There’s many of us that don’t particularly care for sports. Be it because we never really got into them as children due to various factors, because of our political or personal beliefs or just because of that one sports team you’re supposed to love with all your heart but they are just constantly disappointing and an outright embarrassment to the sport.
I’ve always had an affinity for sports myself, but eventually grew out of playing sports games. Back when I did, the criticism levied against most games of being just roster updates that often removed more features than they added, changing things for the sake of changing things was pretty much a truism. Plus, games that do not have their professional association backing tend to outright flounder, failing to find their audience.
For those of you seeking a new kind of experience in Sports Games, here’s a few recommendations. Yes, there’s Blood Bowl. There’s a lot more than that.
Tecmo Cup Soccer Game - NES
This one’ll be hard to find but I believe it’s all worth it for one simple reason: Have you ever played Blitzball? The origins of this Final Fantasy X minigame lie here. “Random” encounters on the field, stats that determine whether the block is successful or not, etc. This game is often referred to as “Land Blitzball” because of that reason.
Originally a licensed game based on Captain Tsubasa (which received numerous sequels improving on the formula, but NA only got the first one which was this), this is a one player game that follows the adventures of Robin Field in his attempt to win the junior league championship, and then the world junior championships. As you play, him and his team will gain levels, with some players gaining special abilities such as powerful shots, etc.
It’s absolutely enjoyable and unlike most NES games of the time, can be finished easily if you are persistent as you practically never lose progress (In the first league, every two matches “saves” progress in that even if you lose the match, you won’t have to start from the beginning) and you have unlimited continues.
The obvious problems with this game is that you cannot play against a human - This feature was added in later installments, which were never localized as this was released very late in the NES’ lifecycle. Carts of it can run up to 50$ on eBay. Not as bad as other late arrivals, but still a hefty sum.
Recommendation if you can’t find it: The North American release of Inazuma Eleven. Yes, one of them made it over here.
Base Wars - NES
While the gameplay of Base Wars is more traditional (it plays like a regular baseball game of the era), the fact that everyone involved is a robot, and close calls on whether a runner is safe or out are handled with a one-on-one no-holds barred brawl.
That’s right, umpires are chumpires in the sport of the future - Baseball but with robots. Take a team, customize your bots from regular bipeds, tank treads, monotire or hovering above the ground, give them weapons and play ball.
As a NES baseball game, it unfortunately falls short (the best one is unquestionably Baseball Stars from SNK) but the premise is a good time, and I sort of wish this fantasy had been carried on in later titles. Seeing my runner shoot the first baseman to make it to base is always a good time. A lot of the weapons are broken, some of the bot-specific attacks are hilarious (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen monotire bot do constant backflips) and regardless of what goes on the game is painfully easy, but it’s always good for a laugh.
Looking back, the NES had a lot of good baseball and baseball-like games. This, Baseball Stars, Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball (which was apparently toned down from the Japanese release if you can believe it), and of course, Aa Yakyuu Jinsei Icchokusen (aka Straight Baseball Life), which is more of “Life: The Board Game” than actual baseball, but we’re all for the weird here.
Recommendation if you can’t find it: Unfortunately, nobody’s come out with something that matches anything like this. If they did, inform me, I need to shoot some 1st basemen.
Super Dodge Ball
Everyone should know this one by now - Some crazy company out there decides to make a game based off dodgeball and you think I’m not including it on this list, even if everyone knows it? Seeing as Super Dodge Ball is one of my favorite video games of all time, it has to be there. Take Team USA (or Nekketsu High if you’re in Japan and a purist) to supremacy over the rest of the world in the crazy sport of dodgeball complete with classic Kunio-Kun facials and inexplicable death of competitors (and subsequent revival, except for the last stage in singleplayer). Special shots, passes to backline to juke out opponents, beaning people hardcore? It’s all there.
To be fair, every Kunio-Kun sports game belongs on this list, but unfortunately we only got two that kept some of the charm with a third that was localized poorly (Nintendo World Cup) and removed a lot of features. Crash ‘n the Boys : Street Challenge is also among those, but I’d hesitate in calling it a sports game. Besides, you can get that one on Steam with a better localization anyway so we’re not really into NES territory. We also almost got Ice Challenge (for Hockey) which would have been the best hockey game on the NES.
Recommendation if you can’t find it: Arc System Works now owns the Kunio-Kun franchise and have been steadily releasing new installments of the quirkier games. Dodgeball will return someday. The latest release I believe is Super Dodgeball Brawlers for DS, and it’s not the best one. I’d recommend Super Dodgeball Advance due to the many unlocks and the systems being based off the SNES title.
There are many other games that take the premise of a random sport and turn it on its head, and with games like Mutant League Football making a comeback I believe that if developers and publishers want to sell a sports game in the modern world, they may have to go towards that route. There’s also been the revival of Windjammers (regardless of what you may think about dotEmu) and Disc Jam giving us frisbee action again.
I have also skipped a few games due to having barely played them or not at all. Galaxy 5000 and Eliminator Boat Duel, for example, are two NES games that have a good twist on racing (sci-fi racing and boat racing with damage) but no real twist on the controls themselves.
Still, if you’re tired of the regular sports formula, check these titles out for a start, and then just start exploring weird sports games. They’re a blast. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything weird sports in the modern era. (I know of Videoball, btw since I know someone’s gonna plug that. Quality title.)