Sports and gaming have long gone hand in hand. Athletes love to play as themselves in the games and fans love to play out their sports dreams through video games. How else can the Knicks win a championship? This isn’t a new thing, either. Since the days of Tecmo Bowl to Punch-Out!!, sports video games have always been part of fans’ DNA. The joy and anger that comes from playing against your friends in FIFA or 2K are almost unmatched. The passion rivals the energy you put into rooting for your own squad.
Over the years, there have been many classic sports games—so many that ranking the best 25 was an incredibly challenging task. And as technology has become more advanced, so have sports games. Now, players look more lifelike, the inputs for moves are more precise, and the gameplay feels more fluid. That makes ranking the classics even more difficult. There’s no true consensus on this, and everyone will have their own list. For ours, we excluded all racing games. So no Mario Kart or Gran Turismo, despite both being classics. Also, no football-manager- or soccer-manager-style games, sorry. With all of that being said, check out the Complex Sports ranking of the 25 best sports video games ever. We’re sure you’ll get mad, so enjoy.
1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
This was the first of its kind, so we couldn’t leave it out. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is one of the games I remember so well. Then, I put it in my N64 and played it for hours and hours. It was an all-time favourite and a favourite of mine.
As soon as I heard about skateboarding and Tony Hawk, a whole new world opened up for me. My cousins used words like “sick air,” “moves I’d never heard of,” and “tricks” every day. Manuals were my favourite way to add more tricks to my trick combos.
Graffiti or a pony? I can’t choose which game mode to play. To get some sick footage of the legends who became even more famous in skate, I had to get all the tapes. It was a great time. In this picture, you can see Burnquist and Campbell and Glifberg and Lasek and Muska and many more. Each has its own set of traits. It was a daily thing for me to grind around bowls and hit 900s, but it was a favourite to watch or play. I would never do this in real life. —JT
2. SSX Tricky
Consoles: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, Gizmondo, N-Gage, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2000
Snowboarding isn’t the most popular sport in the world, but when it comes to video games, it’s a great place to have some fun. This is the only snowboarding series worth talking about. SSX Tricky, on the other hand, was mostly an extension of the original SSX, but it had a lot of new things. Uber tricks were added to the game and quickly became one of the best things about it, along with the crazy characters and great soundtrack. In the glory days of the PlayStation 2, this game was a must-have and was called “the best snowboarding game ever made.”
“It’s Tricky” by Run DMC was a hit in 2001. When we play games like 2K and FIFA, we’ve come to expect great music. This game had great sounds all the way through. For the characters, each had great backstories and many ways to make them your own, making you fall in love with them even more. Also, the 3D graphics were great, which was a big deal back in 2001. Before races, the rivalry cutscenes showed how modern sports games now use a lot of MoCap technology. —PS
3. MLB Slugfest 20-04
Consoles: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance
Release Date: March 16, 2003
This game was very good. When it came out, Jim Edmonds was my favourite baseball player who wasn’t on the Mets. For some reason, this made him my favourite non-Mets player. It was fun to watch Cardinals games to see what crazy catch he would make in the centre that day. I had a few hundred of his cards. So, it’s clear that I was going to buy this game no matter what. This is just how I got in. I kept coming back because of the crazy gameplay. Slugfest is a game where people who don’t like baseball because it’s “boring” might want to live there. There were a lot of different ways to play this game. You could catch fire and storm the mound, drop kick the catcher, or hit the buttons on your controller during the loading screen to try and turn your team into dolphins or centaurs. They were just so cool. Whenever a player was hit by a line drive, you could punch the ball out of their hands like it was GTA or A-Rod running down the first base. A remake of Slugfest 2021 may not be something the world needs, but it is something I want. —BF
4. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain
Consoles: PlayStation 2
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2003
The first WWE SmackDown! that didn’t use a catchphrase from The Rock in its title was a big deal for WWE video games. It was also the last one to be called SmackDown! before they changed the name to Raw vs. SmackDown before moving to the Raw vs. SmackDown series. It’s the first wrestling game to let you play both the Elimination Chamber and Bra & Panties matches (good or bad). Overall, the game was a lot better than the last one. Glitches from the previous game were fixed, the grappling system was updated, and the Season Mode was a lot of fun to play. The cash you earn from winning matches can be used to buy new gear and WWE legends like Ted Dibiase and the Legion of Doom. Even choices like not having commentary during matches were great to see, especially when everything else in the game looked like WWE superstars. WWE fans in the early 2000s thought Here Comes the Pain was the best title they’d seen in a long time. —Khal
5. NFL Street
Consoles: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2004
The NBA Street series was a huge hit for the EA Sports division called EA Sports Big. When you think about it, the next logical step would be to use this formula in the NFL. There was a game called NFL Street that came out in 2004. It was 7-on-7 and took the arcade-style gameplay of games like NFL Blitz to a whole new level by letting the games take place on things like sandy beaches and backlots. Style points were given out for touchdowns and taunts during the game. These points would help your team get to the Gamebreaker, which made your team unstoppable for a short time, like in NBA Street. For example, a challenge mode allowed you to work your way up the competitive ladder. You could do this by taking players from teams, like Barry Sanders, and legends, like Walter Payton. Few things were more satisfying as a kid than triggering the, “I’m Comin! Here I Come,” Gamebreaker cut scene, tossing a behind the back deep ball from Donovan McNabb to Bobby Taylor, and high-stepping to the endzone spinning the ball on one finger after breaking six tackles. NFL Street, thank you. —MD
6. Madden NFL 2004
Consoles: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation
Release Date: Aug. 12, 2003
Talk about a great movie. Michael Vick played for us in this game, and I’m sure we all have good memories of that. He couldn’t be stopped. Take off: Drop back, roll out, and roll out. This is how to do it. “Easy” TD It’s been a long time since the Madden games had a lot of fans complaining about how little has changed. The 2004 game, on the other hand, was really revolutionary because Vick changed the game. If you want to play as a franchise, you can move teams and set prices for concessions at your stadium. This was pretty new at the time. If you asked Madden fans to name their favourite cover, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t say Madden 2004. —ZF
7. NFL 2K1
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2000
Another great football play. There is a big reason why people always want NFL 2k1 to come back. Before there were football games like this, the gameplay was way ahead of its time and helped to make them even better than they are now! They gave it all “A”s because they thought it was great. Slick and to the point: How many hours did I play this game on the Dreamcast? I can’t even tell you. Vikings were unstoppable for me. They were just too good to stop. Go to Randy Moss all the time. —ZF
8. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003
While she may not be one of Tiger Woods’ real mistresses, this “golfer” was sure to make the legend salivate while he was waiting for his turn.
Compared to other sports games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 isn’t as fast-paced or intense. It’s still a great golf game for people who want to play.
With 25 unique golfers to choose from, beautiful courses, and the “Tiger Challenge,” this game was a hit right away. Players can win cash prizes that can be used to improve their skills and unlock new courses.
Tiger Woods’ extracurricular activities were the only thing that was missing from this story.
9. Arch Rivals
The classic NBA games were mechanical and correct, but there were people who liked the savage, ruthless style of Arch Rivals for the NES.
Not only was this a classic arcade game, but it also mixed basketball and boxing to make a juvenile, but still fun, game that let users deck opponents and get the crowd excited.
An old favourite, but a good one.