Thursday, August 17, 2006

The top 12 sports in the video game world

That's my "Snakes on a Plane" title in honor of this weekend's most Samuelicious new movie. Why 12? Because I couldn't think of any more. In ascending order:

12)Volleyball. I don't know why I even bothered including it, except that I spent a lot of time with Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos when I was a kid, to the point that I actually watched beach volleyball on NBC during the afternoon on Saturdays. I can't imagine there's a huge market for volleyball games, except that one with the chicks with big hooters. It's a pretty static game - they might as well make badminton into a game, which would have the added bonus of making kids like badminton, an infinitely more fun game to play at a party than volleyball (especially if there's a lot of spaz kids in your neighborhood).
Classic representative of the genre: Kings of the Beach.

11)Soccer. I like soccer, especially the World Cup variety. But I have never played a soccer game that was any good. They're always too goddamn difficult and too goddamn boring. I might be willing to watch a scoreless tie on TV when it's world class athletes running up and down the field, but I damn sure don't want to watch a scoreless tie when it's my greasy fingers doing all the work.
Classic representative of the genre: Not a single one that I can think of. One of those EA FIFA games I guess.

10)Dodgeball. Obviously, this is only here for one reason. But hey, that game was pretty damn kickass, good enough to lift it over soccer. And I don't want to hear about the movie - until Ben Stiller turns into a floating angel when he gets eliminated, he can kiss my ass.
Classic representative of the genre: Come on. Look at the picture. If you don't know it, you're probably a terrorist.

9)Tennis. This is another game that's position here is essentially justified by a single title. I could never picture any reason why a kid would have gone to the store looking for a Nintendo game and said, "Mommy, can you get me Tennis?" But add Koopa, Yoshi and Wario, and now you've got yourself a game. This was of course Nintendo's entire strategy from the N64 on - take a crappy game, throw Mario and friends into it, and sell lots of titles. But Mario Tennis is actually good so take that Nintendo, dream ruiners!
Classic representative of the genre: Mario Tennis.

8)Boxing. Much like volleyball, this sport is just too static to make a great game. Obviously there's one title that all of us played growing up, but does anyone play those EA boxing games? Except for Turtle? Why not just play Street Fighter where you can be the Indian dude with the giant arms (they stole that bit from Master of the Flying Guillotine).
Classic representative of the genre: Punch Out! (Mike Tyson optional)

7)Olympic sports. Yeah, I'm going to lump them all together. Number one, it's tough to really get into something when they only put the son of a bitch out every 4 years. And two, so many Olympics titles are based around "alternate pushing button A and B as fast as you can for 15 seconds". That shit hurts. Still, these are fun change-of-pace games, especially if you had a Power Pad. And no, no one actually ran on those things (I play video games because I don't want to excercise).
Classic representative of the genre: Winter Olympics 1994. Fun as hell to do the downhill, painful as hell to do speed skating.

6)Motor Sports. Okay, now we're getting into the good ones. No, I've never had any desire to play one of those high-fallutin' NASCAR simulations that EA sells to the redneck market, but there are more than enough good racing titles to go around, whether you like midnight racing, street racing, Monte Carlo-style racing or plain old ugly pixellated racing. These are best played in the arcade of course, unless you happen to own a controller that's shaped like a steering wheel. And if you do, it's not too late to rethink your priorities.
Classic representative of the genre: Pole Position.

5)Basketball. Somehow, basketball games always seem better on paper than they actually end up being. I mean, it's a major American team sport with a large fan base, so they go all out with the realism and all that jazz. But in the end, it's a game where you run up and down the court and score pretty much every time. Plus, they decided long ago that what the fans want are dunks, dunks and more dunks, so that's pretty much all you end up doing. Still, basketball games are in the inner circle.
Classic representative of the genre: NBA Jam. Pretty much the default arcade choice until NFL Blitz came along. If the arcade had nothing else good, you could always get on an NBA Jam machine and rock some Detlef Schrempf.

4)Baseball. Much as it pains me to say it, baseball games have just never lived up to the top-billed status of their sport. Baseball games are always disappointing - too hard, too easy, too goofy, too unrealistic, too boring. That's not to say they don't have their place in the sports video game pantheon, just that it's really hard to find one that's worth wasting too much time on. They're this high partly by default, and partly because they are (or at least were) necessary in order to put together a simulation league with your friends. Oh come on, you know you did that too! Fine, I was the only one. Fuck you.
Classic representative of the genre: Tony LaRussa Baseball 2, for completely personal and sentimental reasons. I can still picture many players' 1993 stats because of this game. And I still have a soft spot for Jeff Reed for the same reason (this would only make sense if you knew Jeff Reed's righty/lefty split in 1993).

3)Golf. I consider this an upset in the number 3 spot, beating out a sport which I care a whole lot more about. But there is something incredibly soothing about loading up a golf game in the middle of winter and hearing the sounds of the links. This is the ultimate single-player sports game, something to do when you're....a huge nerd....with no friends. No, it's totally cool to design an entire course from scratch. That's not sad at all.
Classic representative of the genre: Tiger Woods 2006. Unlike most of the other games, I have no sentimental childhood favorite (well, except the game which was called Links, but that only had one course that came with it and it took forever to load each hole. It did have some catch phrases that are still burned in my brain though:
"Nice bird."
"Looks like it hit the tree, Jim." (I still have no idea who the hell Jim was, but his partner was a dick).
But the EA games are the gold standard, and they're good enough to be considered THE classics now.

2)Football. That's right, 2. I know most people would put it at #1 with a bullet, but I won't. Football has just about everything you want in a game - it's got a huge fan base, so a lot of effort is put into each title, it's fast-paced, it has a bit of strategy and a bit of action, and it's a sport in which you know all the players. But it has two drawbacks - half the game is spent picking plays rather than actually playing the game on the field, and having two players on the same team is more frustrating than fun (making games of more than 2 people kind of pointless). That's nit-picking though - football translates real well to the video game world. Just not #1 well.
Classic representative of the genre: Tecmo Super Bowl. The game of everyone's childhood. I also have a soft spot for Joe Montana Football for Sega Genesis, a game that I knew all the tricks to (screen pass left, spin move down the sideline - the spin move essentially made the ballcarrier untacklable.)

1)Hockey. Number 1, you say? Damn right. Hockey has everything you want in a game - it's fast-paced at all times, it's low scoring (so whenever you get points it's exciting) but not so low scoring that you're bored. It's just as fun with 4 people as it is with 2. It has recognizable names - maybe less so now after the strike, but hockey is still technically a big four sport. It's a team sport, so you can pick your favorite and take them to the title (a big minus for golf). There's even roster management for people who like that sort of thing. Hockey is the classic game for slacker movie characters too - "I'm gonna make Gretzky's head bleed for super fan 99 over here." or perhaps, "What difference does it make if I refer to her as a dyke? Or if I call the Whalers a bunch of faggots in the comfort of my own office, far from the sensitive ears of the rest of the world?"
Classic representative of the genre: NHL 95. One-timers were introduced in 94, but 95 introduced the full season schedule (the main difference between a goofy sports game and a realistic sports "simulation"). Honorable mention goes to NHL 96, which was the last year of the Quebec Nordiques and their awesome logo (RIP).


Blogger BobCat said...

Earl Weaver baseball was much better then Tony LaRussa. I loved the NES World Cup soccer game, it was a good rainy day game.

Fri Aug 18, 04:43:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an avid sports video game player I have to make the case for a couple games.

Mario Tennis is a lot of fun, but I was always a bigger fan of Virtua Tennis. The game play was faster and it actually cared to make a noticeable difference between top spin and back spin. This made the game not only more fun, but actually strategic as well.

SNK Baseball Stars was the baseball game of choice in my neighborhood. It allowed you to create your own team and develop them all the way to the top. Big bonus was that you could create multiple teams and play them against eachother. This, coupled with it's better than average game play make it my personal favorite baseball game of all time. Sure no MLB players, but who cares when your best friend is your ace pitcher and Barry Sanders is your slugging 1st baseman.

And finally, if you've never played Wayne Gretzky Hockey for N64 you should pick up a copy. It has all the zaniness of NFL Blitz and NBA Jam, but the high speed and hard hitting of hockey. The game play is phenomenal. It's awesome for four people and when the goalie makes a couple nice saves in a row he actually turns into a brick wall! NHLPA 95 was a truly great game, but without the ability to control the goalies an expert player could actually score at will.

Not sure where extreme sports make the list, but the Tony Hawk series deserves some mention.


Fri Aug 18, 10:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Craig said...

Earl Weaver is just a bit before my time, although I knew of it. Tony LaRussa 2 was the "serious" game we played in my neighborhood, but we also played a hell of a lot of Baseball Stars. I remember making a team, circa 1992 or so, which was all Orioles, and I got that team to the point where they could regularly beat the All-Stars (the guys with the American Hall of Famers), which is pretty much the goal of the game.

For anyone who's curious, Jeff Reed's overall line in 1993 was .261/.346/.437. He hit all of 6 homers in 119 at-bats, but every single one came against lefties, so his lefty split slugging percentage was something like 1.160. In Tony, if you played a full season, guys like Reed with that few AB's would get injured enough so that they couldn't simply play every game with those numbers, but if you platooned Reed against lefties he'd hit about 25-30 homers in about 250 AB's.

I never played Virtu Tennis. Tennis games suck - I only played Mario Tennis because my wife likes it. But I like it too. And I played Wayne Gretzky, and never liked it as much as the EA games. Truth be told, the one I played the most was NHL 99 on Playstation, but 1995 I remember being the year where it took the big leap from something you'd play occasionally to something you'd play all the time. And again, the Nordiques, who were NEVER any good, were finally good that year, and then by NHL 96 they had moved to Denver and become a powerhouse. But I always dug the Nordiques, and it was neat to see them be good for a change.

Fri Aug 18, 11:07:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Steve said...

Remember how on Tony LaRussa baseball when you struck it would show that cut-scene of a guy striking out, and although his colors would always resemble the team you were playing with, you could just slightly make out that his shirt had the writing "Phillies" on it?

Fri Aug 18, 11:24:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Craig said...

Holy shit that's right, I do remember that.

Fri Aug 18, 11:32:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Whisk E. Bear said...

Super Batter Up: Kent Hrbek hits for the cycle. Still the pinnacle of my video gaming career.

Fri Aug 18, 11:40:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff on the basketball games. NBA Jam was one of my favorite games--my friends and I would always see who could do the best dunks; plus Detlef Schrempf is an awesome name. Boom-shakalaka!


Fri Aug 18, 01:56:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like soccer games... But I guess I'm biased.

And good call on Mario Tennis. My brother still busts it out from time to time.


Fri Aug 18, 04:41:00 PM EDT  

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