These days, it’s hard to find a decent sports game that isn’t called Madden or affiliated with the NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB in some sense. But if you’re willing to hop in a DeLorean (or at least on eBay), there are tons of hidden gems from the past 20-odd years to be dug up. Hell, a few of these may even still be in your parents’ attic. (But get ‘em out … the heat’s bad for old games. Science tip!) Here are 10 of our favorites:
10. Super Soccer (SNES, 1992)
It may not have featured Pele, Alexi Lalas or even the glorious white-guy ‘fro of Thomas von Heesen, but this Super Nintendo entry is fondly remembered by a devoted few for its innovative viewing perspective, with the field shown in plain vertical view. This allowed the opposite goal to be seen from anywhere on the field. Also awesome? Penalty kicks. Players could choose to compete in these without playing an actual soccer game, and kickass responsive controls for both the goal-keeper and the kicker kept things interesting ... and painful.
9. John Elway’s Quarterback (NES, 1988)
Okay, we admit that “overlooked” may be too strong in this case, as 99 percent of kids who were sports nuts had this cart. But why Elway, a two-time Super Bowl winner in the late ‘90s, never advanced beyond the NES (and Commodore 64) is beyond us. This had the potential to be a franchise of Madden proportions, as far as we’re concerned … all thanks to that fantastic cheat option where you could make your receiver run incredibly fast.
8. Nester’s Funky Bowling (Virtual Boy, 1996)
While the Virtual Boy system came and went like a fart in the wind, it left behind a handful of worthwhile titles. Funkmaster Nester here is also pretty much forgotten (he was the mascot for Nintendo Power for a few years), but like Jeffrey Lebowski, the kid knew how to roll. Funky Bowling featured three game modes—Practice, Bowling and Challenge—with pins being set up in increasingly difficult shots while playing in the latter (always ending in a 7-10 split). Unless you're a hired killer, this is the most fun you'll have with infrared.
7. Super Baseball 2020 (Neo Geo, 1993)
No wonder so many ballplayers are taking steroids these days; if in 11 years they’re going to be competing against robots and on fields laden with landmines, they’re gonna need all the help they can get. Hell, when this game emerged 16 years ago, it even had a 2020 price tag: the Neo Geo home version cost a whopping $200! And while that system became obsolete in the U.S. even quicker than the Virtual Boy, the SNES and Genesis versions of Super Baseball were far inferior. You missed out, America.
6. Crash n’ the Boys Street Challenge (NES, 1992)
By 1992, the original NES was looking moldy in the eyes of kids who were already mowing lawns and pumicing Grandma’s corns in order to afford a Super Nintendo. But the brain trust behind River City Ransom came up with a novel concept: inner-city Olympic-style contests, with no rules or regulations, played by Double Dragon-esque characters. While it didn’t lead to the most sportsmanlike behavior (the titular Crash and his band of misfits acted as the Greasers to a cross-town teams of Socs), it’s probably the only game in existence involving players going to a mall to acquire power-ups.
5. Pigskin 621 A.D. (Arcade, 1990)
The lone arcade-only game on this list, Midway’s featured a grid-iron gang more brutal than an entire defensive line of Mark Gastineau's. What do you expect from Viking players and stats on “Injuries Inflicted” provided at the end of each game? Each player could control a five-man team and move nimbly around obstacles like pits, bushes and logs. The field was also strewn with swords, ropes and torches, and if one player fell too far behind, a troll would be added to his side to help even the odds. We hear these were based off of Brian Bosworth.
4. NHL Hitz 2003 (Xbox, 2002)
Midway launched what they hoped to be an ongoing franchise a year earlier with NHL Hitz 2002, an NFL Blitz-modeled game that didn’t focus so much on true-to-life simulated gameplay, but rather cartoony characters and arcade-style graphics (like checking an opposing player by knocking him through glass). The 2003 edition upped the ante with a 3-on-3 style—rare in hockey video games—and has become a cult favorite. Even bars across the country have formed private leagues in recent years, so if you can’t find a copy, check your local watering hole.
3. Track & Field II (NES, 1988)
Another stretch for the designation of “overlooked,” Track & Field II found its way into the homes of many kids of the ‘80s … oftentimes as a less-violent Contra substitute from Santa. And while many of us may have despised it for that reason alone, it stands as one of the greatest sports games ever for the sheer number of events it boasted. While the Triple Jump and High Dive may elicit yawns, you can’t beat having Taekwondo, Arm Wrestling, Hang Gliding, Archery and Fencing crammed into one square of gray plastic. Better still, a player could choose from one of 10 countries. A gold medal to Kenya for Clay Pigeon Shooting? Why not?
2. Mutant League Hockey (Sega Genesis, 1994)
A spin-off of the successful Mutant League Football, MLH seems primed for a revamp. There’s something here for everyone, as teams were comprised of three species of “mutants”—robots, skeletons and trolls (again with the trolls!)—and fell under either the Toxic or Maniac conferences. Pucks could explode in players’ faces, refs could be bribed, a giant slug acted as an ice resurfacer, and, best of all, a regular goal could be subbed out for a friggin’ demon head. Best team name: the Pucksucker Pukes.
1. Super Dodge Ball (NES, 1989)
Admit it: Many a middle-school all-nighter was spent not looking for your best friend’s older brother’s porno stash, but rather beaning your pal in the face on that ridiculously small TV his parents let him keep in his room. So after an entire week of dodge-ball assault in P.E., of which one of you was probably on the receiving end, you could exact on your revenge with the comfort of Kool-Aid and Turtle Pies at your side (kudos to the Wii Virtual Console for bringing this title back last year). Two teams, five players apiece with energy meters, awesome trick shots … bliss. Until you actually found that porn a few years later. "Dodge ball" no more!