This is what happens when national pastimes collide. Today we’re talking about Sports games, what are essentially games about games. Several of us do more than our fair share of contributing to the stereotype that gamers are nerds who don’t like sports, but the fact is that video games based on football, baseball, hockey, basketball, and so on have been around since the dawn of gaming. For many people, these are gateway games into the digital universe with rules they already know and understand. For others, these are just reminders of a lack of athletic ability and general disinterest in the sports scene.
Regardless of what faction you personally fall into or if neither boot fits, the fact is that there are a lot of similarities between hardcore gamers and hardcore sports fans: generally speaking, both are extremely dedicated, both look down on the other, both are interested in what are essentially games, both have fandom wars with intense patriotism, both can talk at length about their games of interest, both verge upon fanaticism with their love for the game, both purchase all kinds of paraphernalia to demonstrate their support. Sports fans and gamers are more alike than you think and sometimes the person who understands your life least does so because nobody has tried to reach out to help them understand the other. The end, there’s not much difference between volley ball and blitz ball.
Here come the games…
The Green Screen Mage
Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. Okay, so I don’t really play sports games at all, but I remember being really good at this one. Birdo was my go-to.
The Black Humor Mage
Sports? PAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Wii Sports is fun.
The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Now I will be the first to admit that this series has completely lost its way, most likely to never be recovered to its former glory. I also was not sure whether to pick this or Skate because of how much better the quality is of the Skate games. I had to go with the classic though for all time favorite. There was nothing like this at the time and I just remember being so incredibly excited to actually be able to control some awesome skateboarders. (Honorary Mentions – MLB The Show, NBA Jam, Skate)
The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)
Wut r sports? I am not the most sporty individual, but back in the NES era, I used to play Bases Loaded 2 with my brother all the time. I used to love playing as my local sports squadron.
The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 (Xbox360). Talking about Pro Evolution Soccer is like discussing The Simpsons with a diehard fan; watching something that was once amazing fall so far is depressing. Sure there is the odd flash of hope (‘Insane Clown Poppy’, PES’s new game engine) but generally it’s all been downhill.
PES11 was the series’ last great game and probably the peak of the series. The game was smooth and challenging, plus it had an amazing online mode. Weekly leagues ruined lives, friendships, sleep and joypads. Staying up till 2am looking for left backs was considered normal. Asking your friends if they knew of any midfielders who had the ‘enforcer’ card was considered normal…I miss those days, but I’m not sure how I survived them.
The Dapper Zaffre Mage (Save File 02)
I’m not quite sure where to begin with Pitball on the PSX. It’s basically futuristic 2v2 basketball in space. I can’t even recall what the premise -was-, only that there were several races to play and no such thing as fouls; if anything, violence was heavily encouraged as a proper way to ‘intercept’ the ball, either through race-specific special attacks, or simply through decking an opponent in the face and running off with the ball. Pitball was actually a pretty fun concept, and the game might have fared well with better controls and a fairer A.I.
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (Nostalgia Trigger)
Backyard Baseball. To be honest, sports games never really blew my skirt up during my younger years. It wasn’t until the Nintendo 64 that a handful of titles made their way on to my radar, with the likes of NFL Blitz and Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. shattering the mold of traditional sports titles that seemed to require doctorate degrees in their respective sport to understand. That being said, there was one game that came out for PC just before the Nintendo 64 made waves, and that game is Backyard Baseball. It turned the sport into what it was to me at the time, by showing it through the lenses of a kid playing baseball with his or her friends. Up to that point, sports games always seemed too tough and professional for me, without much of a focus on fun. But by replacing the adults with kids, it made sports games in general far more approachable. Today, the franchise isn’t what it used to be, but Backyard Baseball always holds a special place for me. And Pablo Sanchez is arguably the best player in any sports game, period.
The Rage Mage
Nothing says the prostitution of an IP for profit quite like Mega Man Soccer. At the height of his popularity, before Capcom decided to make him clean toilets, Mega Man starred in a bizarre soccer video game with some robot bosses. I guess on their downtime between bouts of trying to murder each other they played a friendly game of British football, to a boorish reception. This game should’ve taken cues from sports classics like Mario Bocce Ball and Mario Shuffleboard.
The Well-Red Mage
So at first I was reluctant to include this genre of games. I definitely fall into the category of a gamer showing disgust for extreme sports fans. I have a friend who will hang on to every word of a ballgame broadcast and we’ve had some banter back and forth about the ridiculousness of her love for the Dodgers and my love for Nintendo, but it dawned on me that we’re really talking the same thing in two different languages. In the end, that epiphany led me to keep this genre in our Elemental Challenge. I might not understand why someone would be excited by the headline “In sports today: man hits ball!” but then, the same thing is true from her perspective.
That said, I went for a compromise with a Nintendo sports action-puzzle classic: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! This game about a series of boss fights is one of the best on the NES for its complex mechanics, timing, difficulty, and visual cues. The quirky characters were even designed by Shigeru Miyamoto! Though Nintendo later dropped Tyson’s name from the game, the game itself survived the legend of the real life boxer, and it’s regarded well by fans in the retro community. I’m not the best at it and I always struggle with it every time but its intricacy is entirely admirable.
Well whew… we got through that. See? It wasn’t so bad. Thanks for reading, even if sports games aren’t your thang! Tomorrow we’re featuring a genre that’s sure to get your heart… racing.
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