Sports fans love watching their favorite players and athletes chase after championships. It’s part of what makes sports the ultimate reality TV show. Sports enthusiasts and fans enjoy watching the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat play out live right before their eyes. It stands to reason that a lot of sports fans, especially younger sports fans, love playing sports video games for similar reasons. From the first-generation Nintendo to modern-day next-gen gaming consoles, the best sports video games of all time allow fans to assume the role of their favorite athletes, coaches, and owners in an effort to chase sports glory from the comfort of their living rooms.
Of course, video games can be a touchy subject for parents of school-age children. Parents worry that video games consume nearly all aspects of their kids’ lives, impacting their academic progress and limiting their potential. However, a recent study suggests that playing video games might actually help boost your child’s brain power. Researchers at the University of Vermont say that video gaming leads to better impulse control and enhances working memory. The research team analyzed survey, cognitive, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scan data from nearly 2,000 children between nine and 10 years old. Those kids who reported playing video games for three or more hours per day were faster and more accurate in memorizing information and controlling impulses than their peers who did not game as much.
Kids who regularly play video games might have stronger brains, but is this strength really translating to the classroom? One study suggests doesn’t think so. Researchers at Rutgers University say children in middle school who play video games or use social media and the internet for more than an hour on school days have significantly lower grades and test scores than their peers. Study authors add their findings give parents some tangible boundaries for their kids when it comes to digital entertainment. They recommend limiting students to one hour of recreational screen time daily on weekdays and four hours a day on weekends. Hardly enough time to win a Super Bowl with your latest Madden franchise team.
Debates aside, what are some of the most epic sports titles in gaming? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and gaming websites in an effort to bring you the best sports video games of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently mentioned sports gaming titles from across these sites. As this list could definitely expand and given these picks can come down to preference, we would love to hear your top sports gaming suggestions in the comments section below!
The List: Best Sports Video Games of All Time, According to Experts
1. NBA Jam
The pick is in and it’s the original NBA Jam for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo as one of the very best sports video games of all time. NBA Jam took gamers from the slow, clunky, five-on-five basketball games of the early consoles to a fast-paced, two-on-two basketball game featuring stars from every NBA team literally jumping out of the gym.
“For those interested in a simulated or realistic basketball game, you’re not going to find it in NBA Jam. This basketball video game from publisher Midway definitely emphasizes fun over realism, but because it does, it ends up being a blast! This great title may feature NBA heavyweights, but the gameplay is designed around the two-on-two format, not the five-on-five standard played in the NBA. Gamers will also immediately notice how over-the-top it is, with players flying through the air to perform slam dunks, fouls being completely acceptable and players becoming superpowered if they’re able to land three baskets in a row! It just shows that a sports-themed game doesn’t have to be completely faithful to the original sport to provide a fantastic experience,” raves BetMGM.
The only drawback was this game didn’t include the NBA’s biggest star at the time – Michael Jordan. Although the original game didn’t include Jordan by default, there were always rumors that he could be unlocked by leveling up. Regardless, the gameplay kept sports gamers excited and engaged.
“The most popular game mode was the 2 on 2 versions, where you could play as the top two [stars] from every NBA franchise and compete against other teams. You can even unlock retired NBA superstars to play with after leveling up. In a time when sports video games were trying to become more realistic, NBA Jam allowed you to jump out of the gym and complete ludicrous dunks. The over-the-top animations and added incentives in-game when your player heats up also works well to keep the users in the game. There are plenty of games out there where the gameplay can get kind of stale and it is easy to quit mid-game. NBA Jam makes sure to keep your attention,” adds Good Griefs.
The original NBA Jam spawned several sequels that seemingly kept getting better and better. As gaming consoles evolved, so did NBA Jam. However, the game always kept its original format, and that’s something gamers appreciate.
“We have considered this title an exception and have put the whole franchise on the list. The original 1993 NBA Jam, the sequel to Midway’s Arch Rivals, enabled players to jump several times their own height, make slam dunks that defied human capabilities, and freely shove or elbow opponents out of the way without being tagged. It also had a number of hidden characters, as well as the ability to keep track of player records and statistics between sessions,” adds SportMob.
2. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!
Punch Out was developed for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and it was the first great boxing game to ever hit store shelves. Punch Out is a single-player game with a gauntlet-style format where gamers assume the role of ‘Mac’ and have to fight their way through the ranks, battling unforgettable characters along the way.
How many of y’all actually defeated Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out?
If you never did, how far did you make it? pic.twitter.com/Ik26ibAtNh
— Luke Combs Fan (@GoldBlooded79) May 9, 2023
“It may not be the most accurate representation of a boxing match, but when Punch Out!! was released over 20 years ago, it hinted at a bright future for boxing fans. It may have increased Mike Tyson’s cultural influence and given fans a new outlook on boxing. Rhythm, precise timing and sheer determination are needed for energetic victory against a throng of unique characters, such as the comically named Soviet boxer Soda Popinski. Always a classic,” writes Bleacher Report.
Punch Out is not the most in-depth boxing game you’ll come across. It has an arcade feel to it and given this game was designed for the original NES, gamers only have two buttons with which to navigate the ring and defeat whacky opponents.
“Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! certainly isn’t the most complex or layered game on this list, though its simplicity is precisely what made it such a hit in the ’80s. This factor is also what makes it enjoyable to play today. Along with the simple yet enjoyable gameplay, Punch-Out!! is iconic for its cast of characters. Although Mario appears as the referee, it’s the competitors that have the spotlight, led by memorable names and faces like Glass Joe, Bald Bull, and, of course, Mike Tyson, who is still considered to be one of the greatest final fights in gaming history,” adds GameRant.
Facing Mike Tyson in the final fight of Punch Out is a daunting task, to say the least. Still, this game has stood the test of time and sports gamers everywhere still love playing Punch Out to this day. “The top game on the 20 best sports games of all time list is Punch out. Probably the oldest on the list yet the best among the sports games. It does not have to be new to be good… It was voted the 6th best NES game by GameSpot readers. In Nintendo Power’s Top 200 Games list, it was ranked as the 17th best game produced for a Nintendo System. It was named the sixth-best Nintendo Entertainment System video game by Nintendo Power in August 2008, complimenting it for prioritizing arcade-style excitement above realism. Despite its nostalgic feel and old age, it still has an active speedrunning community,” furthers SportMob.
3. Wii Sports
Wii Sports is a compilation game featuring bowling, golf, boxing, and more. This incredibly simple yet challenging and physically active sports game is one of the best sports games in history and for good reason.
“If you play games, there’s a good chance you have done since you were a kid. You’ve played them as the controllers grew more complex, added new buttons, and included analogue sticks. You understand the shared language between each game and how they control because of the standardization that’s developed as the games industry evolved. Wii Sports eliminated the need for any of that by saying, ‘Hey, you just wave your arms around.’ Genius. The next thing you know, your Mom is challenging you to a virtual boxing match and you’re turtling up, praying that she attached the wrist strap, as she lands a flurry of strikes,” writes Sports Illustrated.
Wii Sports would come with the Wii system when it was first released. The Wii and Wii Sports truly transformed the way society plays video games and it helped spark a revolution in the gaming industry. “If I had a choice, I would call a friend and challenge him or her to a competitive Wii Sports tournament every single day for my exercise. Wii Sports was released with the Wii in 2006, and it was immediately labeled a ‘killer app’ for the console. For people unfamiliar with the term ‘killer app,’ it is an application that is so desirable that it provides the true value for the console. This could not be more accurate with Wii Sports. People flocked to the stores to buy a Wii so they could get a chance to play Wii Sports. Wii Sports is the most popular Wii game of all time, beating Mario Cart in revenue by over 45 million dollars,” explains Good Griefs.
Wii Sports is the ultimate social game, and it’s a great way to spend quality time with your family on a rainy day. People of all ages have enjoyed Wii Sports through the years and to this day, it’s a staple in households across America. It’s the first sports video game that made gamers get up off the couch to play and that makes it one of the best sports titles on several levels. The controller is complex yet very simple and easy to use. Remember, always be sure to tighten the wrist strap before playing.
“The Nintendo Wii took the world by storm due to its innovative game controller, relatively low cost and inclusion of its most undeniably popular game, Wii Sports. Wii Sports may feature many different sports games, including baseball, bowling and golf, but it was one specific mini-game that captured our attention: Wii Tennis. Wii Tennis was a part of the Wii Sports experience that got people who didn’t even play video games interested in gaming, primarily thanks to the system’s groundbreaking (at the time) controller, which could be held like a TV remote and swung around, just like a tennis racquet,” raves BetMGM.
4. NBA 2K 11
The fourth spot on the list of the best sports video games of all time takes us back to the hardwood with NBA 2K. This series is the premier basketball game franchise of the sports gaming industry and in 2011, 2K took their game to the next level by featuring the best NBA player in history – Michael Jordan. Not only does this game feature Michael Jordan but it allows gamers to play through the most defining moments in Jordan’s career, reliving all of the GOAT’s greatness along the way.
“In my eyes, this is the best basketball game ever. No 2k franchise had better gameplay than this year. It was simply perfect. Throw in the ‘Jordan Challenges’ where you could literally play out MJ’s career, and this game really had it all. The ‘Jordan Challenges’ were so good, they had to bring them back in NBA 2K23. And honestly, we could debate for hours about where the game went from here, but why even do that[?] Let’s just celebrate how epic this one was,” writes Complex.
NBA 2K11 is one of the best-selling basketball video games in history and it’s because of the unique gameplay. Beyond the Jordan Challenges, gamers can develop their own NBA player in the My Player game mode. This mode set the stage for sequels and has since developed into one of the most popular sports game modes of all time.
“With 5.5 million units having been sold worldwide, it’s safe to say that NBA 2K11 has cemented itself in the upper echelon of sports video games. Improved graphics, euphoric game play (albeit more mechanical) and an updated ‘My Player’ mode give users the best in the NBA 2K series. This series continues to impress,” adds Bleacher Report.
The thing about most sports games and sports game franchises is that they release a new game every year to keep the game updated with the current sports season. Players change teams, coaches change teams, and even teams change teams by moving to new cities or changing stadiums. All of these real-life events dictate the design of sports games. Although the updates are appreciated by sports lovers and gamers alike, it can be hard to duplicate the gameplay and popularity of certain titles. NBA 2K11 is a perfect example of this sports gaming paradox at work.
“Thankfully, the NBA 2K series hasn’t always been a disappointment. NBA 2K11, in particular, was a fantastic entry in the series that many players still revisit today despite it releasing over a decade ago. The game had an incredibly strong roster of players and also featured the memorable Jordan Challenge mode, which let players revisit some of Michael Jordan’s most legendary moments,” adds GameRant.
5. Madden 2005
The list of the best sports games of all time would not be complete without the most infamous football gaming franchise of all time – Madden. Madden 2005, to be exact. It can be said that Madden peaked in the early 2000s, releasing three of its most popular titles three years in a row. Madden 05, 04, and 06 can all make a case for one of the best sports games of all time. So, what sets Madden 05 apart from the other two?
Ray Lewis was featured on this classic Madden 2005 cover 16 years ago today 🔥 pic.twitter.com/7SEc0mWaEg
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 9, 2020
“Madden NFL 2005 delivered a new feature that would become a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward, the Hit Stick. With Ray Lewis on the cover as the perfect ambassador, the Hit Stick allowed players to lay bone-crunching hits with the flick of the analog stick. It made you actually want to play defense in an attempt to lay out the biggest hit of the game rather than just go through the motions until the next offensive drive. It also added a whole new group of animations to the gameplay that, by 2005 standards, was more realistic than ever before,” writes Complex.
Ray Lewis on the cover, the Hit Stick, helmet-shattering hits, and an in-depth franchise game mode helped make Madden 2005 one of the best titles in the franchise’s storied history. This rendition of the popular Madden video games helped change the way gamers experience NFL football games moving forward.
“With Ray Lewis as the Madden cover star for this iteration, the controls were so refined by the time 2005 rolled around that it feels right to hand the award to that year’s release. It was easier to understand the passages of play, breaking the line felt more thrilling, and it somehow used a 2D screen to get across the sickening impact of two giant men crashing into each other while wearing body armor,” adds Sports Illustrated.
This game was available on the Xbox and PlayStation 2, so by today’s standards, it would be considered old and outdated. However, at the time, this game was revolutionary. Madden 2005 had everything you need to be considered a great sports game.
“This game just gets video football right. The engine is fair and realistic, without being unnecessarily tricky. The game favors smart tactics and deliberate actions, so the chess match of football is placed firmly in your hands. It’s got large playbooks, many options, a great control scheme, and sharp presentation,” furthers Sports Video Game Reviews.
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