Tuesday’s Top Ten: Sports Titles

You know what today is—time for another Tuesday’s Top Ten.  Each week, we go through and discuss the top ten somethings in video games or related to the hobby in some fashion.  This time around, we’re going to go through the top ten sports titles.

The genre of “sports” is one of, if not, the most popular genres in console gaming.  Partly this is just from sheer numbers—I dare say more sports titles come out every year than for any other genre.  There are a few reasons for this—one of the most important reasons why the games keep getting published is because gamers will buy them.  It’s a bit simplistic, but it’s true nonetheless.

Another reason is that there are large numbers of fans for the source material—take football/soccer and soccer/football (names depend on the country you find yourself in), for instance.  Fans world-wide go nuts over them.  A fair portion of them are gamers, too, to whatever extent.  You also have the fact that the term “sports” covers a wide variety of games.

10. Nearly Every Madden Game Ever
Let’s face it, as much as we might enjoy the Madden franchise, for quite a while now they’ve been asking sixty bucks for what amounts to a very minor upgrade.  Nowadays, you can purchase downloadable content that affects the game play of a game more for far less money.

That said, if you’re a casual fan of the pigskin-centered sport, the Madden games are very easy to get into.  You can play as your favorite team without having to know very much about the sport.  If anything, the franchise is actually a pretty good way to start learning, as the plays are sorted by what casual football fans would call them, not necessarily what they would really be known as.

The games also usually feature a few “Build Your Own <whatever>” set-ups. You can create whole teams or just a star quarterback.  The creation systems are fairly robust, as well.  It’s an easy franchise to get into, for those curious about the sport or already a casual fan of a team and wanting to get into the video game side of it.

09. Most Recent W.W.E. Wrestling Titles
Wrestling’s an odd one.  Barely a “sport”, really.  It’s more a soap opera for males, and no male I’ve talked to about it would disagree.  It’s just as cheesy, corny, downright silly as the “daytime soaps”—but they’re no less enjoyable than the soaps, either.

The titles, especially the Smackdown versus RAW series, have let you create your own wrestler (with an insanely in-depth character creation system, too) and play through a few “seasons”.  Some even let you have your own dressing room you could decorate to your fancy, though that was never all that complex a mechanic.

On the downside, for female gamers wanting to represent their sex or male gamers living up to certain stereotypes, female wrestlers have always been rather shortchanged.  Recent entries in the series have even disallowed them wrestling with men, period.  On the other hand, they at least have female wrestlers, which is why it’s one point higher than the Madden titles.  Also, similar to the Madden games, each new entry in the Smackdown versus RAW series isn’t all that different from its predecessor, so it, too, gets lumped together instead of a singular title picked out.

08. Billiards
A hard game to like, this one.  Other billiards games had more flash, more things to do—but this was relaxing and fun.  There wasn’t really anything to unlock, so you could, from the get-go, just sit down and enjoy yourself.

The music was soft, fitting for whichever of the three background settings the player selected.  It was never intrusive, but it was always nice to have.  The backgrounds themselves were great as well—they never overshadowed the game itself, but they gave a sense of “setting”, whether something like the back of a dive bar or and upper floor of an upper-class establishment overlooking a large city.  It was, simply, a fun and relaxing game.

07. Need for Speed: Most Wanted
As far as racing games go, this one wasn’t the best, but it certainly wasn’t the worst, either.  While the addition of the police smacked lightly of fake difficulty and fake longevity both, it certainly had an appeal.

Really, though, one of the main things were the cars.  The mechanic to upgrade the performance of your car was streamlined a bit, and the graphics were simply superb.  It outshone its predecessor, Underground 2, with ease.  The cars looked and sounded better here than they really ever had before in the franchise.

06. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
There really wasn’t anything like this one before it was published.  You had sports games before, of course, but they were mainly football, baseball, and basketball, with a few soccer and volleyball games here and there.  Things we’ve more often thought of as “sports”.

To be sure, later titles introduced new mechanics, but this was the first.  It was here that showed sports was more than what we knew before.  It also showed that gamers would be interested in such things, which paved the way for other types like bicycle and snowboarding games (not that there weren’t such games before Tony Hawk came along on his skateboard, but his game was more financially viable and made more publishers interested in them).  It opened the door, sauntered through, and never looked back.

05. Dave Mirra Freestyle B.M.X.
Hot on the heels of Tony Hawk was Dave Mirra.  His series tried its hardest to prove that bike games were just as fun as skateboard games, but they just didn’t become as popular.  Still, there’s something to be said for the series.  From the very first entry, it was trying something different.  Sure, you drove bikes and motorcycles and such before in video games, but this was one of the first to try and make it a “sim” experience, like Tony Hawk did for skateboarding.

In many ways, the game play was rather analogous to Tony Hawk’s games, but there is one small—yet hilariously good fun—difference that made it steal a point higher: There was a multi-player competitive mode where the object was to kill yourself in the most awesome way possible.  An old favorite of mine was doing a few tricks and intentionally failing them at a certain spot, bonking from a hill into the path of an oncoming train.  And that kind of thing was the point of that mode.

04. Mario Golf: Advance Tour
Golfing has been one of the sports sub-genres that never really left its roots.  By that I mean that most other sports games, as gamer interest and technology changed, they began to be more like their real-world counterparts.  Golf games, on the other hand, tends to stay rather simplified for ease (comparatively speaking, of course; while not quite as in-depth as the real thing, some games do over-complicate the mechanics), which is actually a good thing for gamers (like me, I must say) who have a fondness for the sport but have neither the ability to play for real nor the patience to watch some of the tours on television and sit through terms that aren’t immediately clear.

This game was great for those gamers, especially since it was on a portable system.  It featured a light R.P.G.-like set-up, where you honed your skills in the sport.  The main draw, however, was the course itself.  A wide array of holes, each distinct yet enjoyable.  Sure, you had things to collect, skills to upgrade, but at the end of the day the game was about the sport itself, and while everything else added a certain depth to the game and certainly some fun, they never overshadowed what the game was about.  That made it fun to just go grab your clubs and hit the back nine.

03. Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Perhaps an odd choice, admittedly, since this one was as much about being a dating sim combined with jiggle physics (itself, something the series is pretty much well-known for) as actual volleyball, but the actual sport portion of the game was handled pretty well.

You had one teammate, whether non-player character or a friend.  If an N.P.C., they actually handled themself pretty well, and reacted to what you did equally well.  If you went toward one side of the court, they’d go to the other, but intelligently, to try and provide good coverage.  They’d set you up for a spike whenever the opportunity presented itself, but they didn’t always do that, so you wouldn’t be “carrying” the team or anything.

It was fun to just pop in and play volleyball, ignoring the gift-system, the sundry items to collect—you could ignore everything and enjoy a surprisingly fun game of volleyball.  The mechanics were designed very well—the game could be as simple or as complex as the player wanted; both the one who wanted to attempt various serves to outwit their opponents and the one who just wanted to hit the ball could find a lot of fun.

02. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
I’m almost tied for which game I like better, this one or its successor, Underground.  The levels in Underground looked beautiful and were mostly well-made, and that title introduced a fundamental mechanic—the ability to get off your board.  However, one of the main draws of the series was finding your own “lines”, ways to connect tricks to boost your score multiplier.  For example, grinding a ledge (that is to say, sliding along the edge on the trucks of the skateboard, or the side of the board itself), then jumping off into a manual (riding on only the front two or back two wheels), then jumping into a swimming pool for a few air tricks before hopping out onto a nearby fence to grind along.  As long as you were always doing a trick and went from trick to trick, you could multiply your score.

Underground started handing you pre-set “lines” from the get-go, which made the game feel a bit less “freeing”.  Combined with the stricter attempt at a “story”, and while it was a great game in its own right, I think its predecessor deserves entry on this list.  There really wasn’t much of a story to speak of, though missions usually linked together in some fashion.  You’d help one person by screwing over another, and then you could go deal with that.  The “reasons” never made much sense, but they weren’t trying for it, either.  They were trying for nonsensical humor, and I dare say Pro Skater 4 nailed that humor the best out of the entire series.  Further, it was the last to hand you levels and let you find your own “lines”, though some were pre-set, as it were.  It wasn’t as heavy-handed in handing you “lines” as later titles would be, which added to the fun and freedom.

01. Need for Speed Underground 2
This one was a turning point in the franchise, being the first to offer a full city to just roam around and explore.  It was also the last to be without police involvement, which means you could just have fun without worrying about losing your car if you had too much fun and couldn’t duck the consequences.

While that’s enjoyable in its own right, the ability to make your car up however you like (and this was the last to have such a wide array of options to pretty your car up) and just zoom through the streets as fast as you can, that’s just wonderful.  If you worked to unlock everything you could spend days and days creating cars and never have two look even all that similar.  Then you have the entire city to run around in.  It wasn’t the best-looking city, but it felt “alive”, and better yet—it was yours for the taking.

Later games had decent-looking cities, too, for the most part, and the cars only looked better as time went on.  However, you never really had the same amount of options, either for the performance or the look, as you did here.  Further, with the addition of the police, while it added the thrill of high-speed chases, it took away a more fundamental enjoyment found in just cruising around at top speed for the heck of it.


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