Unrealistic Sports Games

The Decline And Fall Of Unrealistic Sports

Like Gibbon, but with more tackling.

By Drew Toal • May 15, 2013

Every year, a new Madden football game comes out, and every year it claims to be more “realistic” than the last. The most recent iteration requires you—as general manager, coach, and player—to not only throw masterful back-shoulder strikes in the end zone, but also to conduct mid-season free-agent negotiations and run weekly practices. It’s taken as a given that the realer these sports games get—not only on the field, but also off—the better the game experience will be. One day, no doubt, the role-playing aspect that these games have adopted will extend to choosing whether or not to join class-action concussion litigation against the NFL, all for the sake of a more true-to-life experience.

Madden’s relentless drive to merge reality and virtual has done more than squelch fun. Beside squeezing out its own direct competitors, the unquestioned quest for the “true” sports experience has also cost us innovation in the world of arcade-style riffs on traditional sports. These wonderfully idiosyncratic games, often only barely recognizable as professional sports, have largely gone by the wayside. Oh sure, they still exist—many have been remade for current consoles—and Nintendo has its own brand of quasi-sports Wii experiences. But EA’s humorless dominance of the market has all but assured the eventual extinction of arcade sports games, if just in spirit. In pre-memoriam, let us celebrate the greatest titles in unrealistic sports gaming history.


The Littlest Pugilist: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, 1987

Generally speaking, the smaller the boxer, the bigger the mouth. Back in his heyday, if you had asked, say, Prince Naseem if he could take on Evander Holyfield or Lennox Lewis (two of the better heavyweights of their era), he’d probably laugh and say it wasn’t worth his time. He’d say that he would dance circles around them and they’d get TKO’d through sheer dizziness. But boxing has weight classes for a reason, and one good shot from either of those guys on the 120-pound showman would result in instant regicide.

Little Mac, the star of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, was seemingly undaunted by his size disadvantage. Mac was 4’8’’ on tiptoes and weighed in at an unintimidating 107 pounds. He didn’t have Naseem’s flash, but Mac did have a huge uppercut, used to devastating effect on opponents that outweighed him many times over. Would Iron Mike Tyson lose to a 107-pound white dude from the Bronx? Not today—not even if Mac joined the Nintendo Fun Club.

The Ron Artest Experience: Arch Rivals, 1989

No one disputes that the NBA of Michael Jordan’s era was a different beast than pro basketball today. It was just a more physical thing, closer to hockey or professional wrestling than many people appreciate. Today’s coddled players complain if they don’t get a foul call over the slightest contact. (A few minutes in the paint with longtime Knicks enforcer Charles Oakley would teach them some manners.)

Arch Rivals, a 1989 game from Midway, brutally encapsulates the sharp-elbowed epoch by introducing sucker punching as a legitimate form of sportsmanship. The in-game violence wasn’t so much of a shock in Blades Of Steel, the era’s preeminent hockey game, but basketball is typically a less pugilistic enterprise. Being able to deck a guy and steal the ball—with no foul call—on the hardwood was flagrantly wonderful. In true gladiatorial fashion, fans would throw trash onto the court, foreshadowing the infamous “Malice In The Palace” over a decade later.

Honorable Mentions: Base Wars, 1991; Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, 1991; Super Dodgeball, 1987


Boom Shakalakalaka: NBA Jam, 1993

The synthesis between arcade silliness and real professional sports reached its apotheosis in 1993 with the release of NBA Jam. The game pitted teams of two against each other, just like Arch Rivals. But where Rivals used archetypes with descriptive sobriquets like “Mohawk” and “Hammer,” NBA Jam used actual NBA players. There were a couple of notable omissions. Michael Jordan was not featured—Midway couldn’t get the rights to his likeness—and neither was young Orlando big man Shaquille O’Neal, at least in home versions.

There was still plenty of star power to go around, including marketable ’90s stars like Penny Hardaway and Larry “Grandmama” Johnson. The game also featured several unlockable characters, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore. We can only hope that seeing her husband set basketball nets on fire wasn’t too violent for Tipper.

XFL: Mutant League Football, 1993

Most sports fans, at one time or another, have wished bodily harm to a referee or umpire. Either that, or a divine miracle curing their total blindness. But we don’t really want them dead (most of the time, at least). In Mutant League Football’s grim future world, though, refereeing is about as dangerous as drunken zombie wrangling or drawing a cartoonish mustache on the likeness of a local warlord. That’s because the Mutant League—in addition to explosions, land mines, toxic waste, and other deadly in-game obstacles—allows teams to bribe referees. It’s not exactly subtle: After money changes hands, the opposing team can then choose to kill the corrupt official, fulfilling the unstated wish of millions of real-world sports fans around the globe.

The Would-Be Future Of Sports: Super Baseball 2020, 1993

The future has been a pretty big letdown so far. By “the future,” I mean the world as we thought it would look in 1990. How have we not colonized Mars? Where’s my hoverboard? And why are there no robots, women, or jetpacks in professional baseball?

Super Baseball 2020, it turns out, was a pipe dream, although Barry Bonds’s elbow guard came pretty close to the full-blown body armor worn by the game’s human players. The timeframe was just too limited. We’re still a long way off from the mandatory steroid injections and seventh-inning grope of the 31st century’s favorite baseball-esque sport, blernsball.

Honorable Mention: Brutal Sports Football, 1993


Da Bomb: NFL Blitz, 1997

In 1997, Midway released NFL Blitz, a football variant on NBA Jam. Blitz celebrated the sport’s violence when it was still acceptable to do so. The game encouraged pass interference, late hits, and pro wrestling-style take downs. The NFL—conscious of growing concern over players’ long-term health and pending lawsuits—eventually pressured Midway to de-escalate the violence in subsequent editions. Midway, though, was a company that thrived on blood and guts and cartoonish mayhem, and it went back to its bloody roots with Blitz: The League in 2005. That game was later banned in Australia.

In 2009, following Midway’s bankruptcy, EA bought up the rights to Blitz, bringing us full circle. Having already sucked the fun out of the realistic experience, the company now set its sights on ruining fake football too.

Honorable Mention: NHL Hitz (2001)


EA’s market dominance, coupled with an increased scrutiny of violence in both video games and professional sports, bodes ill for the future of over-the-top arcade sports. You want evidence? Look no further than some recent examples. Diabolical Pitch (2012) has you take control of a pitcher with a bionic arm, stuck for some reason in a haunted carnival. Using Kinect, you throw baseball-grenades at the attacking freaks. It’s about as much fun as a surprise visit from an agitated Jadeveon Clowney. Without Midway around to champion gratuitous cruelty, whimsical competitions like Winnie The Pooh’s Home Run Derby (2010)—a popular Japanese flash game that features A.A. Milne’s beloved woodland creatures—are in the ascendant. Charles Oakley would definitely not approve.

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  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    NBA Jam used actual NBA players. There were a couple of notable
    omissions…young Orlando big man Shaquille O’Neal.

    (scratches head)  Hmm.  You must mean for the console edition, right?  Because I’ll go to my grave hearing endless successions of “OHHH-NEAL!” in that boisterous announcer’s voice, as if it was some revelation to have a 7′ 1″ monstrosity beat his opponents to the rim every time.  He was, by far, the most popular selection picked by the Jam-addicted high schoolers who frequented the same Aladdin’s Castle as me back in ’93, so much so that I thought the game must be unbalanced in favor of picking OHH-NEAL and the Magic as your team. 

    Dunking, and announcing, was so frequent with Shaq (or else he was just that popular; it WAS 1993, after all) that I frequently found myself, over in the corner, toiling away at WWF Wrestlefest, silently asking for some peace and quiet so I could successfully conduct my own battles in what was a kinder, gentler, more realistic sports game.

    • pigpen23

      you didn’t even read the end of that sentence.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

        Looks like Drew fixed it.  Initially, it didn’t have the “at least in home versions” addition.  He may have made the edit not long afterward; it’s possible I made my comment while in “Turbo” mode.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Wrestlefest was my favourite arcade game for a very long time. Simple, but stylish. 

      I never had the chance more than an hour at a time in an arcade (at least not until I was 15, by which time arcades were in sharp decline) so I preferred games that I could play for ten minutes, and still feel some sense of accomplishment. 

    • Drew Toal

      Ha. Yes, the console one was the only one I played. I’ll never forget Nick Anderson because of it — the poorest man’s Shaq.

      • http://twitter.com/ArranNZ Arran

        How dare you. Nick Anderson was a fine shooting guard.

        Except when he missed about twenty free throws in a row in the finals against the Rockets.

        • Stl_Bob

          Still, stealing the ball from Michael freaking Jordan to win the game is a career highlight anyone would kill to have.

        • His_Space_Holiness

          Missing free throws? Shaq would never do such a thing!

  • HobbesMkii

    If you’re putting Mutant Football League on here, it’s difficult for me to fathom how Blood Bowl didn’t make an appearance.

    • Mistah Chrysoprase

      I know right, what the hell? MLF was a good little game, but it cadged ideas off the board game left and right, including the bribing the officials; I think at the least a brief reference was in order..

      • HobbesMkii

        I was talking about Cyanide’s (relatively) recent release of a computer game adaptation (born out of the lawsuit Games Workshop laid down on them for building Chaos League), but yes, there’s very little doubt in my mind MLF has a lot of BloodBowl in its genetic make-up. 

        Plus, it’s a great sports game!

        • Mistah Chrysoprase

          Ah, also agreed, it doesn’t quite fit his chronological theme, but it could’ve been shoe-horned into that little post-script at least. Maybe he’s saving it for a spotlight article; it’s a good game, a sequel’s on the way, and the franchise’s history makes for a pretty good story, if you’re a fan of the legal shitshows and self-destructive IP drama that are Games Workshop’s hallmark in the games industry.

        • HobbesMkii

           @Chryso42:disqus Regardless of your reasoning, I take umbrage, @andrewtoal:disqus !

  • zerocrates

    Time’s gonna tell on Super Baseball 2020. If you don’t see landmines and robots in the next 7 years of baseball’s future, then you don’t know Bud Selig.

  • vinnybushes

    Super Dodge Ball for the NES and it’s sequel on GBA definitely fall into this category. Making the ball duplicate, snake around, or simply hitting people with enough force to knock them high into the air definitely qualifies. Nothing like knocking river city ransom guys around. Actually that reminds that Crash N’ The Boys Street Challenge for NES definitely also qualifies, unless full contact hurdles is a real thing.
    Edit: Oh man I never got far enough to see Hammer throw golf or tight rope uni-cycling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NDOU9pc3B4

    • vinnybushes

       Or full contact canal swimming. IT’S TOTALLY STREET!

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ


        Gosh darn it, Ganbare Dunk Heroes is a great name for a video game.

        • vinnybushes

           I love that site. It’s where I go to research obscure stuff that no one except the people I know on the interwebs has any interest in.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I bought Super Dodgeball on the Wii VC and couldn’t believe the amount of flicker.

      Still beat it first time through. Still a lot of fun, though the controls were still a bit stiff.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Yeah, I played for about 30 seconds. The flicker was too much.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      And if you’re going to mention Super Dodge Ball you might as well also include its spiritual successor in Nintendo World Cup.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        I played the NES version of World Cup only briefly, but I played the hell out of the Game Boy version.

    • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

      I love Super Dodge Ball on GBA! I only wish I had someone I could link up with and play against, I never got that opportunity. (I couldn’t ever get my brother into it.) Even in playing only against the A.I., it was still bizarrely satisfying to ‘confound’ it by passing the pall around before you throw it at them, and it also felt really good to catch a hard-to-catch specialty shot that the A.I. made.  

  • Enkidum

    Ah, I miss NBA Jam. NBA Hangtime was possibly even better, with quarter-sucking customization of your team. I probably spent a good 100 dollars on that back in the day.

    Anyone remember the name of the street basketball game with punk characters where violence was a huge part of the game? I thought it might be Basketbrawl, but just looked that up and it wasn’t the one I was thinking of.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Bally/Midway’s Arch Rivals, it was.  It was also terrible!

      • Enkidum

        Hmmm… that looks closer to what I’m thinking of (and I’ve definitely played it) but it looks like it takes place in a regular basketball court. The game I’m thinking of had a number of xxxxxtreme urban courts.

    • kthejoker

      Maybe you’re thinking of Rap Jam? That had actual rappers as characters, but the sprites just look like generic urban youth. And it had violence galore, including blood spatter.

      • Enkidum

        Maybe I’m just hallucinating. I swear I played this thing, but if @GhaleonQ:disqus doesn’t remember it, it probably never existed!

    • adam farrar


    • OhHaiMark

       A month ago I had a random “play NBA Jam every day for four hours” phase. It definitely affected my grades for the better.

  • rvb1023

    NBA Street I remember being incredibly entertaining, not so much for the basketball but for how ridiculous it was.

    • http://twitter.com/mackiejunior Screamo Phillips

       Servin’ it up… DINNER’S SERVED!

      • caspiancomic

         God I loved hearing that.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      The game it captured wasn’t exactly basketball, but whatever it was, it was actually excellent.  No gimmickry was needed, if you wanted to turn off the bonus moves.

      (Also, even if you’re going super mainstream, you have to pick Neversoft, right?  Kelly Slater got a video game on the back of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series!)

      Konami’s Japanese-arcade-only titles seemed to blaze the trail for N.F.L. Blitz to go wild, but Captain Tsubasa/Inazuma 11 are actually fun.  Strikers moves away from role-playing to become a less interesting game, but more fun for people who have only seen Shaolin Soccer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcova5jHTXk

      Oddball: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/sumo/sumo2.htm Sumo!  No yokozuna can be recognized who does not Orange Crush his opponent on the head of the Statue Of Liberty!  (Happy retirement, Kenta Kobashi.)

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        Right in time for the summer tournament! I might have to check one of those out.

        I watched Asahi the other day and all the women in the studio were holding back tears while the men tried putting on a respectfully brave face. It was the kind of goodbye Triple H wants, but will never get.

    • The Guilty Party

      NBA street was awesome. We used to play that religiously. It wasn’t exactly basketball, but it definitely was a lot of fun. Did the series just go defunct at some point?

    • caspiancomic

      NBA Street is my jam, man. Anyone know if there are plans to bring it (or Vol. 2) to PSN?

    • Matt Koester

      It’s really hip to give EA shit, but for a while they tried to “Street” everything, and NBA Street was essentially a modernized NBA Jam. You could even play as Michael Jordan! EA’s recent NBA Jam rehashes weren’t bad either. Hopefully they’ll make good use of the NFL Blitz license.

      • Patrick Francis

        NBA Street was indeed most excellent, but EA Big has long since disbanded and they haven’t really followed with anything “Big-esque” since.  The NBA Jam rehashes weren’t awful, but they didn’t do anything to set themselves from the originals—in fact, were slightly worse.  Same with their NFL Blitz game, in which you can’t even do any after-the-whistle shenanigans!  Though that’s probably due to the NFL nixing that whole idea.

  • Effigy_Power

    Why not make entirely new sports instead of mixing up the old ones.
    Anyone remember Speedball ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speedball_%28video_game%29 )? Here was the stainless steel version of a handball/rugby bastard nobody had asked for, but I sure remember playing this as a kid on our Amiga 500.

    • George_Liquor

      Speaking of weird-ass Amiga games, how about some air hockey… in  SPAAAACE?

    • PaganPoet

      If you do it this way, though, you risk making the next Blitz Ball. Do you really want to take that chance, Effie?

      • Effigy_Power

        I’ll be good now.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Speaking of fictional sports in video game form, does anyone know if the Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup game is any good?

      • boardgameguy

        it’s enjoyable until you figure out that there is a very clear formula for how to win. then it became repetitive.

        • Effigy_Power

          Insanely repetitive.

        • Wrong_on_the_Internet

          Faithful to the source material then? (I liked the books, I hated the Quidditch)

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Obligatory ICE CREAM ICE CREAM. It was lots of fun (and it’s fondly remembered by many; there’s been countless re-releases).

      A couple of years later, I got HyperBlade with my Voodoo card, which I remember liking as well. The x-tremeness of the trailer sure hasn’t aged well, though.

      • wzzzzd

        Windjammers always struck me more as an evolution of Pong than a whole new sport.

    • Simon Jones

       I remember Speedball /and/ it’s superior sequel Speedball 2.

      Because I am old.

      • Effigy_Power

        One day we will sit on the porch and tell the people of the future of a time when sports games worked just fine without celebrity endorsement.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Ballblazer was one of my favorite sports games, but that was largely due to the faux-3D graphics it wrung out of my Atari 7800 and the title, which was frankly hilarious to an elementary-school boy.

      • George_Liquor

        It had pretty catchy music, too.

  • George_Liquor

    How about RC Pro-Am? It’s crazy to think that remote-controlled vehicles armed with deadly guided missiles exist in real life.


  • kthejoker

    Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball is a national treasure.

    • vinnybushes

      I don’t know whether or not it’s really as bad as it is in this video but it sure looks that way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zgzCIJHPJ4&list=SPRQGRBgN_EnrsxaVTQJKIao6lDAJyYOw-&index=20

      • kthejoker

        Most games won’t be fun if you don’t know the rules and make no attempt to learn the controls. The league campaign of the game was genuinely tough. You could trade players and develop them, which appealed to the future database consultant in me. Plus its AI was fairly robust and didn’t have easy exploits. And fun in 2 player mode, lot of nail biting half court buzzer beater slugfests.

        • vinnybushes

          So there’s a learning curve? That’s pretty interesting because most of the games people are listing don’t have a ton of depth. NBA Jam for example was just turbo button, dunk, steal, repeat. Huh… that’s pretty cool.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

          Oh it had at least one exploit that I abused the hell out of and cakewalked through the whole thing.

          You see… only the player closest to the ball would try to pick it up. (This might have been a function of the “switch player” button automatically going to whoever was closest to the ball.)

          Once I got a lead – even as meager as two points – I would wait for an opponent to have the ball near the wall of the arena, then check him into the boards, knocking the ball loose. If I did it right, the ball would land right behind me.

          At that point I just mashed the “tackle” button until time ran out, repeatedly nailing that same poor bastard into the wall over and over again. Since he was still the closest player to the ball (remember: right behind me), none of the other players would move to pick it up and he wouldn’t be able to as I was constantly rearranging his spine.

          Kind of sucked the fun out of it, really, but I still won.

      • Uncle Roundy

        NEVER judge a game based on its appearance in a Game Grumps video. Their lack of skill and disinclination toward learning even the most basic controls and techniques end up doing many games a gross injustice. If you ever feel like being infuriated sometime, check out the hatchet job they did on Secret of Mana.

        • vinnybushes

           Even though they’re not exactly true to life I still enjoy the dynamic the two of them have. I do understand to take their interpretations with a grain of salt, but sometimes silliness has it’s own merits.

    • vinnybushes

       It also occurs to me that speedball 2 on the Atari St (and iphone) did this much much better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIH4EH3gY40

  • kthejoker

    Maybe you’re thinking of Rap Jam? That had actual rappers as characters, but the sprites just look like generic urban youth.

  • PaganPoet

    No mention of Dead or Alive Volleyball? Let’s be honest, your average game of volleyball is not between buxom Japanese kunoichi in string bikinis, sry2say. Besides, all that bouncing and jiggling? Surely those women have back issues!!

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball! It’s a good thing they added “Xtreme” to the title; if they hadn’t, I don’t know how they could have marketed that game. Surprisingly good volleyball mixed with a so-so dating sim.

      I mean, uh, I’ve never heard of it.

      • PaganPoet

        I say they need to add Ryu Hayabusa in a speedo with butt jiggle physics. Let us all feel dirty and a little ashamed of ourselves.

      • PugsMalone

        They actually took the word “volleyball” out of the sequel’s title. Hilarious.

    • caspiancomic

       My preferred entry into the “bouncing and jiggling arcade volleyball” genre was the browser classic Slime Volleyball.

      • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

        Yes, a million times yes. Slime volleyball is great fun, with great times to be had by all. Now that you mention it, I’m a little sad it didn’t  get a mention at the end of the article alongside Winnie the Pooh’s Home run Derby.

    • Simon Jones

       I always liked that the guy who made the Dead or Alive series looks exactly like the guy who’d make the Dead or Alive series.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Beach volleyball games are still fun even when they are faithful adaptations. (See also, “Super Spike V Ball” for the NES) It helps that the game itself is inherently simple and somewhat ridiculous.

  • kthejoker

    Gotta put in some love for the lesser sports:

    Mario Power Tennis
    Hot Shots Golf

    And my personal favorite

     Mega Man Soccer

    which must’ve just been repurposed code from some other game, but still, a lot of fun was had playing the game.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      MegaMan Soccer, Base Wars, and Arch Rivals were the only sports games I played with any regularity. MMS was kind of strange, but pretty great.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

        While I did dabble in a lot of “real” sport games (and borderline real ones like Nintendo World Cup), I do have great fondness for MMS and Base Wars.

        Robots playing insane versions of real sports is a genre that needs to come back.

    • DrFlimFlam

       Mario Power Tennis is also awesome. So much fun.

    • boardgameguy

      super mario strikers was a fun 4 vs 4 soccer game with powerups.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

        I hope the sequel was a bit more balanced, cause for some reason, your goalie always SUCKED when playing against a computer.

      • Matt Koester

        If only for giving us the Waluigi Crotch Chop. www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6CLfZl0m88

    • CountBulletsula

      I absolutely love Mega Man Soccer.  It’s a shame that the game looked to be unfinished, though.  I would have loved to play as Wily in his weird soccer-bot against my brother in multiplayer.

  • Simon Jones

    It’s worth mentioning that Inazuma Eleven is still around and is still hideously popular.

    Though I have never actually played any of it because I am not a 11 year old japanese child.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      *weeps into hands*  YOU BE QUIET.  The television show is horrendous, but, like Pokemon, the games have ridiculous depth and innovation hidden in all of the numbers and character designs.

      • Simon Jones

         They are by all accounts genuinely good and rich JRPG style games but I just can’t. I…I just can’t, man.

        But seriously, if there ever was a popular series of games that flew completely under the gaming presses radar, it’d be they.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Frankly, I’m shocked that there’s no backlash in Japan for its saturation and here given that the opportunity for ethnic caricature (benign and…otherwise) is so great.  Pokemon has had, what, 2 controversies about racism?  Soccer Pokemon should have at least that by now, but they don’t.  Good job, Level-5!

  • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

    Watching that Mike Tyson’s Punch Out clip brought back a flood of memories. Every time I visited my cousins we played this or Duck Hunt (and fuck that Duck Hunt dog). 

    And I just realized that the referee in Punch Out is Mario. I am such a dumb ass.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      Don Flamenco even calls him “Referee Mario” (“I like your hair!”) if he makes it past round one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=53700065 James Kosmatka

      I think it bears mentioning that Super-Punch Out!!! is an incredibly fun, replayable game. Probably more so than MTPO.

      • Matt Koester

        Super Punch-Out!!! is certainly faster and more challenging, but I liked the slower, more puzzle-like nature of the original, while Super Punch-Out!! was a far faster, more offensive game. The art was great though. I always wished Next Level’s Wii remake was in 2-D. 

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

    I loved “Base Wars”. There was nothing quite as satisfying as winning a game by blowing up your opponents. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      I put a Fire Gun (rapid-fire just by holding down the button) on my second baseman and gave the AI nothing but doubles just to tag him out (of existence, eventually). Eliminate enough opponents and the game is called in your favor, which seems like cheating.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        My cousin used to blast me with pitches. The first time he did this, I was super-psyched, because I was winning by something like 9 runs. Then he blew up my third guy and the game was called. On one hand, I was so angry at losing. On the other hand, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

    • Basement Boy

      Yeah, I’m pretty sports-averse (in- and out-of) video gaming, but Base Wars was one of my favorites. Tiger Woods Golf is the only current sports title I’ll play. A robot golf game would be cool!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663669914 Sean Richardson

      That was always the appeal in the “Mutant League” games too.  It’s not fun to defeat your opponent; you want the game to be called off because they have nobody left.

  • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

    The Decline and Fall of Sports Games Worth Playing.

    • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

      This is the correct and most accurate title.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Eh, there’s a difference between “arcade” and “ridiculous.”  Anyone who would play MLB Slugfest over Baseball Stars 2 is not someone you can trust.

      That said, they did create a safe space for oddities like Flying Power Disc/Windjammers, which used sports language to innovate gameplay.

  • DrFlimFlam

    No mention of Baseball Simulator 1.000? That was the future baseball game before future baseball games!

    Also, I remember when I was so young I thought a high ERA was good. So I’d find teams with guys who had ERAs of like 6.94 and my eyes would light up and that was MY TEAM. It didn’t have much of an impact on the game.

    World Series 95 for the Genesis was not strictly an “unrealistic” sports game in theory, but when I had Tom Glavine throw a perfect top of the strike zone slider 81 times, and no one ever even bit at it, for the Most Perfect Game Ever Pitched, it seemed pretty unrealistic to me. I imagined the fielders taking naps on the soft outfield grass, or gathering at 2B for s’mores and ghost stories, while the hitters remained endlessly perplexed by this pitch that was too high to hit but somehow danced juuuuuust into the strike zone. And a jealous catcher, forced to play baseball while his friends and teammates lazed about the field.

    • FireEmblemIsAFunGame

      Have to second the love for the “Baseball Simulator 1.000″ series. The SNES version was great as well. Also, the name of the developer (Culture Brain) always stuck with me for some reason.

      • Oliver Phonglehorn

        I’ve never cared much about baseball, but I loved Baseball Simulator 1.000 on Super Nintendo.  The pitcher splitting into four copies of himself?  The ball that turns invisible?  It was so much more interesting than the real sport.

        • DrFlimFlam

          The ball that the outfielder catches but slams into the wall. HA!

        • stakkalee

          @drflimflam:disqus The Missile Ball!  If you hit it just right you could catch 2 or 3 players with it and slam them all into the wall!  Then you had to wait for the second baseman to run all the way back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=652097942 Brad Millette

    EA tried to bring this back in recent years with the surprisingly entertaining NBA Street, the less entertaining soccer one, and the didn’t-quite-know-what-it-wanted-to-be MLB The Bigs. I love baseball videogames, but they’ve gotten to the point where it’s too complex for me to play anymore.

  • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

    The Super Dodgeball link also links me to a Combat Basketball video. :(

    • Matt Gerardi

      Thanks for pointing that out. It’s been fixed.

  • FireEmblemIsAFunGame

    Apart from the aforementioned “Super Baseball Simulator 1.000″, another personal favorite of mine that doesn’t seem to get much love these days is “Pigskin 621 A.D.” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeTXu1jPL4M

    When I was a kid there used to be an arcade cabinet of it at a restaurant near my Grandmother’s house, and whenever we went to visit her I always used to try to persuade everybody to go out to that restaurant for dinner just so I could play it. Sorry Granny, it’s FOOTBRAWL time!

  • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

    This is a totally underated genre that I totally miss. These unrealistic and arcade-y sports games are really the only types of sports games I can stomach. The more realistic you make it the less and less I care to play it, because I don’t really watch sports, sorry.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I love sports, especially baseball, but I hate chugging through the at-bats because I swing at everything. If I had a great batting eye I’d play baseball.

      So now I play stuff like Out of the Park Baseball, where every ten years or so I get a good team, strain for the World Series championship, and sometimes succeed.

  • Jackbert

    This is my kind of article! Don’t forget these two series!

    MLB Power Pros series

    A popular Japanese title brought to the States by 2K Sports in 2007 and 2008, this baseball game played a more realistic game of the sport than 2K’s American series. Everything else was completely crazy though. Players lacked noses, arms, and legs. Their other body parts looked like those of Lego figures. In the career mode, each of the 6 minor league teams had a crazy flaw that you had to overcome to lead them to the championship. Maybe the manager had a literal phobia of the rival team or the star pitcher couldn’t stop thinking about his girlfriend on the mound. Besides playing games, you controlled every aspect of your player’s life. This meant eating, training, sleeping, dating women, talking to your agent, and weird sidequests straight out a JRPG. The 2008 release added the My Life mode, which was all this but with actual MLB players. That meant you could use David Wright to save the town from an evil witch.

    NBA Ballers series:

    Several commenters have mentioned NBA Street and Ballers played very similar, except with a bit less tricks and a bit more violence. I only played the PSP version, which came out in 2006, but there were three more releases, two for PS2 and one for PS3. The career mode was basically Paper Dolls: Hip-Hop Edition. There were dozens of options for shirts, pants, shoes, hairstyles, hats, glasses, chains, watches, and tattoos. You could buy cars, houses, and even friends to cheer you on from the sidelines. These friends you could buy were all modeled after the developers. This meant a bunch of chubby white guys with crewcuts in jeans were cheering you on as you played basketball on a yacht rocking your hi-top fade in a suit jacket, sweatpants, and a chain down to your waist with a dollar sign the size of your head.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      And Power Pro has a handheld spinoff, Power Pro Pocket, which is to Power Pro as Mario Sports Mix is to Mario Tennis.  It’s a fun little series.

  • wzzzzd

    Deathball (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifP9vYFV7hE ) was a lot of fun the couple of times I got a chance to play it. Although I don’t know how fictional it really is since it plays very much like futsal except I don’t get exhausted by the end of the first half and I’m not incompetent in a forward position.

  • stakkalee

    My brother and I played the hell out of Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 on our SNES and it was awesome.  I can still remember my frustration rising whenever he’d pitch the Warp Ball and time it just right so it skipped right past my bat.  Totally ruined regular baseball for me – if there’s no possibility of hitting a Meteor Ball that explodes when someone catches it then I don’t want to play.

  • boardgameguy

    growing up, my siblings and i played little league baseball as our game of choice. to expedite the game, we had a house rule that you ALWAYS had to pitch it over the plate. so now i still swing at everything, even when the AI doesn’t have that rule and because i’m impatient

  • Carlton_Hungus

    What about the early N64 era Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey?  It had an arcade mode that borrowed some concepts form NBA Jam (Pucks setting the net on fire for hot shooters, hot goalies literally turning into brick walls) and was 3v3 arcade style (although you could play a 5v5 “realistic mode”).

    We used to play the hell out of that, it also is the only game I’ve ever consistently used the instant replay for as your checks usually sent people spinning what would appear to be 7ft up in the air.

    • PugsMalone

      Robin Hood and his merry men are up to it again.

    • FireEmblemIsAFunGame

      Wow, how could I forget about that one? It definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as all of the other top tier N64 multiplayer titles. I played it all the time, and actually enjoyed it much more than NBA Jam -  hockey just really seems to lend itself to that over the top approach.

      • Matt Koester

        I remember the first time my friend got NHL Hitz, I was horrified. It followed the Blades of Steel heritage where when fights break out it goes into profile and becomes a rudimentary fighting game. 

  • R Peterson

    I just can’t wait until your players start getting into domestic disputes or illegal dogfighting operations and have to get cut from the team.  Then we’ll have some great realism.

    • saabmanlutz

      Virtual players with virtual twitter accounts who go on insane virtual rants.

  • ad_mic

    Why does everyone hate Cyberball

  • http://www.facebook.com/dglassman1 Doug Glassman

    The mention of Blernsball makes me long for a video game version of 43-Man Squamish, complete with sprites based on Mad contributors. Who wouldn’t want to play a match with Sergio Aragones as their right Inside Grouch?

  • hornacek

    What, no B.C.’s Quest For Tires?

  • ferrarimanf355

    I should also add two more Midway titles: CART Fury, which was the proto-Burnout with big speeds and bigger crashes; and MLB Slugfest, where hitting a batter in the jaw with a 125 MPH fastball was not only possible but rewarded, not to mention being able to drop kick the first baseman to avoid being tagged out.

  • Matthew Burke

    Fantastic article, this is something I haven’t thought about for a while. Being a stereotypical Canadian, I’ve been playing hockey games since I started playing video games in general. I remember playing Mutant League Hockey with my brother, he would try to win by scoring goals whereas I would eventually get frustrated and try to kill as many of his players in hopes he would have to forfeit. This went on in a number of other hockey games. He was always much better at the actual hockey portions of the games, but because of some of the more ridiculous mechanics the playing field was levelled. NHL Hitz was the last sports game we played that I felt like I had a fair shot. After that came NHL Hitz Pro, which was trying to be realistic, then it basically just became a competition between EA and 2k, with EA winning by 09. I still love hockey games, but a part of me definitely wishes they’d bring back some of the ridiculous features. 

  • FireEmblemIsAFunGame

    The more I think about it, the more I feel like there are actually plenty of games carrying on the mantle of the “unrealistic sports” genre, just in slightly different forms and with slightly less obvious subjects. On iOS, you have games like Ridiculous Fishing and Grim Joggers, while I would consider even something like AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity for PC as something that fits the bill.

  • http://mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

    How about Road Rash?  I mean, real-life MotoGP racing probably doesn’t allow beating opponents with chains. Or maybe it does; I don’t really follow it.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I have played Namco’s MotoGP and it’s like Gran Turismo but with motorcycles. And leaning. Lots of leaning.

  • http://warren-peace.blogspot.com/ WarrenPeace

    I don’t know if it counts as the same genre, but I like the SSX games, which turn snowboarding (and skiing, in SSX On Tour) into a crazy, high-flying, trick-tastic good time. I especially like the open world of SSX 3; I poured so many hours into that game…

    • BryanDaviss

      I freelance over the internet and earn about 80-85$ an hour. I was without a job for 7 months but last month my paycheck with big fat bonus was $15000 just working on my computer from my home for 5-6 hours. Here’s what i have been doing—–>  http://qr.net/moneybite

    • Flying_Turtle

      I thought of SSX and skateboarding games right away also.

      I never could understand the switch to greater realism in skateboarding games. If I wanted to fall off the board while attempting a kickflip, I’d already be doing it. Let me do 720 benihanas or grind a second story rooftop from the safety of my couch!

      • Patrick Francis

        Actually this is one instance where I think “realism” works.  Once the Tony Hawk series devolved into doing nearly-infinite multi-million point combos, I stopped caring.  When absurd tricks are so easy, one quickly stops feeling any sense of accomplishment upon doing any of them.  I think the Skate games actually have vastly improved on that whole thing and also features enough ridiculous moments to be fun too.  Lying down on a skateboard and launching yourself off the top of a dam (and landing)?  Yes, please.

  • http://twitter.com/ArranNZ Arran

    No Basketball Nightmare for Sega Master System? YOU PLAYED AGAINST WEREWOLVES.


    • His_Space_Holiness

      What’s so unrealistic about that?

      • http://twitter.com/ArranNZ Arran

        The tiny, white human players are dunking. That’s just too fantastical.

  • Citric

    We need more inexplicable robots, like in Mecarobot Golf. 

  • Everlasting_Godstabber

    Hah! None of these games even have a rabbit umpire!

  • blue_lander

    No mention of Ninja Golf?

  • KidvanDanzig

    NHL Hitz was incredible, if not just for the ability to create your own player and give him one of many outlandish names that would show up in game commentary. It was nice to hear “One Zero One Zero One One passes the puck” or “ONE ZERO ONE ZERO ONE ONE SCORES”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726809245 Bozo Profound

    NFL Street 2 was way better than any version of NFL Blitz.

  • Matt Koester

    While it’s often overshadowed by its NES predecessor, I recently had a great time playing the Neo Geo/Arcade game Baseball Stars 2. SNK had a series of caffeinated takes on popular sports for their arcade/console hybrid platform, but this one’s probably my favorite. Teams are all based on certain locations, and make no sense, and their gimmicks extend to their players’ names. (The New York Monsters feature such athletes as “Medusa” and “Slasher”). The visuals are gorgeous 2-D, well-scaled and brilliantly cartoony. The music is loud, upbeat and features such lyrics as “bbbbbbbbbbb-baseball stars tooooooo!”. On top of this is an extremely enthusiastic announcer whose statements occasionally meander into nonsense. 
    Honestly, though, the best thing about the game is that if your batter gets hit by the pitch, sometimes he’ll run right up to the plate and smack the pitcher square in the jaw, in a gorgeous comic-esque cutscene, prompting the announcer to ponder, “I wonder if he’s alright.”