With most of the professional athletes taking intermission, or in recess, or whatever it’s called. Summer vacation! That’s it. With most athletes on summer vacation, and with the Olympics over, there isn’t enough exciting sports action to keep us fans entertained. Yeah, it’s baseball season, and this will probably come off as very un-American, but I think baseball is dreadfully boring. It’s hard for me to stay awake when a vast majority of the players are either standing around the field, picking their noses waiting for the ball to be hit towards them, or are sitting on the bench waiting for their turn to swing (batter, batter). And growing up on the north side of Chicago, one could describe my relationship with baseball as a constant dose of depression. But fortunately, us gamers can turn to our games to fill that void in our hearts that only sports can fill. That, or go outside and actually play some sports, but we all know that’s not fucking likely. So let’s look at the top sports franchises who have excelled at making our clicks and button mashing almost as satisfying as hitting a shot, kicking a ball, or actually using our legs for once.
#5- NBA Street
While NFL Street and FIFA Street were also excellent series that demonstrated a unique blend of playing as professional athletes in a non-professional setting, EA Sports BIG began this trend with NBA Street back in 2001. NBA Street took three-on-three basketball and added in style, brutality, and the ability to defy physics. NBA Street’s most notable mechanic was its trick meter, which grew and grew the more style and flash you and your teammates added to the game. Once the meter hit maximum, your team would perform a Gamebreaker, a choreographed, over-the-top play that would also subtract points from your opponents to really rub it in, and would typically be followed with “oh’s” and bragging from whoever was holding the controller at the time. Featuring a huge cast of real-life professional players, as well as fictional street legends who served as bosses, basketball fans of every team weren’t disappointed, and the second installment featured multiple incarnations of the great one, Michael Jordan, the only game to do so until NBA 2K11. The second and third installments also featured Be A Legend and NBA Challenge modes, and character creation/NBA player modification systems. This series is endlessly entertaining for any basketball fan. Long story short, NBA Street is ballin’.
Just like the North Chicago part of me is constantly let down by our baseball team, my Scottish side is also routinely disappointed, due to Scotland’s national football team’s World Cup issues. Scotland has never made it past the first round of the FIFA World Cup. Ever. But fortunately I can put in FIFA, switch mentally to denial mode, and take Scotland and the Tartan Army all the way to winning the World Cup. EA Sports’ FIFA series is literally as old as I am, beginning in 1993, and was the first to have an official license from the real-life FIFA. Since then, FIFA has added in loads of exclusively licensed leagues and clubs, and quickly became the dominant player on the soccer (game) pitch. According to Gamespot, FIFA ‘12 set the record for the fastest selling sports game ever, with 3.3 million copies sold in the first week. The series has been so successful, that it is has branched off to release titles focused on single tournaments, such as FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Championship. FIFA also has its own spin-off titles, such as FIFA Street and the FIFA Manager series. With fast-paced realistic gameplay, multiplayer action as intense as the game of soccer itself, and players and presentation that make you feel like you’re watching a live game, it’s no surprise that FIFA Soccer is in a premier league of its own.
#3- NCAA Football
It was a very difficult decision between Madden and NCAA Football for the third spot in this list. I ended up picking NCAA for very biased reasons. I just find college football far more exciting than professional football. Each regular season game has far more championship implications in college football than in the pros. The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants lost what, seven games last year before the playoffs? In college football, you lose more than one, and your chances of playing in the BCS title game are pretty much gone. Anyway, NCAA Football (again from EA Sports) makes this list not just because of its exciting gameplay and impressive graphical upgrades each installment, but because of the new modes and features that get added and improved upon each year. In NCAA 06, we got Race for the Heisman mode. Next, we got Turning the Tide, a new awesome momentum mechanic. Somewhere throughout the series we got mascot games, improvements to the famous dynasty mode, Heisman Mode turned into the Road to Glory, which featured the gorgeous Erin Andrews narrating your progress as you go from third string to Heisman candidate. The newest installment, NCAA 13, features the ability to take former Heisman winners and put them on any team in today’s college football world. The only thing I saw that went wrong was the loss of Lee Corso doing play-by-play and his pre-game predictions. But come to think of it, I do remember Lee always rambling on about practice habits while I was making a big-time interception late in the game. I guess he won’t be missed that much……………Go Blue.
#2- Backyard Sports
I bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Yes, we’re going back to the late 90’s again for a series that began on the computer that emphasized power-ups, kid versions of your favorite athletes, and some pretty hilarious commentary. While the series went on to include sports such as basketball, hockey, and, for some reason beyond me, skateboarding, Backyard Sports began and excelled the most in the sports you could play on actual backyards, namely soccer, baseball, and football. What was awesome about playing these games on the computer is that you could easily master playing with a point-and-click style using just the mouse, or you could incorporate the keyboard if you really wanted to. And after Infrogrames bought out the series from Humongous Entertainment in 2001, they maintained the series on the PC, while also doing a pretty good job transitioning the games over to consoles. Despite my distaste for baseball, I’ve never been able to part with Backyard Baseball for the Gamecube. Backyard Sports kept its game modes sweet and simple, with season mode, pick-up games, and even online play. And no matter the mode or sport, they always kept with the recess-style, point and pick way of choosing teams. Backyard Sports also featured the ability to play as professional teams, or as pre-generated fictional teams, or you could just create your own. There were a ton of different fields and environments, each with different effects on the game, from indoor soccer arenas, to concrete baseball fields, to football fields covered in mud. This was the first sports series I ever played, and Backyard Sports will always have a spot in my heart, and I invite all of you to look through your old CD collections to see if you have just one Backyard installment sitting there, waiting for you. Play ball kiddos.
#1 NBA 2K
This series tops the list for two main reasons: its ability to turn itself around and dominate the market in recent years, and its homage to the greatest to ever play the game, Michael Jordan. While Chicagoans won’t typically jump to defend our baseball teams, we hold our heads high in respect and admiration for Air Jordan. And anyone who dares to compare LeBron James to MJ is quickly met with piercing glares and two simple words, “six rings.” And NBA 2K11 not only celebrated Jordan by allowing the player to replicate his greatest moments and more, but revitalized the NBA 2K series as a whole. Many who have reviewed it say it might be the greatest sports game of our generation, and was even a contender for Game of the Year when it was released. 2K11’s biggest feature was its Jordan Challenges: ten of the most iconic Jordan moments of all time for you to recreate, including the famous Shrug, the amazing Flu Game, and the emotional Fathers’ Day championship win. Once these challenges are all completed, you unlock the “MJ: Creating a Legend” mode, which allows you to play as a rookie Michael Jordan for any team in today’s NBA, allowing you to determine what kind of impact MJ will have on the game. The final big Jordan feature is collecting more and more Jordan Brand shoes the more you accomplish, which grant certain attribute bonuses depending on which shoe is equipped. Apart from the features highlighting His Airness, 2K also has an outstanding My Player mode for you to make your own impact on the NBA, a deep and addictive Dynasty mode, as well as one-on-one challenges, games of 21, 3-point shootouts, and dunk contests. NBA 2K12 added to the legend of Jordan by adding other legends for you to play as, such as Magic, Kareem, Larry Bird, and Hakeem the Dream. They also improved the My Player mode, which in 2K11 took way too long to actually get to the NBA, but now gets you on the team and doing your thing much quicker. They also added Creating a Legend mode, similar to the MJ Legend mode from the previous year, but could now be done with any player in the NBA. They also added to Steve Kerr to commentary, which as a Bulls fan, I love. Now they just have to add Stacey King. NBA 2K13 promises to deliver more as well, with more realistic gameplay, a revamp of the All-Star Weekend, and much more that has yet to be seen. It’s hard to tell if its coincidence or not, but it’s certainly fitting that a game that pays so much respect to the greatest player of all time, is also one of the greatest sports games of all time.
[Ed's Note: Regardless of what this list may say, for me and all the other Canadians out there, the NHL games still kick serious ass.]