The month of August is sort of almost over and, as hard to believe, we are rapidly approaching the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Don’t worry though, because that means we are also entering the start of the meat of the sporting season. The football is about to start, the baseball pennant races are about to take off, the WNBA playoffs are coming soon, and the start of the NHL and NBA seasons won’t be too long after. Along with all this, there will be sports games for fans to get excited about, arguing and having fun – at least in a way.
While in some ways this is a golden age for sports games, especially with the current graphics, they have never been so frustrating. Many of our favorite sports franchises are in the throes of microtransactions, issues, or don’t even exist anymore. This is enough for some people to raise their hands in the air and replay the old games. For those who want to do that, this list is for them. Let’s go back in time and talk about the best sports games of all time.
NCAA Football 14 – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
For some fans of the NCAA franchise, they prefer NCAA 04 or 05. While these games are great and not hampered by a lot of extra 14’s fluff, there are two key aspects of 14 that make it a superior game. For starters, 14 of the servers are still running, which means players can keep updating their own rosters to at least semi-modernize the game. A dedicated community on the Operation Sports forums has been doing this for years and this helped keep the shelf life over 14 fresh. This ability to customize the experience allows players to do a lot with 14, whether it’s keeping up with the modern realignment or creating fun simulation scenarios.
The other aspect of 14 that puts it above previous iterations are playbooks. Going back to old games can be difficult as playbooks and AI are designed to follow the trends of the days when running the ball and playing conservatively was the norm. You can absolutely extend the defense and throw the ball, but it can get a little awkward at times with wide receivers dropping passes and playbooks not designed to move fast. NCAA 14, on the other hand, is a bit more modern compared to games with the play option and broadcast systems being a much more normal part of the game.
MVP Baseball 2005 – PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC, PSP
MVP Baseball 2005 was so ahead of its time that it was for years the gold standard that all other baseball games were trying to achieve. Minor league teams, the ability to change stages, and in-depth franchise modes have given this game endless replayability. Fans still have fond memories of the hours they got into baseball MVP and we can see why when you consider that many of these features have been gone for years. The ability to create our own stadiums, for example, was a recently celebrated addition to MLB: The Show 21.
While this is a game that has probably aged, it’s never really the gameplay that has been so enjoyable, but rather all the extras that surround it. The soundtrack was great. The creation of the list was thorough and addicting. There were fun mini-games. There was so much going on, and in an era when sports games typically only offer three options, it’s nice to come back to something with so many fun extras. They don’t make games like this anymore, literally, because MVP Baseball was discontinued after that due to licensing issues.
ESPN NFL 2K5 – PlayStation 2, Xbox
Yes, it’s very trendy to call ESPN NFL 2K5 the best NFL game ever made because everyone is very tired of Madden. However, it would be a lie to say that there is not a bit of truth in this statement. Mainly that, from a presentation standpoint, few sports games in general have been able to outperform 2K5. The games would start with Chris Berman giving a quick look at both teams, it would give a mid-game preview of the players, and the menus would diagnose how a team was generally behaving.
Above all, the players looked normal when moving. The QBs have taken real action, players are said to have manners that felt natural as they walked to the line, and that helps an older game look good despite its age. It’s the little details that helped the game stand out in an era when it was okay for sports games to look clunky. Sadly, with some games still unable to overcome this awkwardness, it looks like 2K5’s impact on sports games has not gone beyond the cult favorite status it has today.
Tony Hawk’s Professional Skater 2 – PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast
The game that defined a whole genre. The game that has had an impact on the musical taste of hundreds of children. The game that even Tony Hawk himself said was the best. Tony Hawk’s Professional Skater 2 had a cultural impact that went beyond “good sports” games. It is for many people their favorite game thanks to amazing level design, fun missions and enjoyable movements. While skateboarding is a feat when a few tricks are put on, Pro Skater 2 has made the idea of thousand point combos a standard.
Even now, all these years later, Pro Skater 2 is still considered the model that all skateboarding games are held to. It’s the highest rated sports game on Metacritic and even the remake Tony Hawk Professional Skater 1 + 2 was not close to achieving the same cultural status. Fans will always love Pro Skater 2 and it has earned all the praise it has ever received.
NBA Street Vol. 2 – PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube
Basketball and video games have always had a strange relationship. It took a long time for simulation games to really approach a status considered to be as good as the NFL and college football games that are also in progress. Now, despite being considered one of the most consistently good sports games, franchises like NBA 2K are pretty frustrating. They just constantly have a problem with them, whether it’s microtransactions, filming, or commercials that can’t be ignored. Too often, these issues hinder the enjoyment of playing basketball.
This is when it’s time to turn back time and look to NBA Street Vol. 2. While not as flashy as modern 2K games, the NBA Street series has done one thing extremely well: Arcade basketball is extremely addicting. Breaking their ankles, throwing the ball at backboards and defenders heads, street games capture the fun of basketball in a way modern games sometimes fail. Add a good mix of real players to the fakes and we have a combo that’s still as fun now as it was in 2003.