Listen, it’s the dead of summer, only boring sports are happening, and nobody much feels like blogging any blogs, so let’s all play some video games instead. Here, now, the Deadspin staff reminisces on their all-time favorite sports games. Here’s how we wasted our youth; please stick around afterward and let us know how you wasted yours.
Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. (N64, 1998)
This is the perfect baseball game, because of its simplicity. How to pitch: Move the crosshairs around in the rectangle. How to bat: Aim the circle (which varies in size depending on the talent) over the square. How to field: The ball’s going to land in that circle, so go get it. Trying to advance on a hit, steal a base, or catch someone stealing? The C buttons look like a baseball diamond. What else do you need?
Factor in that the rosters have some of the greatest hitters ever—along with Griffey, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, and a few other stars have absurdly large batting circles—and a few of the greatest pitchers. Plus there’s the barebones but acceptable season mode with a crude waiver wire and trading system, the “Can I get a hot dog ovah here?” guy in the crowd, and a perfect theme song. Video-game companies can keep making baseball games, but they’ll never make one this accessible and fun. [Samer Kalaf]
International Track & Field (Playstation 2, 2000)
This is a little out of left field, but if there was ever a game built for four people to play after returning from a late night out, it’s one that demands indiscriminate button-mashing. Once this series introduced saved records, it created the possibility of being—and the desire to remain—THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE by being the current 100m record-holder in the game.
But the best part of International Track & Field is that some of the events literally made you tired. The swimming event required several minutes of hammering on the shoulder buttons, and you’d end up sore and exhausted. Just like you had actually been swimming, except not. [Tim Burke]
NBA 2K8 (Xbox 360, 2007)
During my sophomore year of college, I spent roughly 75,000 hours playing NBA 2K8. Sports video games usually don’t hold my attention for long, and basketball games especially: Who the hell has the patience to play through an entire 82-game campaign? Me and my dipshit college roommates, that’s who! (Okay, to be fair, we only played 56-game seasons.) It went like this: The three of us would start a Franchise Mode, each pick a team, spend a few hours making ridiculous trades (I always traded for Josh Smith right away, because fuck you, that’s why), and then get to work. When one roommate’s team had a game, the other two would join forces and take control of the opponent.
Because our carefully constructed teams were far superior to the rest of the league, those 2-on-1 games became exercises in trolling. Even with two people, it was hard to beat a suped-up version of the Spurs while controlling, say, the Timberwolves, so your best chance at winning was to play like an asshole. We’d find loopholes in the game’s mechanics—it was almost impossible to prevent Nate Robinson from dunking or to hold onto the ball when Ron Artest was raking for a steal—-and then exploit the hell out of them. Charlie Villanueva once scored 104 points in a single game (stretch fours were deadly in this format).
This sounds dumb, but I honestly believe that this game helped keep the peace in our house. College houses are goddamn petri dishes for Drama, because college kids are young and mostly selfish and not yet versed in the ways of living like an adult. We all did plenty of things to annoy each other, and NBA 2K8 became a fun place to blow off some steam. While roommates in other houses were throwing passive-aggressive fits every time the dishes didn’t get done, we were settling grievances via 50-point outbursts from, like, Marco Jaric. Afterwards, we’d laugh about how stupid this game was, and then maybe wash some dishes. [Tom Ley]
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES, 1987)
A lot of bold, innovative new breakthroughs in racial stereotypes here. Von Kaiser taught us that Germans have luxurious mustaches and a vague, menacing, paramilitary air. Piston Honda taught us that Japanese people telegraph their punches via exaggerated eyebrow-wiggles. Don Flamenco taught us that Spanish dudes are effete lotharios with roses in their teeth. King Hippo taught us that residents of the South Pacific are morbidly obese. The Great Tiger taught us that the jewel in an Indian person’s turban lights up when it’s about to get Serious. Soda Popinski (née Vodka Drunkenski) taught us that Russians really like soda pop. Bald Bull taught us that Turkish people run you over and then laugh at you in a vaguely amusing way. Beat up all those people and you, too, can get your ass kicked by a rapist. I miss the ’80s. [Rob Harvilla]
WCW vs nWo: World Tour [N64, 1997]
No one had yet made an actually good wrestling game before this. (Game Boy’s late, unlamented WWF Superstars came the closest.) The fluid sequences of pro wrestling don’t intuitively lend themselves to plodding sprites pulling off moves one at a time, and the planned choreography of a match doesn’t easily translate to a genuinely competitive game. WCW vs nWo: World Tour figured it out, and the solution was absurdly simple: Start everything from the grapple.
You gained the upper hand from a single button press—get the angle, make the first move, and hope for a little luck—and you had your opponent locked up, and from there an entire moveset was yours. No complicated combos required, either, because wrestling is supposed to be fun: You want to do things to your opponent that would cripple a man in real life, you want to do it 30 times a match, and you don’t want to have to wear him down for five minutes before you can pull off a simple suplex. World Tour succeeded by making unreality even more exaggerated.
But wrestling is about more than fighting. The game’s music and entrances and deep roster captured the flair of WCW at its creative and commercial peak, but the real masterstroke was the spirit bar. On TV, the crowd and the flow are the real barometers for a good match, and here, it’s the same. Fill your gauge by pulling off a series of moves—or by taunting your opponent or playing to the fans—and then and only then are you allowed to pull off one of your finishers. Artificial and cinematic in all the best ways for a fighting game, World Tour got the feel right by giving the drama as much attention as the action. [Barry Petchesky]
FIFA 08 (Playstation 3, 2008)
When I was in college, I played a few games—Final Fantasy X was (and is) verily my shit, as was (and is) Football Manager—but FIFA was something else. I played soccer in college, and so I lived with my teammates, and trained with them, and traveled with them, and fought with them, and drank with them, and played with them, and cried with them. We were brothers, always on the same side, fighting for the same thing. It was a great experience, and they’re my brothers to this day, but sometimes you just want to beat a motherfucker through the ground, because you’re 19 and invincible and have great abdominals and want to watch the world burn. When I felt like that, I challenged one of my brothers to FIFA.
On weeknights, and weekdays when we didn’t want to go to class, and weekends, a bunch of us would cram into a dorm room, pile onto a couch, and go to war. There were rules. Teams were random. Winner stays on, and gets the good controller. If you were down by three at the half, the game’s over. If you lost by five, you can’t play for a week. If you got caught playing when you were suspended, the Playstation would be turned off, and the proper authorities would be notified. If you were to rage quit, you’d then be referred to as a bitch, forever. When we get together even now, these are still the rules.
I pick FIFA 08 specifically because I played this version my sophomore year in college. In my freshman year, I was trash, and I got my ass smacked all the time, and went a few weeks without playing, and rage quit a whole bunch. But I stayed on campus the summer between freshman and sophomore year. I grinded. And that summer, I got good. The following fall, when FIFA 08 dropped with more fleshed out trick moves and a free kick feature that allowed you to place the ball, allowing you to score from virtually any set piece, I got sexy.
We often pregamed or pissed lazy days away by playing FIFA with vodka, or rum. If you conceded, you took a shot. I puked a whole, whole lot. I almost killed a few of my good friends. I made the nicest and most pious kid I’ve ever met in my whole life curse, cry, and throw his controller across the room. I wear these as badges of honor to this day. This is the only game I play now, and I think it’s because when I have the controller in my hands, tweaking my lineup before kickoff, talking incessant shit all the while, I feel 19 again. I feel like I have a second dick. [Greg Howard]
NBA Hangtime (N64, 1997)
I’ve probably spent more time playing NBA Hangtime than any other game in my life. My brother and I spent countless hours in our basement callusing our thumbs on the N64 joystick, fiddling with the attributes to build the best player in Create-a-Character mode (always minimum height, always maximum dunking, and always nicknamed “Homie”), knocking each other over on the digital court (the absence of fouls was a crucial feature), and trying to run the table against the other teams in the career(ish) mode. The outlandish somersault dunks, the unending quest to attain and then protect the blue flames of Team Fire status, the hilariously campy commentary, the dope-ass soundtrack whose lyrics I can still spout off to this day—everything about it was great. Homie especially. [Billy Haisley]
Bill Walsh College Football ’95 (Sega Genesis, 1994)
Basically, this game allowed you to score 100 points a game using (exclusively) the triple option, left or right. Also, onside kicks were easy as fuck. I’ve said it before: Sports games are better when they are NOTHING like real sports, when I can score in triple digits in a football game and recover every onside kick and not have my confidence destroyed by a more “realistic” situation whose only purpose is to keep me from having fun and obliterating the fuck out of other teams. I crave dominance. [Drew Magary]
Whatever the hell baseball game I used to play on the bus (Game Gear, ~1992)
I was almost always last to everything, and that included video games. I eventually got a Sega as a bat mitzvah gift, and somewhere along the line an uncle bought us a PC in all its MS-DOS glory. But I never had the true key to teen happiness: a Game Boy or Sega Game Gear.
Thankfully, a few boys in my middle school took pity on me (or maybe their mothers had given them speeches about sharing), and on field trips they let me borrow their Game Gears and play their game of choice: baseball. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for this game that I’m forgetting now, but in my defense, I didn’t own it. There was only one rule (that I recall): The Mets couldn’t lose.
Yes, the Mets once were a perfect 162-0, thanks to the industrious boys of David Posnack Hebrew Day School, circa 1992. Whenever the Mets were going to lose, the boys just turned off their Game Gears. And here’s the thing: This rule always worked out when I played, because I had no idea what I was doing. I always picked the Pirates and once had Barry Bonds bat third, because why not. Sometimes I even had him hit first because, obviously, the best batter should go first. I moved around Andy Van Slyke a lot because his name was cool. I smashed buttons with glee because I had no idea what any of them did. Errors were made, so many errors were made, and every game ended in an L. It was gloriously, stupidly fun. [Diana Moskovitz]
Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball (SNES, 1991)
Really, it might just as well have been called Bill Laimbeer’s Shoving Game. That was where all the fun was, anyway. The shoving made a fun little PWAH! sound that was far more satisfying than anything the ball ever did. You passed the ball to your opponent so that his arms would be occupied, and then you flattened him. You threw the ball out of bounds so that your opponent would have to catch the inbound pass, and then you flattened him. You let your opponent flatten you so that you could flatten him back.
This overstated the violence of the real Bill Laimbeer’s game quite a bit—much like his reputation did—but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t much know or care about that in 1991, when I was 10 and jamming on this terrible, terrible video game on my SNES. My brother and I just thought it was the funniest thing. I beat the computer like 200-0 one time because I had the good fortune to score first; then I just stood there and nailed the guy catching the inbound pass and scored again, over and over and over again. We just laughed and laughed. We were weird and angry kids.
No game like Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball will ever exist again. I have a 2K basketball game now: It’s great and I love it and it’s a much better representation of basketball than this was. It has never made me laugh so hard my chest hurt, though. It is not capable of that, because I can’t make my guy plant Luke Ridnour in the floor with that hilarious PWAH! sound. [Albert Burneko]
Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii, 2006)
Wii Sports is the best video game ever made. It wasn’t just a launch title: It came with every Wii sold outside of Japan and South Korea, making it the highest-selling console game ever (and second overall to cheating-ass Tetris, which is available and completely un-fucking-playable on “mobile,” iOS, BlackBerry OS, and PSP). It was the kitchen-table pitch for the new Wii controllers, the thing you showed your parents when you were trying to con them into turning Thanksgiving Family Video Night into an annual video-game party.
Bowling was the most accessible game, since there’s no timing or reaction—you just swing your hand in a straight line and try not to break anything. Baseball was fine if you just played the games, but what you really wanted to do was play the Home Run Derby or Consecutive Hits mini-games, and what you really didn’t want to do was swing as hard as you possibly could for no reason, because the Wii recognizes a finite amount of force, and you’re a grown man, and it’s made for children, but you’d do it anyway and produce a minor tear in your biceps and not be able to use your right arm for a week afterward. Boxing, I don’t know, whatever. It was too slow, I think. As for golf, that’s only the second time I’ve ever convinced myself that I could actually, definitely, no-shit certainly learn to do something in real life that I’d done in a video game. (The other time was playing drums in The Beatles: Rock Band.)
Whereas tennis was good in any configuration—singles, doubles, co-op—and was wonderful in the single-player training mode where you had to hit a target over and over, and your high score unlocked little gold medals. I got to 75, which was fucking HARD, and then my little sister got 77, and that was the record for the rest of the time we had the Wii because FUCK THAT, THAT TOOK ME FIVE HOURS.
If you want to tweak the toilet-paper absorbency in your luxe suites in Madden or whatever the fuck those games are about now instead of playing football, go right ahead. But the best sports games are the ones that you can just pick up and play with any of your no-account sucker friends, have them be competent enough to take a good and proper beating, and then troll them about said beating. That’s Wii Sports, the best game ever made. [Kyle Wagner]