Surely, yearly sports games don't have much life in them, as when the next edition comes out, the last one is quickly forgotten. Despite this, history is rich with excellent titles that transcend time, as they remain enjoyable to play. Even better, they are very approachable and favored even by those who usually don't care about the genre. We decided to stick to only one game per series for this list, but that's the only condition. This means that a sport can be represented multiple times, as we didn't want the most diverse but the best possible top ten list. So, here we go!
10. Neo Turf Masters
Casual or arcade golf games are nothing new, as Golden Tee and Everybody's Golf are both great series. However, it's hard to beat the Neo Geo classic, Neo Turf Masters. What makes this title so appealing is the control system, which is both fun and easy to use. The two-click system lets you decide the power and the height of the shoot, but you can also add a slice and hook. Yet, the game is very challenging, as you need to hit those birdies to escape the Game Over screen.
Six available golfers are surprisingly different. While George Spinner does everything averagely, others are experts at either putting, driving, or precision. Unlike many other arcade golf titles, Neo Turf Masters stays grounded in reality, as you can't do superhuman shots. It's all about concentration and adjusting your shots according to the wind. The only reason why this game isn't any higher is the lack of content. Yet, you'll always come back to it.
9. Virtua Tennis 2
With the Virtua Tennis series, Sega finally brought the sport to the masses. What we love about these games is the fun control system. Missing the ball is almost impossible here, while the frustrating unforced errors are rarely seen. This results in attractive, high-speed matches, despite the lack of any super moves. While the gameplay in Virtua Tennis 2 isn't much improved over the original, the content is way better.
For the first time, you can play as a female, while the World Tour mode is way more complex. Sticking closer to reality, now you have calendarized seasons, where you combine training and playing tournaments. The included mini-games might not be realistic, but they are some of the best you'll find in any sports title. This means they never feel like a chore, which is a huge feat. While the rest of the series is also excellent, play this one if you can. You don't need the original hardware, as it's perfectly emulated.
8. Beach Spikers
If this was the list of the most underrated sports games, Beach Spikers would surely take the crown! When playing this title, you'll notice the apparent similarity with the Virtua Tennis series. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive, as you need to use just two buttons. However, you still have three types of serve and plenty of ways to defend and attack. Therefore, this results in gameplay that's even more fun than the Virtua Tennis series.
Single-player offers a pretty unique World Tour mode where you need to help your teammate improve. While the first few games can feel frustrating, later, you'll be able to compete against the best. The lack of mini-games in between is something we miss, though. Despite being published over 20 years ago, Beach Spikers looks incredible. Bright colors, fantastic animation, and lots of details make its graphics timeless. This is the only volleyball game you'll need, at least unless Sega makes a sequel. Although, by this point, we would be happy with a remaster too.
7. Baseball Stars 2
Baseball is far from a global sport, as Europe and the better part of the world don't care about it. Yet, Baseball Stars 2 is the game hardly anyone can ignore! What SNK did was focus on the basics of batting and pitching while throwing away every complicated aspect of the sport. Yet, as you toss the ball, you still have plenty of ways to confuse the batter. Hitting the ball is incredibly satisfying, especially if it results in a spectacular home run.
Surprisingly, you still have to take care of the fatigue and change your players when needed. Another part of the strategy are special players and the ability to power up the bat, making it hard to miss the hit. Beautiful graphics and animation only make things better, giving the game an unbelievable vibe. Luckily, as there's a season mode, you'll have plenty of fun in single-player too.
6. SSX Tricky
In the early 2000s, EA Big was all the rage with its line of fantastic arcade sports titles. While the original SSX picked up some excellent scores, SSX Tricky quickly made it obsolete. In this game, you need to be quick while doing insane tricks to fill your boost meter. Once you reach the max level, you may risk more and perform Uber moves to activate the infinite boost. You can even play dirty by hitting your opponents, though they will try to get back at you later!
Yet, this is not a challenging game, as the controls are easy to understand, and you'll do basic tricks in no time. However, you'll always find ways to improve. We also love the courses in this one as they are highly varied and not set on a single mountain as in SSX 3. The character design is also strong, with voices provided by some of the top Hollywood talents at the time. While every SSX game is excellent (including the reboot), this one is the top choice.
5. FIFA Street (2012)
The FIFA Street series wasn't particularly good in its early years. These arcade titles tried hard to copy the success of NBA Street but failed miserably. In 2012, EA rebooted the series, making it way more realistic. However, you can still do a fantastic amount of tricks with some of the world's best players. Additionally, you have tons of ways to play. Apart from regular street football, this includes panna and even futsal. Plus, you can define your rules, including the number of players.
The game offers beautiful locations around the world, so you'll visit Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, or Rio De Janeiro. Even better, there's an excellent World Tour mode where you build your created players and take those from the teams you beat. Up to three of your friends can join you at any time, which may be even more fun than the standard versus games. Even though the online mode is dead, FIFA Street still represents street football much better than Volta mode in modern FIFA games.
4. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
While the original NBA Jam is still very fun, the formula kept improving, eventually resulting in the 2010 reboot. The developer EA Canada stuck to the roots, offering the familiar fast and furious gameplay. Nothing about this two-on-two title is realistic, as you can shove your opponent and jump twenty feet in the air for a spectacular dunk. Per tradition, you only have to be aware of the shot clock and goaltending rules.
While the game offers teams and players from the 2009/2010 season, you can still unlock tons of classic stars such as Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, or Dennis Rodman. Furthermore, there's so much hidden content! Finally, we love the graphics which combine 3D models with photographs and the return of Tim Kitzrow as the announcer from the original game.
3. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2
Remaking licensed sports games feels like a nightmare, so the return of the first two Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games seemed highly unlikely. Yet, Activision surprised us with this remake that brought back almost all the content and added more! This includes younger skaters and almost 40 new music tracks. Since the developers had the original game code, it was easier to stick close to the initial controls. However, they also made some slight improvements to make it feel better on modern gamepads.
Both these games trade reality for fun, as you make insane tricks and combos. Yet, they still offer tons of depth. As a result, you'll always try to land a new sequence and feel the adrenaline rush once you do it. Since controls are so precise, you can only blame yourself when your face hits the floor. With dramatically improved graphics, fun multiplayer, and the ability to create your park, this is one incredible package.
2. NBA Street Vol. 2
The first NBA Street was a classic, as it offered a unique twist on arcade-style basketball. While this game wasn't as over the top as NBA Jam, you could still make ridiculous super moves. Also, unlike NBA Jam, there's no goaltending rule here, making shot-stoppers even more valuable. NBA Street Vol. 2 brings things to another level by further improving the gameplay, adding more moves and dunks. There is also so much content to unlock, including NBA legends, courts, jerseys, or even trick moves.
While the game is best in multiplayer, going solo is still a fun experience. In NBA Challenge, you need to beat a series of teams, while in Be A Legend, you create your club and character. NBA Street Vol. 2 aged gracefully, as the stylized graphics remain unique. Recognizing all these guys is an easy task, as you'll see Magic Johnson or three versions of Michael Jordan!
1. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
After a series of arcade games, Nintendo decided to finally bring its Punch-Out!! series to the NES. Yet, they never settled for a simple port, improving on almost everything instead. In an iconic move, they also signed Mike Tyson, the most dominant boxer in his era. However, it was all about the gameplay, as you had to beat massive opponents on your road to Iron Mike, then known as Kid Dynamite.
Instead of letting you walk around, all the action is in the center of the ring. This means that the action never stops as you dodge, block, and attack your rival. Learning their patterns is the key to success, but you'll also find some hidden depth. Many boxers have weak points, enabling you to beat them quickly or gain stars for super moves. The challenge is still hard, but you have your trainer Doc Lewis on your side between the rounds. While later games are excellent, none of them share the same charm.
There are so many more brilliant sports games that could have easily ended up on our top list, so let's mention some of them. These include Street Hoops, Wi Sports, Windjammers, NHL 94, NBA Live 96, NFL Blitz 2000 Gold, and Track & Field. We also considered WWF Wrestlemania, NFL Street 2, Sega Rally, NBA Ballers, and Mutant League Football. Luckily, you can play all of them now using emulation on PC or on the Xbox Series console via Dev Mode.
What are some of your favorite sports titles? Which of these series needs a reboot? Tell us in the comments section!
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Sick Simon Says:
NBA Jam Reboot is one of the things that EA did in this century. It's still a great game. The only problem is that On Fire Edition is available only digitally.
October 20 at 02:25:48 PM
NBA Street 2 is still my jam, and it looks phenomenal on PCSX2 emulator with the right settings.
July 12 at 01:17:30 PM
Every summer I play Beach Spikers and wonder why Sega never made another one. It's a class above every volleyball game ever and it still looks gorgeous, especially if you play it on Dolphin emu
June 24 at 12:49:04 PM