With the outbreak of COVID-19 across the country, people are forced to stay in their homes — some states even enforcing it by law — and avoid spreading the infectious disease to others.
A great way for people to spend their newfound alone time is by playing hours upon hours of video games.
And for those who were already doing that — cheers, friends.
Here are my top five sports video games. I’ve only included titles that came out at the turn of the century — sorry Tecmo Bowl — and have excluded mobile games from the list.
5. MLB 2K12
I know what you’re thinking. You expected to see MLB The Show in this slot didn’t you? Objectively speaking, I believe The Show to be a more consistent franchise — they don’t make 2K games anymore, after all — but the buck stops there for me.
The MLB 2K franchise might just be the most misunderstood series that ever was. To The Show fans, I say this: did your game have the amazing in-game commentary from Gary Thorne, John Kruk and Steve Phillips every year? Did it have the flawless pitching mechanics of 2K, that gave the user full control — and full responsibility — of every ball that went over the plate? Did it have the perfect-game challenge, that allowed one lucky fan to win a cool $1 million every year while others yearned for the chance to be the winner?
It’s okay, I’ll wait.
The final nail in the coffin for The Show to me is the fact that it’s a PlayStation exclusive. A whole generation of gamers missed out on it because they preferred Xbox, which boasted a far superior online service during the Xbox 360-PS3 era.
It’s a shame The Show eventually overtook 2K, which quit making baseball games after MLB 2K13. It’s a misunderstood gem that simply doesn’t get enough credit despite its lackluster graphics and inferior career mode.
4. Wii Sports
Yeah, you heard me. You thought MLB 2K was controversial? We’re not done yet.
Wii Sports is one of the most interesting phenomenons in video game history. It consists of five game modes: baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis. Players use their custom “Mii” character in the various games, playing straightforward simulations of each sport. And you know what? That amazingly simple formula is one of the most effective formulas sports gaming has ever seen.
The Wii got a lot of things wrong, and was outclassed by the Xbox 360 and PS3 at the time of its release, but Wii Sports was one of its claims to fame. Many Wii consoles came with the game for free, another notch under its belt.
If I was forced to stay inside because of a global pandemic and all I had was Wii Sports, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
Oh. Wait a minute.
3. NBA 2K11
The first-ever sports game I played as a kid was NBA 2K8. I have fond memories of rocking the Chris Paul-led New Orleans Hornets and throwing alley oops to David West on the regular.
A few iterations later came 2K11, which — like cover athletes Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — reinvented the game as we know it.
There was no dumb virtual currency system that now plagues most sports games. Career mode required hard work and the game presented several cool challenges to improve your player, and didn’t feature the cheesy plot lines of recent titles. It also had Jordan Mode, which proved to be a fulfilling side quest. It also had, by far, the catchiest soundtrack of the series — Snoop Dogg recorded a custom theme for the game and it also featured underrated tunes from Big Boi (Shutterbug), Ron Artest (Champion), Chicharones (Little By Little), The Russian Futurists (Precious Metals) and more.
It was also one of the last NBA 2Ks to not have the current eco-motion game engine that, in my opinion, forever ruined the franchise. While the previous game engine wasn’t perfect, it still gave the user good playability and wasn’t awkward like the most recent installments of the franchise.
2. Tie — Madden 05/ESPN NFL 2K5
2004 was a huge year for football video games.
First of all, Madden 05, boasting the ever intimidating Ray Lewis on the cover, introduced maybe the most important feature in any sports game ever — the hit stick.
Even today, when a football player takes a huge hit, it means they were hit-sticked. Not only that, but Madden 05 received universal acclaim, despite that terrible soundtrack, and featured legends Al Michaels and John Madden as commentators.
But hold the phone — another game that came out that year was ESPN NFL 2K5, which included many features that were revolutionary at the time and that no Madden game since has implemented. In addition, 2K5 was priced at $19.99 compared to Madden’s $49.99 price tag. One Electronic Arts executive said the move by 2K, “scared the hell out of us.”
It scared EA so much that it signed an exclusive rights deal with the NFL and the NFL Players Association, forbidding any other video game companies from making NFL video games. Thus, 2K5 marked the final entry in the series, which was a shame because it showed signs of potentially being a better video game series overall.
From then on, Madden has wallowed in mediocrity and rested on its laurels, and did not have a smooth transition from the Xbox and PS2 to the next generation of consoles.
But now there’s hope — on March 10, the NFL and 2K announced a multiyear partnership.
“The league has been expanding its presence into gaming and it has been an important focus to us. It felt natural for us to be reviving our partnership with 2K,” said Rachel Hoagland, the NFL’s vice president and head of gaming & esports. “We’ve worked with them in the past and when we looked at broadening our portfolio, it made sense.”
While the first game in the rebooted series reportedly won’t serve as a direct competitor to Madden, EA Sports’ contract with the NFL is up for renewal after the 2021 season.
My fingers are crossed.
1. NCAA Football 14
Every summer growing up as a millennial in the 2000s and up until the mid-2010s was marked by one holy occasion, typically in mid July.
Up until 2013, sports video gamers like my friends and I rejoiced at the annual release of NCAA Football 14. Then of course the player-likenesses lawsuit stopped the production of all college sports video games in 2014, but it was the anticipation each year that made the games’ release a religious undertaking: I remember lining up at GameStop on hot summer nights right at 11:59 p.m., waiting for the midnight release.
The final entry into the NCAA football series featured the smoothest gameplay yet, even better than its older, less-inspired brother, Madden. The online dynasty mode was near perfect, allowing up to 12 friends to each take command of a team and compete in realistic seasons, with the ability to recruit, customize conferences and spend not just hours, but literal years on a game that truly has unlimited replay value.
Thankfully, EA Sports has kept the servers for the game online, letting players old and new continue to play, while the more hardcore fans create almost perfect recreations of the real-life college football rosters year-in and year-out, all for free.
That might be the most beautiful sentence I’ve ever typed.
I was involved in several highly competitive online dynasties in my day — we even had our own custom rules — and I will accept any challenger who thinks they can defeat me. Seriously, find my email at the bottom of this article and let’s play. You won’t win, but at least you can try.
No sports game to date has matched the sheer perfection of NCAA football, and as an avid sports gamer, I hope the recent developments in paying college athletes allows for the series to return one day after it was unjustly discontinued.
Obviously, many will be asking where NHL and FIFA are in this list, and while those games certainly would have had representatives in the top 10, I don’t believe they ever had one single installment that was truly revolutionary or unique.
I’d like to give a shout out to College Hoops 2K8, which easily could have been No. 5 on this list, though I don’t think the series had enough time to create a game that holds up over time after it was discontinued. Still, 2K8 had many features that were ahead of its time and miles ahead of its rival, NCAA Basketball.
Disagree with the list? Drop me a line and tell me your top five. My Xbox Gamertag is Beauhio. Let’s play — we certainly have enough time.
— Contact Assistant Sports Editor Beau Troutman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BVTroutman.