Recycled. Facelift. Roster Update. These three phrases are often utilized to describe any sports title that releases on a yearly basis. Whether it’s developed by EA Sports, 2K Sports or even Sony themselves, there are always a strong amount of gamers marking the release of a sports title as a stupid purchase. “You’re paying $60 for new rosters?” “Why would I want to pay for the same game twice?” “These franchises are being milked.” It’s ridiculous really. It’s quite obvious that most gamers don’t understand the type of development time that is put into these yearly games in order to just make those minor tweaks. It may be small and less visible on the cosmetic side of things from year-to-year, but the underlying changes that can’t be seen are indistinguishable and allow for these sports games to ultimately play differently from release to release.
I’m not here to argue the semantics of it all though, I’m here to discuss the games that are inarguably some of the best gamers have ever seen. Even if you’re one of those negative Nancy junkies who only feels important by bagging on a yearly released title, it’s hard for you to say these games weren’t revolutionary or masterpieces of their genre. The sports genre is no joke after all, and I believe these eight games allow it to continue to exist and give gamers reason enough to buy that next game in hopes that it topples the greatest that specific sport has ever had to offer. While it’s very difficult to nail down a genre of gaming that has had over 100s of releases, I’m going to pick the Top 8 Sports titles that I feel have left a lasting impact on any gamer who has ever played them.
8. Mutant League Hockey (Genesis)
This game is on the list for my own enjoyment. I’ll never forget renting this game from Blockbuster and playing endless hours of it with my cousin while growing up. In no Hockey title ever was there a fight every couple of minutes like there was in MLH. Not only were the fights-a-plenty, but the teams were original, the gameplay was unique, and Electronic Arts had released a series of Mutant League titles that helped bring a different type of entertainment element to the sports genre. While some may argue that this game has no place on this list, I will speculate and assume that you’ve just never played it. Any sports game that literally allows you to kill someone on the other team deserves a spot on this list.
7. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds (PlayStation 3)
Clap Hanz released HSG: OoB in March of 2008 in North America and I was never happier with a golf purchase in my life. Characters had their own leveling system that allowed you to unlock new gear, costumes, shot types, and even courses. Furthermore, Clap Hanz continued to support the title through downloadable content and an online service that was bountiful and ran hourly tournaments for bragging rights. With a career mode that is worthy of any title, you not only could change characters on your way to completing all of the challenges set forth, but you were also given a ton of replay value because of it. Despite the arcade look and feel, Hot Shots Golf adds a hybrid simulation effect behind the cartoonish nature that adds a nice element to the game itself.
6. Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball Series (Nintendo)
I know some of you wish I could nail this down to one game, but it’s not possible. I’m sure some will feel that MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. was the strongest title in the lineup of Griffey games, but I can’t discredit how much enjoyment playing as Sluggo Steele in Winning Run that I had. Every Griffey game to date has always had something special about it whether it was the experience being given or just the atmosphere of the game. Hell, Griffey was offering realistic elements in his titles before even some of the bigger named games at the time. It’s hard to argue with Baseball’s kid when it comes to the gaming world as nobody has ever quite done it like Griffey.
5. NHL 94 (Genesis/Nintendo)
Often considered to be the greatest sports title ever made, NHL ’94 has left a lasting impression on a lot of gamers. If you’re a sports fanatic in the virtual world, chances are, you’ve had the opportunity to play this title and even grow up on it, and if you haven’t, you missed out on one of the best experiences possible. As with Mutant League Hockey, this is a title I grew up playing with family. Despite the fact fighting was removed from this iteration of the title, it’s hard to argue if any title could compete with it in the Hockey world, however, I feel a title has recently surpassed it and you’ll see so below.
4. Pro Evolution Soccer 4/5/6 (Multiple Platforms)
Being a sports title that isn’t fully licensed is a hard world to be successful in – just look at All Pro Football 2K8. It’s hard to deliver a game being bought by millions when some of the players aren’t real and you have to spend countless hours editing your teams in order to offer a truly simulation experience, however, Konami delivered several titles successfully with this format through Pro Evolution Soccer (Winning Eleven). While many consider PES 4/5/6 to all be great titles, it’s often difficult to choose which of the three is ultimately the greatest of all time in terms of footy games. Despite the widely regarded opinion of many that PES has lost a step over the years, gamers who enjoyed these three titles in the past will always regard them as timeless classics that never get old and never lose that touch of realism.
3. MVP 2005 (Multiple)/MLB 09: The Show (PlayStation)
It’s hard for me to break these two baseball titles up. When gamers discuss the greatest baseball games of all time, it always comes down to these two titles and fans of each side always have valid arguments as to why their choice is the best. It’s hard to truly choose which one is and thus I think both are deserving of this #3 spot. I know this technically bumps my list to nine titles and you may call that cheating, but you really can’t blame me for it. MVP 2005 was a revolutionary game and it was surprising that it came out of EA Sports at the time. Many gamers felt that the company was distributing worthless sports titles through this stretch of time, so this was like a diamond in the rough. Surprisingly, it seems that a lot of sports gamers feel two great franchises died in 2004/2005 — The 2K football series and MVP baseball. As for MLB 09: The Show, it speaks for itself. Road to the Show may be the greatest sports feature of all time and I, personally, have sunk countless hours into the game without any hopes of regaining them. I’ve never regretted booting it up and enjoyed it immensely. If you’ve played either of these two titles, consider yourself privileged in the industry.
2. FIFA 10 (Multiple)
360 degree movement has helped FIFA 10 become the best footy title to date on any console. The ability to move in any direction in order to get by a defender or to attack the ball is a welcoming addition to the sport and it’s unbelievable that it took this long. Add in the ability to create your own virtual pro and utilize him online or offline in league play is just astounding. While FIFA sold moderately well in North America, Europeans ate this game up like they were dehydrated and FIFA was the only way to survive. I have no doubt in my mind that FIFA 10 is the greatest footy title and second greatest sports title ever release. Only one game could top it and it wasn’t easy.
1. NHL 2010 (Multiple)
NHL 10 has done something tons of Hockey titles have attempted to do – dethrone NHL 94 as the best Hockey title to ever be released. While I’m sure it was a grueling process in the EA Sports development offices to achieve such a feat, it has to feel great to know that they achieved it. The only downfall of this achievement is the fact that it is going to be extremely difficult to put out a better product in NHL 11 than they did in 10. Considering the changes the team has made in regards to cheap online goals and player boosts, NHL 10’s Be A Pro mode combined with Team Play is a dominant force to be reckoned with and North Americans (Canadian and American) have put countless hours into the product. It’s actually gotten so big that Electronic Arts plans to hold a yearly competition for the best teams in the world. NHL 10 is without a doubt, the greatest sports title of all time.