My Top 5 Best and Worst Sports games

August marks the beginning of the NFL pre-season as well as the beginning of the bulk of the yearly sports game releases. I love sports, football and hockey in particular, and I've played both sports both in person (mostly pick up games) and with a controller all my life. Sports video games, by the nature of their annual release schedule, are inevitably loaded with bad entries, but thankfully there are a few truly great ones that we've had the joy of playing over the years. On the that same token, there are truly outstandingly awful title we've had to endure as well. What follows are my seven best and three worst sports titles of all times. Oh, and I've never played a soccer game in my life, so...there'll be none in this list.

Rank Game Release Date GameSpot Score Pyreofkol's Score

NHL 10

BEST NHL sim: So many new mechanics were added to the franchise starting in NHL 08 (stick handling on the right thumbstick, Be a Pro Mode, etc) and this game perfected them all. The series has been good since then, but not as good as this one.


Mario Lemieux Hockey

BEST hockey game: I know, I know, it's blasphemy not to accord NHL '94 top honors, but this game was an underrated gem and one of the few non-EA NHL games worth playing. The faster, looser gameplay immediately set it apart from the NHL franchise, but the thing that really made it shine was its fighting mechanic. Fighting has always been a part of hockey, and it's been in hockey games since day one, but Mario Lemieux Hockey added something unique to the mix: full on brawls. All ten guys on the ice (though not the goalies, sadly) would be fighting all at once and it was amazing.



WORST hockey game: NFL 2K5 is legendary among sports games, but 2K's NHL franchise wasn't quite as strong, unfortunately. They were pretty good in the early going, but eventually they fell further and further behind the NHL series, especially with all the huge strides EA's taken with it in the last five years. 2K9 was where this really became evident.


Madden NFL 13

BEST NFL sim: It was really hard for me not to put Tecmo Bowl in this slot. It has always been the bar for NFL games and EA didn't even get close until 2012 with this game. The biggest gripe throughout the franchise's history was wildly inconsistent AI. Even on high difficulty levels it was far too easy to find one or two plays that always worked and completely destroy the AI. It was always gratifying but equally frustrating as it completely wrecked any realism the game tried for. 13 took a huge step in the right direction in this as well as so many others. The new Infinity Engine delivered everything it touted and the AI was the best it had ever been. There are still some weaknesses in the defensive AI but the dramatic overall improvement still makes this the best Madden to date. Oh, and of course I'd be remiss if I didn't shoot an honorable mention to NFL 2K5.


Madden NFL 08

WORST NFL sim: Remember what was I saying about poor AI earlier? The defensive AI was so bad that even against a team like the Steelers (who had the best running D in the game at the time) I could easily put up 200 yards and three rushing TDs against them on the highest difficulty. Add in repetitive animations and play-by-play and...well...just stick with Madden 13.


NFL Blitz (2012)

BEST alternative NFL game: Man, did Blitz ever make a splash when Midway put it in arcades back in 1998. The no rules, all attitude style of the game immediately resonated with gamers and the home version is responsible for some of the best multiplayer ever. There were a few more entries in the series, including the Blitz the League series which took a different route to franchise mode by adding a gritty story to it. The series vanished for a time but was brought back by EA in 2012 on virtual platforms. Despite stripped down content for local single and multiplayer, it has a robust set of online features and retains the great, over the top sense of humor the franchise is known for, including both ridiculous unlockable teams and hilarious commentary.


NBA 2K14

BEST NBA sim: This is, quite simply, the best NBA game ever made to date. Beautifully finessed gameplay combines with an unbelievably realistic and immersive presentation to make this a must play for any basketball fan.


NBA Jam Tournament Edition

BEST alternative NBA game: Midway taking on sports titles is one of the best things to happen to sports video games. NBA Jam TE is one of a number of classic titles from the now defunct developer. The same no rules, all attitude style pervaded the game and combined beautifully with being able to literally light your player after sinking enough consecutive baskets to make this one of the best games on the Sega Genesis.

-- --

NBA Live 14

WORST NBA game/sim: The Live franchise is so consistently bad that it's become a long standing punchline in the world of gaming. EA's been able to sell even the worst of their Madden and NHL games against solid competition and yet still can't find their stride with NBA Live. EA needs to retire this ASAP.


Mario Power Tennis

BEST alternative sports game: Tennis has always had a fairly easy transition to video game form. Basically, combine pong with the depth of the franchise modes present in other sports games, and...voila. Combining the quirky, cartoony world of Mario with the dignified sport of tennis was a weird idea, but it worked so well. Mario Power Tennis, which released on the GameCube and later rereleased on the Wii, is certainly the best in this franchise. Beautifully rendered and designed courts, a huge roster and ridiculously awesome character-specific special moves make this the most fun and most complete Mario Tennis game ever.