With the hockey and basketball seasons just about over, the baseball season nearly halfway over and football inching closer and closer to a new season, this is good a time as any to take a look at some classic sports titles for home consoles. These entries are in no particular order and don’t span any further than the 16-bit era. Enjoy.
10. Blades of Steel – Konami – NES (1988) The current console generation has produced some of the best and most respected hockey titles to ever grace a gaming system, And Nintendo of America’s Hockey for the NES is still fondly remembered. But like Konami’s early basketball entry on this list, Blades of Steel pushed video hockey as far as it could go with the limits of the technology in front of it. While it didn’t have an NHL license, Blades of Steel featured four teams from Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton) and the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minnesota). On top of the realistic gameplay for the time, Blades of Steel also included fighting, with a unique twist – the loser of the fight got sent to the penalty box while the winner got to keep on playing. 9. Bases Loaded – Jaleco – NES (1988) Like Blades of Steel, Bases Loaded didn’t have any major league licenses to work with. Meaning that players could try and win the pennant with teams from Omaha, Hawaii, Utah and Kansas. What it did have was realistic (for the time) gameplay and the chance that a batter hit with a ball could lead to a bench clearing brawl. Bases Loaded led to three sequels and then faded away, but those unhappy with the generic NES Baseball at the time loved this more in depth baseball title.
8. Double Dribble – Konami – NES (1987) Like Blades of Steel, Konami attempted to dominate the sports market despite not having an official license with Double Dribble. Despite the made-up team names, Double Dribble represented the most realistic basketball game to date. The slam dunk cutscenes were especially popular and every game had a wacky half-time show featuring cheerleaders and team mascots, I also recall the game fondly playing it with my dad, as he would frustratedly yell “HOW DO I DO DEFENSE?” to which I would reply “DAD, THERE’S ONLY TWO BUTTONS!” 7. Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football – Sega – Sega Genesis (1992) This is the first game on the list to have officially licensed NFL teams as well as actual commentary, It was the first step in sports game programming where the developers made the effort to have the presentation seem like a TV broadcast than a live game, which is what EA and 2K Sports still go for these days. My favorite thing to do was to act like I was going for a punt on a 2nd or 3rd down, just to hear the announcer shout “I don’t believe it!” only to fake them out and pass the ball instead. The voice and graphics technology may have advanced but it was still pretty dim on how to play football. 6. Track and Field – Konami – NES (1988) The concept of pounding away on buttons as fast as possible began with this title, which was came out around the same time when the general public was still excited about the Olympics. An arcade title back in 1983, it hit the NES five years later, giving gamers the illusion that they were engaging in vigorous physical activity with actually, you know, doing that. Coupled with the Power Pad (the 80’s version of a DDR controller), gamers sought out to prove that they could master the challenges the Olympics offered without breaking their controller. 5. Mutant League Football/Hockey – Electronic Arts – Sega Genesis (1993/1994) Electronic Arts didn’t always have the exclusive licence to the major leagues in pro sports, as hard as that is to believe, So, what did they do instead? The created both a football and a hockey game in which the players were mutant monsters who cared little about life or morality. And you know what? It was awesome. Mutant League Football was a ridiculous good time but it was Mutant League Hockey where the series hit the awesome threshold. It’s shocking that we haven’t seen any new Mutant League sports game since the 16 bit era, but considering EA owns the right to nearly every major sports league, why bother? 4. Jordan VS Bird: One on One – Electronic Arts – Sega Genesis (1988) Speaking of EA, their early sports output included awesome 1-on-1 match-ups like this one. There have seen a series of titles that have involved two of the three greatest basketball players of all time: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. In this late 1980s title, gamers got to see what it would be like if two of the greatest players of all time took each other on. It lead to a number of classic Genesis NBA titles and its top notch design led to the awesome programming of the current generation on NBA games 3. Nintendo World Cup – Nintendo – NES (1990) Soccer aka European Football aka Just Football, “What’s This ‘European’ Shit?” still has a big following in the U.S. After all, our kids still play it on the weekend in return for Capri Sun drink boxes and orange slices. So, clearly, there was going to be a soccer title for the NES. And the best was the Nintendo World Cup. Nowadays there’s plenty of soccer/football games (EA’s FIFA series, Konami’s Pro Evolution series) to wet your whistle with, but in 1990, there weren’t a whole lot of soccer games to choose from and Nintendo World Cup was really, really, really good. The current football/soccer games could learn a thing or two (despite all the players look like River City Ransom characters). 2. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out – Nintendo – NES (1987) You may be old enough to remember when Mike Tyson wasn’t just “that guy from The Hangover” or “that dude with the pigeons” or “that rapist” and was actually the best professional boxer on the planet. In a world before pro athletes attached their name to video games like they were signing a contract to be on the cover of a cereal box, Punch Out!! was ahead of its time. Almost as much of a puzzle game as it was a boxing game. players memorized the patterns and skills required to finally take on Tyson in the final bout. After his rape conviction, Nintendo replaced Tyson with their own Mr. Dream, but old school gamers know who the real champ is. Even if he is a rapist. 1. Tecmo Bowl – Tecmo – NES (1989) Despite the advancements in technology, the original Tecmo Bowl (and its SNES cousin, Super Tecmo Bowl) is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sports title in the 8/16-bit era. The first home console game to feature actual NFL players, Tecmo backed that pedigree up with great programming and imagination. That’s why, even in this age of PS3s and Xbox 360s, people still get together to play Tecmo Bowl tournaments. It’s the best old-school sports title ever. We hope you enjoyed this list and let us know of anything we forgot.