons. First, the feature that allowed you to update rosters, which Madden had not rolled out yet. The ESPN presentation with well-known announcers, music and highlights was also groundbreaking. At the time the graphics were head and shoulders above Madden’s and the gameplay felt way more realistic.
There were several additional features in the game that made it fun to play. You were able to create your own team and customize the team’s stadium look and jerseys. It also has a feature called first-person football, which gave you the experience on the field looking from the eyes of the players.
I will die on this hill. “ESPN NFL 2K5” is the greatest football game ever made when you take in the context of when it was made.
Psyonix’s car-soccer hybrid took the gaming world by storm when it first launched. Since then, it’s become a mainstay of the esports community, evolving into one of the best sports video games of all time. Take it from me, a guy who doesn’t like soccer or cars. “Rocket League” combines the two and makes for an all-around excellent gameplay experience. The meta is deep. The skill ceiling is immensely high. Matches only take 10-ish minutes, meaning you can squeeze one in quickly if need be or play for hours on end.
“Rocket League” has a steep learning curve. But once you play for a while and get a grip on the baseline mechanics and grounded play, you’ll be ready to take to the skies and score aerial goals galore.
Created for Neo Geo arcade systems in 1994, “Windjammers“ has been a cult hit for decades. The sport is an upgraded version of “Pong” with six characters and multiple stages to choose from. Two players go head-to-head throwing a “flying power disc” at each other. The goal is to get the disc past your opponent and hit one of the 3 or 5-point goals behind them.
There are a few ways to add spin and loft to shots. Each player has a unique power-up move to deploy if the disc hangs above them. All stages have slight alterations, obstacles in the middle to compete around, and different goal positions. It’s a very fast-paced game and terrific for those wanting to play a quick handful of games at one time.
I first encountered “Windjammers” while playing tons of arcade games in junior high. It was highly addicting – throwing a bunch of wild curve shots and attempting to stop power-ups never got old. It was fun to learn the pros and cons of all six player selections. Over a decade later in 2013, it gained a big following online when Giant Bomb editors started playing the game together.
Despite a release 30 years ago, “Windjammers” continues its relevance with esports events and a sequel released in January 2022. “Windjammers 2“ keeps the base game is kept intact with a few upgrades. It’s incredible how much its simple style of play holds up today. I’d highly recommend it to those who love quick, competitive games.