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Top 10 Most Influential Sports Games

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The #1 Most Influential Console Sports Game of All Time
Tecmo Super Bowl
1991

Tecmo
Nintendo NES

To me, this one is a no-brainer.

Its funny that I received so many responses from our forum members about the original Tecmo Bowl's spot at #10.  Not to take anything away from the classic 1987 release of the NFLPA licensed game, because it was a fantastic game of arcade football.  However, if you put Tecmo Bowl (1987) up against Tecmo Super Bowl (1991), the differences are night and day in terms of features.  Whereas Tecmo Bowl (1987) pioneered the use of an NFLPA license in a fun, arcade game that modeled 12 teams, Tecmo Super Bowl (1991) went light-years beyond that with unprecedented and ,at that time,  completely unexpected features and depth.  To be fair, any game released even 5 to 6 years AFTER the legendary Tecmo Super Bowl, generally had yet to adopt its incredible array of features.

Heck, even now, many sports games released in 2007 and 2008 don't have every feature that 1991's Tecmo Super Bowl had.

Tecmo Super Bowl was one of those games where you generally remember where you were when you first experienced it.  I remember in 1991, as a freshman at Edinboro University of PA, I had just purchased a used Sega Genesis for the sole purpose of playing the original EA NHL game, and I also picked up a used copy of John Madden Football (no year title in that one.)  After playing both of those games, I was pretty sold on the fact that it didn't get much better than that.  However, my friend Mike D., who was going to Pitt, gave me a call on the phone.

Mike D:  "Hey man, did you buy Tecmo Super Bowl yet?"
Me:  "No, that's an NES game.  I still have an NES, but I've kinda moved on from 8-bit.  Have you tried Madden Football yet for Genesis?"
Mike D: "Yeah,  now shut up and listen to me…go to Babbages and pick up Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES.  You'll thank me."
Me: "Come on, you think its better than the stuff on 16 bit? Get real."
Mike D: "Would I lead you wrong.  Hang up.  Go get it.

So, I rounded up some of the guys from my dorm (especially the one who had a car his freshman year…) and we took off for Babbages to get the new Tecmo game for NES.  After playing the game, an immediate long-distance phone-call was placed from my dorm to that of Craig Gonzalez (Bangpow) telling him to pick up the game too, but he already had heard the buzz and picked it up too.  Tecmo barely marketed the product from what I recall, but word of mouth for this product simply spread like wildfire.

Tecmo Screenshot

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# 2 ESPN NFL 2K5
2004
Sega/Visual Concepts
XBOX/PS2

 

I have to admit that the #2 most influential sports video game is a controversial choice.  That’s not to say the game wasn’t great and had incredible features and presentation, as ESPN NFL 2K5 clearly did.  However, its “influence” is debatable because it set such a high bar in some key areas, yet other sports game manufacturers (and 2K Sports itself) often doesn’t approach the high standard set by NFL 2K5 even 4 years after the release of the game.

However, the features- and particularly the presentation- included in NFL 2K5 did influence us, the gamers, to expect much much more in our sports games than we usually get.  ESPN NFL 2K5 made us sit back and say…. “Wow, this is a football video game that plays like an ESPN NFL TV broadcast”.  No other sports video game to this date has done a better job of suspension of reality to make you feel like you are watching you own “televised” NFL franchise that you control.  Four years later, the game remains the measuring-stick by which all sports video game presentation and atmosphere is judged.

 So why is that? Well, it goes without too much explanation that the actual football gameplay would have to be solid.  And it was.  Sure, NFL 2K5 had some bugs (like a QB spy command that didn’t work, and some questionable defensive back AI that required some slider movement), but overall, it was a very polished football game.  Also, for its day (July of 2004), its visuals also surpassed the visuals of aging Madden PS2/XBOX engine. So quite simply, it had that “game” and it had the “looks”.

 However, it’s the presentation that was totally unexpected and awe-inspiring was BEYOND the actual football gameplay.  Now, let’s not forget that 2K football had fantastic voice-work announcing from the actors portraying “Dan and Peter” with their two man booth.  As usual, that was great stuff.  However it was the way Visual Concepts went well beyond what was expected.  ESPN NFL 2K5 used ESPN personalities in it’s “pseudo broadcasts”, and used them well.  There was a fairly accurate polygonal representation of Chris Berman, who is voiced by …Chris Berman.  The ESPN pre-game booth (circa 2004) is replicated and Berman actually comes on, talks about the game, the teams, and hands the broadcast over to Dan and Peter.  It works flawlessly in setting the mood, and its followed by the a-typical stadium pan to open up the game, just like most TV networks do for real games.

And it didn’t stop there.  Gamers would see their favorite players conversing on the sidelines during events such as sacks, interceptions, etc.   QB’s would be shown throwing their helmets after coming to the bench after a turnover.  Cornerbacks would be seen partying on the sidelines and re-enacting their big interception with the players near the benches.  Then there was the fantastic Chris Berman hosted halftime show, with actual in-game highlights and discussion- all with the ESPN music and style. 

Then when you’d fire up a franchise, each week of your season you were treated to a special ESPN NFL PrimeTime show at the end of each week, recapping scores and video highlights from other games around the league.  It was simply fantastic.  Trey Wingo even would host a draft special later in the season so you knew about the AI created prospects for the upcoming draft. 

The game was simply chock-full of game-broadcast authenticity that still has not been equaled or eclipsed almost 4 years later.  EA’s purchase of the ESPN license has not yet yielded anything comparable to how Sega/VC handled their use of the ESPN license- and believe me when I say that EA DOES hear about it from both the gamers and the Madden/NCAA Community Leaders Program.  However, gamers remember exactly how ESPN NFL 2K5 handled features, presentation and in-game authenticity.  The bar has been set, and has yet to be surpassed.

Not too bad for a game that sold new for $19.99

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# 3 Madden NFL 2001
2000
EA
PS2


Several hyphenated words come to mind when we think back to Madden 2001 on PS2.  The first of which is “awe inspiring”.  The second is “system-seller”.

When Madden made the jump from the PS1 to the PS2, the result was what many consider to be the biggest graphics jump between football generations.  Though Madden 2001 was far from perfect, it was- for its time- a surprisingly complete package.  Madden 2001 set the bar extremely high for both graphics and franchise mode for the 2000 calendar year.   This was not a release of a rushed product just to make the PS2 launch list, this game was surprisingly refined for its time.

And the graphics were simply awe-inspiring. Gone were the days of the blurry, blocky 3D polygons from the PS1 era.  Now we could see vibrant dazzle-twill on NFL uniforms, perfectly recreated helmets and accessories, and well articulated player movements. Combining those graphics with the surprisingly full features set, and what you have is probably the single-biggest system launch title of all time.  The jump that Madden 2001 gave the PS2 was insurmountable.  The PS2 systems and the game flew off of shelves at an unprecedented rate.


Madden 2001, its graphics, and its feature set not only influenced what would become “expected core features” of future football games, but it also influenced an entire generation of PS2 dominance with the sales it helped create for both EA’s sports games and Sony’s system.  

 

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# 4 MVP Baseball 2005
2005
EA
PS2/XBOX

Many people forget just how bad EA was at baseball on consoles from the mid nineties until around 1993.  The "Triple Play" series was an arcadey mess that failed to attract much of an audience.  However, the "MVP" series came in and made us forget how bad things were.

MVP 2005 was the third in the series, but it was the most refined and most solid of the games.   You want it, you got it.  The minors, Hitters Eye, pitch meters, realistically modeled throwing meters, full season, full minors, full management, advanced baserunning controls.  You name it, it was in the game.

But more than anything, the game had realism... something sorely missing from the hardball games up to that point.  

Sadly, 2K's deal with made it so the game had to become a college baseball game, and that pretty much killed it.  Meanwhile, 2K's baseball game is still trying to catch up to the features and realism that MVP 2005 had.

MVP 2005's influence can easily be seen on Sony's MLB "The Show" series, which implemented jsut about everything thant made MVP 2005 great... so in that sense the MVP ideas and depth live on with MLB The Show... which is a credit to Sony for realizing just how well made MVP 2005 was.

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# 5 NHL 94
1993
EA
16 Bit Sega Genesis

Moreso than any other game on this list, NHL 94 makes the list based mostly on "feel".  The game simply felt like hockey.  No other hockey video game that came before it has ever replicated the feel and authenticity of NHL 94.  

But what is "feel"?  Much of it has to do with responsiveness.  You could tell the difference between Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky versus some 3rd tier defenseman on the Nordiques.  You could also tell that you got smashed into the boards by a guy like Ray Borque versus some lower end defender who might just rub you a little off your path down the ice. 

But it goes deeper than that.  The "feel" of puck handling was captured brilliantly...allowing you to drag the puck to one side and switch to the other.  The physics felt phenominal.  The same goes for getting control of your goalie and moving him around (something previous versions didn't let you do, leaving you at the mercy of your AI goalie.. so this was a welcomed change, especially when it came to defending against the breakaway.  

The big "back of the box" feature for NHL 94 was one-timers...something not seen in video hockey to that point, but something that would then become a must-have feature for all hockey games thereafter. However, as stated above, the game was more renown for its "feel" and representation of hockey than any singular feature.

It's also the reason why NHL 94's gameplay still stands up 14 years later.

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