Remember when a few pixels could represent your sports heroes, and your imagination did the rest? Re-live that. Here are some 8- and 16-bit sports classics still worth playing today.
American Football: Tecmo Bowl (1989, NES)
Madden games come out every year, but there’s only one Tecmo Bowl. This game strips down a famously complex sport to only four offensive plays. The defensive strategy: guessing which of those four your opponent picked.
Then it’s time to mash buttons.
Sure, Tecmo Bowl can quickly become a wildly unrealistic game of keep-away. But simplifying football down to the basic rules has another effect: fun. Anyone can pick this game up today and figure it out in minutes, making it perfect for any Big Game parties you might be planning.
You can find this game for sale on the Wii and the 3DS’ online stores, so check it out (but note that the player’s names have been removed from this version – you’ll need to find an original NES cart to play as John Elway).
Hockey: NHL 94 (1993, Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo)
Hockey’s the best sport when it comes to video games (full disclosure: I’m Canadian). There’s something about the speed, the number of players and the clear objective that makes for a fun game – and the fights don’t hurt, either.
When it comes to retro hockey games, one title comes to mind: NHL ’94. It’s a classic, and still a blast to play today.
It’s a simple game, executed well. Anyone can pick this up and realize the objective: skate to the other team’s net and score. And it doesn’t take long to learn the best way to score: the one timer.
Sure, there’s some weirdness – Jeremy Roenick is a hockey god if this game can be believed, a fact he’s apparently reminded of daily. But the game’s following is so strong today that there’s a fan site dedicated to playing it, and EA itself included a retro-inspired “94 Mode” in NHL 2014, their latest offering. EA screws up badly sometimes, but they know players love their 20-year-old game.
Outside of that special mode, the game was never officially re-released – unless you include the emulated version bundled with NHL ’06. You’ll have to find an original cartridge and system to play this one.
Basketball: NBA Jam (1994, Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo)
A familiar voice showed up on Twitter recently:
Is it the shoes?!
— NBA Jam Announcer (@NBAJamAnnouncer) December 1, 2013
Anyone who recognizes that sentence doubtlessly heard it thousands of times playing NBA Jam. This game just oozed character, and the announcer was only part of that. The literal flames when a player is figuratively “on fire,” the ability to jump higher than a typical super hero, and the flexible rules meant this basketball game was beloved by basketball fans and non-fans alike.
This game ditched the realism of 5-on-5 in favor of faster, 2-on-2 gameplay, and man: it worked. Every matchup feels like it’s being played on the streets, not in a stadium, and your objective is simple: run toward the net and dunk it. Spectacularly.
The original game is yet to see a re-release, but there are updated versions out there for most major consoles – and they stay true to the gameplay. There’s even an iOS version. Still, it’s worth digging up an old cartridge, if you can.
Boxing: PunchOut (1984, NES)
How many boxing games can you think of? Exactly. PunchOut was an early example of what sports simulations could be, and players loved the challenge. It’s so hard you’ll probably end up throwing your controller.
The controls are simple, the fights get progressively harder, and the boss is Mike Freakin’ Tyson (at least, in the original version: Nintendo lost the rights for re-releases). Oh, and Mario makes a cameo as the referee. What’s not to love about that?
Wii and WiiU users can find this game on Virtual Console (sans Mike Tyson, sadly: licensing means revisionism).
Just A Few
Of course, these are just a few classic sports titles still worth playing: I’m sure there are more. FIFA comes to mind, as does RBI Baseball. Let’s discuss your favorites below, okay? Or you can just call me dumb for my list, whatever you like best. It’s pretty easy to pick up most classics on the used market – there are only a few sports video games that sell for big money.
And before you call me out: I’m aware a few of these games were in arcades before they were on consoles, but be honest: you’re probably not going to buy an arcade machine just to play them. Let me know if you do, though, because I’d like to come hang out.
Image Credits: Brandon King Via Flickr