25. Wii Sports
Platforms: Nintendo Wii
Top Star: You
Hidden Gems: Friends, Family
The game that came with every purchase of new Nintendo Wii, Wii Sports gave consumers a taste of what Nintendo’s newest system was capable of. Sports included baseball, tennis, boxing, bowling and golf, all centered around intuitive controls that made the game easy to pick up and play. It was everybody’s first game for the system, and is one of the most memorable Nintendo Wii games to date.
24. Top Spin 4
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360
Top Stars: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams
Hidden Gems: Andy Roddick, Eugenie Bouchard
When broken down, every tennis video game is essentially an evolution on Pong. We’ve come a long way.
Top Spin 4 is the quintessential ball-and-racket simulator, filled with professionals that perfectly exemplify their real life counter parts. The graphics were mesmerizing for the time, and it features the signature brilliant 2K presentation style. Put down the Pong, pick up Top Spin 4.
23. NBA Hangtime
Platforms: Arcade, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Windows
Top Stars: Scottie Pippen/Steve Kerr, Hakeem Olajuwon/Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller/Anybody
Hidden Gems: Arvydas Sabonis/Kenny Anderson, Glen Rice/Dell Curry
The spiritual successor of NBA Jam, Hangtime took the formula that games before it used and repackaged it in a sleeker and more graphically vibrant format. It has all the ingredients necessary for an arcade basketball game, from high-flying dunks to unforgettable commentary. Setting it apart from the rest of the pack was the Create-A-Player feature that allowed players to customize a character from their height, weight, attributes and look. Nothing like a basketball playing wolf soaring through the air only to be met at the rim by a giant, green alien. Hours of fun.
22. Fight Night: Champion
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS
Top Stars: Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Roy Jones Jr.
Hidden Gems: Sonny Liston, Julio Cesar Chavez
The Fight Night series has been revered for its consistency. The intuitive controls, solid online play and enjoyable story mode keep it at the top of combat sports games in the new millennium. All five installments in the series have been generally praised by critics, making any of the games a worthy choice for this list. We’re going to give the slight edge here to Champion for its gritty, story-driven career mode.
21. Rocket League
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, OS X, Linux
Metacritic Score: 86% (PC)
The physics-based Rocket League can best be described as a soccer game played with rocket-powered cars. Teams score points by hitting an oversized ball into the opponent’s goal by any means necessary. Each game is about five minutes long, making it a very fast-paced game played best with a group of friends. Rocket League’s release in 2015 was a great reminder that the simplest of ideas, even in today’s era of video games, can be the most fun.
20. Mario Tennis
Platforms: Nintedo 64, Game Boy Color
Top Stars: Yoshi, Mario, Donkey Kong
Hidden Gems: Paratroopa, Baby Mario
It was only a matter of time before a Mario sports game cracked the list. No disrespect intended to Mario Super Sluggers, Mario Golf and Super Mario Strikers, but Mario Tennis is given the slightest of edges for its innovation and nostalgia factor. It wasn’t the very first sports game in the series – Mario Golf made its North American release a full year before – but it made the greatest strides in how Mario sports games would be made for the years to come. Tennis included colorful courts, fun power-ups, an expansive roster, and a certain pizzazz that a golf game struggles to capture.
19. NFL Blitz
Platforms: Arcade, N64, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, Windows
Top Stars: Deion Sanders, Dan Marino, Barry Sanders
Hidden Gems: Thurman Thomas, Corey Dillon, Zach Thomas
Midway Games made a lasting impact in the video game industry in the 90’s, and struck gold with their football counterpart to NBA Jam with the NFL Blitz series. In a different time, NFL Blitz may have never hit the shelves. With the NFL shifting towards “improving” player safety and providing a family-friendly product on the field, the bone-crushing late-hits that made the Blitz series so great would never have passed censors. Fast-paced, seven-on-seven action with some of the NFL’s all-time greats delivering the aforementioned brutal late-hits made this N64 and Arcade game an absolute classic.
18. NCAA Football 13
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Top Stars: Wisconsin HB #28 (Montee Ball), Notre Dame MLB #5 (Manti Te’o), Michigan QB #16 (Denard Robinson)
Hidden Gems: Nebraska HB #22 (Rex Burkhead), Florida State HB #4 (Chris Thompson)
NCAA Football was typically a year “behind” Madden in most respects. Any gameplay feature displayed in Madden would make an appearance the following year for NCAA games, pushing consumers to believe that the college game was a lesser product. That wasn’t the case with the 2013 cycle of games, as NCAA reigned supreme. With Madden fumbling to polish their patented Franchise mode, NCAA showcased a beautifully-made Dynasty mode that was packed with countless hours of gameplay.
It was taken up a notch further when EA allowed users to create online dynasties with friends and foes that made for the complete, competitive experience. There’s nothing like snagging the highly-coveted running back recruit from Georgia from your friend that’s the AD at South Carolina. So satisfying.
17. NHL ’94
Platforms: Sega Genesis, Super NES, Sega CD
Top Stars: Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Ed Belfour
Hidden Gems: Jeremy Roenick
The newer games are great, but there’s nothing quite like the simplistic classic, NHL ’94. A staple for any college dorm in the mid 90’s, NHL ’94 was as exciting as it gets for the 8-bit gaming era. Real player names, the introduction of one-timers and the inclusion of multiple game-modes gave this title massive replay-ability.
16. MLB The Show 17
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Top Stars: Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton
Hidden Gems: Rajai Davis, Corey Dickerson
Any game with Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover is guaranteed to be an instant hit. The Show has been widely regarded as the best baseball game on the market for a number of years now, and the 2017 iteration of the game is the most polished version yet. A deep Franchise mode coupled with their signature Road to the Show mode – now with a full story-line a la the NBA 2K series – gives gamers enough modes to siphon through during the MLB season. Unfortunately, MLB The Show is published by Sony Interactive, making it a PlayStation exclusive, much to the dismay of Xbox-owning baseball fans.
15. Backyard Baseball 2003
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Top Stars: Pablo Sanchez, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter
Hidden Gems: Todd Helton, Carlos Beltran, Mikey Thomas
The name Pablo Sanchez will forever resonate in gamers’ hearts as the greatest baseball player to ever live. The Backyard Sports series was simple, a (mainly) PC series of games featuring fictional and professional athletes as kids playing just about every major sport imaginable. Baseball was easily the most memorable in the series, with a huge roster of professional MLB players as their younger selves and a plethora of Backyard Kids to choose from.
In the Season Mode, the user creates a team – jersey, logo, colors, and home stadium – builds a roster and competes against other teams in the league for backyard supremacy. The game mostly resembles real baseball, just with a few aluminum bats (that send baseballs to the moon) and an occasional grounder that literally goes underground.
14. NBA Street Vol. 2
Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Top Stars: Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird
Hidden Gems: “Pistol” Pete Marvich, Steve Francis
As iconic of a series as there is, NBA Street changed the way people viewed basketball in the modern era. It was one of the earliest memories of players throwing the ball off of their opponents’ heads, and the invention of the “Gamebreaker” – an unstoppable move which triggers an extravagant cinematic – was a breakthrough in arcade sports games. The first iteration of NBA Street introduced many of these features, but Vol. 2 made everything bigger and better. More dribble moves, more in-depth career mode, more players – including three versions of Michael Jordan – and all in a sleeker, more refined package.
13. NBA Live 05
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Windows
Top Stars: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett
Hidden Gems: Brent Barry, Kyle Korver
Freestyle Control was the main selling point of the NBA Live franchise, allowing users to utilize the second thumb stick to emulate dribble moves as if they were actually doing them. The intuitiveness of crossing over to your right hand by pressing the stick to the right would seem commonplace among NBA games, but it took until 2002 for basketball games to include it.
NBA Live 03 introduced the Freestyle Control.
NBA Live 04 polished it.
NBA Live 05 perfected it.
Never before had we seen a basketball game that the user could so seamlessly change from executing a dribble move to pulling up for a jump shot. It felt natural, and was truly a giant step in advancing basketball games as a whole. Add to that a deep Franchise mode, great online play and the introduction of the Slam Dunk Contest and other All-Star weekend festivities, and you have the best basketball game of the 2000’s.
12. SSX Tricky
Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance
Top Stars: Eddie, Mac, Psymon
Hidden Gems: Kaori, Elise
The SSX series has brought us some of the best snowboarding games ever, with Tricky being the best of the bunch. Being released in 2001, games were trying hard to be as realistic as possible, making Tricky a breath of fresh air in the sports game library. The SSX universe gives its characters life through their style and unique interactions with one another.
SSX Tricky does the best job of blending the swagger of the series with interesting gameplay that can be enjoyed alone or with a friend. The races are so intense and the characters are so real that you actually find yourself having legitimate disdain for other riders based on what they may have done to you in previous races. That sense of immersion doesn’t come easy, and SSX Tricky nailed it to a tee.
11. Madden 2005
Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 1 & 2, Xbox, Nintendo DS, Windows, Game Boy Advance
Top Stars: Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Randy Moss
Hidden Gems: Laveranues Coles, Larry Johnson
Madden has been a staple in the gaming cycle since 1988. Ever since John Madden Football on the PC, a new edition has been released with each NFL season. There have been some great years, and some not so great ones, but for many, it remains a must-purchase every season. Madden seemingly hit its stride in the mid 2000’s, with arguably the two best versions coming out in consecutive years.
Madden 2004 added two features that became mainstays in the series in the user-friendly Playmaker Control and the immersive Owner mode, but it was Madden 2005 that takes the cake by giving us the perfectly named Hit Stick. The term coined by the Madden series is now a widely-used phrase in real football for dishing out painful hits on the gridiron.
10. MVP Baseball 2005
Platforms: GameCube, Windows, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox
Top Stars: Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero
Hidden Gems: Tim Wakefield, Derek Lee
After Madden introduced Owner mode, MVP Baseball 2005 took it a step further allowing users to set ticket prices, purchase stadium upgrades, hire and fire staff and anything else an actual owner would be able to do. All of the other features – setting lineups, roster and game management – were there as well, making for one of the most complete Franchise mode experiences to date. As far as gameplay, there wasn’t any other baseball game on the market that delivered like the MVP Baseball series. The controls were easy to learn, but the game itself was challenging yet rewarding.
9. NFL Street
Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Top Stars: Ricky Williams, Champ Bailey, Jevon Kearse, Mike Alstott
Hidden Gems: Antwaan Randle El, John Lynch, T.J. Duckett
NBA Street and SSX Tricky have gotten much praise over the years, but the best game from the EA Sports BIG studio will always be NFL Street. Building on the foundation of the previous Street titles, NFL Street blends together the enjoyment of a schoolyard football game with over-the-top arcade elements. It’s seven-on-seven football at its very best as each player plays both sides of the ball.
The fields all have unique characteristics that makes each game fresh, and for a sport that has their players covered by helmets, the entire game does a great job of giving players a sense of attitude and swagger. Pickup Game will always be the best mode, with users taking turns drafting teams from an available pool of 40 players. Make sure to grab Randy Moss!
Image Source: YouTube
8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Platforms: PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, Dreamcast, Xbox
Top Stars: Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek
Hidden Gems: Geoff Rowley, Kareem Campbell
Every Millennial claiming to have had a standard childhood knows the place pictured above. It’s the opening stage for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and with no stats to prove it, we can still confidently say it’s one of the most played stages in the history of video games. Smashing through the glass to open the run to land on the rail for a large combo. Rinse and repeat for endless hours of fun.
The first installment in the series isn’t the most refined skating game on the market, but it’s certainly one of the most innovative. Built upon an engine that contains hundreds of death-defying tricks and grinds, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is the rare gem of a game that successfully captures the essence of its sport.
Image Source: NeoGAF
7. Tecmo Super Bowl
Top Star: Bo Jackson
Hidden Gems: Marcus Allen, Randall Cunningham
Although Bo Jackson was one of the greatest athletes to ever live – having played both professional football and baseball – his claim to fame may always lead back to his portrayal as a Demi-God on Tecmo Super Bowl. The Oakland Raiders were outlawed throughout countless households for the running back’s ability to score touchdowns at will. Aside from having quite possibly the most over-powered player in sports game history, Tecmo Super Bowl set the standard for games of that generation with its streamlined play calling system and easy-to-learn mechanics.
Image Source: WBAL.com
6. WWF No Mercy
Platforms: Nintendo 64
Top Stars: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker
Hidden Gems: Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero
Tables, ladders, chairs, oh my! The greatest wrestling game of all-time is deserving of a spot near the top of this list for the lasting mark it left on the genre. Games that are being released in the modern era have attempted to recreate WWF No Mercy’s wonderful control scheme, but to no avail. The game features a robust Create-A-Wrestler feature with thousands of options, a dynamic story-mode that changed based upon decisions and match outcomes, and an unforgettable multi-player gameplay that made it remarkably more fun to play with a group of friends. The only thing missing is commentary from the great, Jim Ross. WWF No Mercy was the best there was, the best there is, and the best there will ever be.
Image Source: Cinemablend
5. NBA 2K11
Platforms: PlayStation 2 & 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Windows
Top Stars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming
Hidden Gems: J.R. Smith, Ben Gordon
Career modes have been done by many other sports games, but nobody does it better than the 2K series. NBA 2K10 introduced the MyPlayer mode, allowing players to customize and build a unique player to eventually take online and battle it out with other users’ creations. NBA 2K11 advanced the mode to greater heights, adding more options and a smoother overall gameplay to the table.
On top of all the other features that make the 2K series so great, the main selling point was the inclusion of Michael Jordan. Jordan hadn’t been in a professional basketball game in nearly a decade at this point, and NBA 2K11 did the G.O.A.T justice by adding a “Michael Jordan Legacy Mode” which was similar to the MyPlayer but allowed users to take over a rookie Jordan’s career instead. Anytime Michael Jordan grants his likeness to a video game, it’s destined for greatness.
Image Source: Amazon.com
4. FIFA 12
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintedo Wii, and more
Top Stars: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović
Hidden Gems: Seydou Doumbia, Jonathan Biabiany
Of all the major sports, FIFA is the best simulator of the sport it is attempting to convey. The gameplay is crisp and graphics were absolutely stunning for the time. Career mode has all of the general necessities you look for, but the real meat and bones of FIFA is in the online play – mainly FIFA Ultimate Team or FUT.
Ultimate Team is essentially the mixture of Fantasy sports and a trading card game. Open packs filled with players, coaches and consumables, trade players with others online, work the auction house, and field the best team possible with players on each and every team. You can have a frontline of Ronaldo and Messi, with a midfield of Andrea Pirlo and Steven Gerrard. The possibilities are limitless.
Image Source: Electronic Arts
3. ESPN NFL 2K5
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Top Stars: LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Owens, Sean Taylor
Hidden Gems: Dante Hall, Tatum Bell, DeAngelo Hall
Every single American football game for the rest of time is doomed to the inevitable comparisons to ESPN NFL 2K5. Going head-to-head with the juggernaut that is Madden, 2K Sports found a way to make a near perfect football game jam-packed with features and gameplay options. Did we mention that the retail price was just $20?
The physics engine was impeccable, each runner felt unique and had a specific weight to them. Individual player ratings actually meant something. Defenders reacted naturally to receivers crossing their zones as the quarterback tries to read the field. The commentary was top-notch, and the ESPN license allowed 2K to make the best visual presentation on the market – including a legendary performance from Chris Berman for halftime and weekly wrap-up shows. It truly feels like you’re watching football on Sunday.
ESPN NFL 2K5 threaded the line between realism while still being as enjoyable as any game before it. Although it doesn’t take the top spot on this list, it’s the highest rated simulation game, which certainly counts for something.
Image Source: Polygon
2. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!
Top Stars: Little Mac, Mike Tyson
Hidden Gems: Glass Joe
A game is truly great when it’s still enjoyable 20 years after the initial release. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! is one of the most iconic games in the history of video games. The graphics are primitive, the controls are simplistic, there’s hardly any story, but if you’ve tried Punch Out, you understand the appeal. There’s something about the quirky characters and the endearing underdog story that captured the imagination of millions that makes this game playable even to this day.
The challenge at the end of the road is the intimidating Mike Tyson – a highly polarizing figure in pop culture – and defeating him is no easy task. If you’re one of the lucky few that has bested virtual Tyson, cherish that accomplishment, because you’ve completed one of the greatest video games ever conceived.
Image Source: YouTube
1. NBA Jam Tournament Edition
Platforms: Arcade, Super NES, Sega Genesis, Game Gear, Game Boy, Sega CD
Top Stars: Karl Malone/John Stockton, Alonzo Mourning/Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton
Hidden Gems: Penny Hardaway/Nick Anderson
Often imitated, never duplicated, NBA Jam is at the pinnacle of the sports video game pyramid. Endless amounts of quarters were spent testing out every possible team combination, attempting to get “On Fire”, and having an absolute blast. NBA Jam Tournament Edition took the original a step further, with more teams, more players and a slew of new options including hot spots. Possibly the best facet of the game is the sounds, with unforgettable music and historic commentary that introduced us to the phrase “Boomshakalaka.” Nearly every single Arcade sports game thereafter attempted to recreate the magic, but NBA Jam was the first to do it.
Games today are arguably better – more sophisticated graphics, more modes, better controls – but none are greater. Boomshakalaka.
Image Source: Giant Bomb