Many gamers are avid sports fans. “Sports-only” players are a huge subset of video gamers, and lots of them eventually branch out to discover other genres. Sports games are a valuable tool for media advisory and can lead to some heavy circulation, so you’ll want to stock a few sports and racing titles.
Sports titles have experienced some of the leading technological growth in video gaming. Early incarnations used very simple graphics to simulate the most basic rules and objectives of the activities they portrayed. However, during the 1990s, sports games grew in complexity and challenge, gaining notoriety for advanced artificial intelligence that allowed on-screen characters to mimic the performance of real-life athletes.
Today’s releases are some of the most rich and varied titles available. If you fantasize about playing for your favorite professional team, you can create your own character and control it directly on the field. Fans who are more interested in managing or coaching can take advantage of game modes that allow negotiating player trades and dictating a team’s practice and training schedules.
Unfortunately, most of today’s sports games are also annual releases. Given their popularity, you’ll want to order multiple copies (two minimum) for some of the hottest franchises, but at $50 to $60 a pop, these titles will gobble up your gaming budget. A good compromise might be to stagger your updates; split your list in two, and buy half of the new titles one year, the other half on the opposing years.
First, invest in Electronic Arts’ (EA) Madden. Not only is it one of the biggest sports games released each year, with a devout following, it’s also—thanks to an exclusive licensing deal—the only football game with the likenesses of real-life National Football League (NFL) players and teams. The series has a reputation for phoning it in—EA knows it can sell the game on the NFL license alone, so it doesn’t always go for broke in improving gameplay with each entry. However, it’s hard to build a video game collection without last year’s Madden on the shelf.
EA’s NHL franchise is consistently excellent and gets progressively better annually. This series is known for being meticulously detailed, creating a pitch-perfect simulation of ice hockey with each iteration.
EA also publishes MLB: The Show, which you’ll want for your baseball fans. Hoop dreamers will love Take-Two Interactive’s NBA 2K series. It’s always a stand-out, rivaling (and often surpassing) even the great NHL in its realism and depth.
Not everyone is a die-hard sports purist; a good number of people enjoy them only when they’re stripped of the layers of rules and complexity that are standard in the professional leagues. Those fans are accommodated with “arcade sports” games. This genre favors visceral excitement over presentation, often delivering fantastical displays of physical prowess usually only seen in action/adventure titles.
Recent entries include NBA Jam: On Fire Edition for the Nintendo Wii, a resurgence of a popular 1990s franchise; Punch-Out!!, also for the Wii, which is a cartoonish depiction of boxing (and another classic throwback); and the rebooted NFL Blitz series (only available as a downloadable game but great for your in-house PS3/Xbox 360 consoles).
Racing games draw a similar crowd of enthusiastic fans. EA publishes a licensed NASCAR series, and the Gran Turismo series—a Playstation exclusive—is regarded as one of the most realistic racing games out there, especially famous for its huge selection of real-life high-performance cars and a unique mechanic that requires gamers to obtain special licenses to access certain race tracks.
The long-standing Need for Speed is known for its variety and fun, with installments that feature everything from urban racing to cops and robbers. Burnout is another fan favorite—its focus is not only on racing but on orchestrating outrageous crashes. Finally, just about everyone seems to love Mario Kart, the most recent outing being on the Nintendo Wii. With familiar Nintendo characters and fast-paced action punctuated by the use of wacky power-ups, this is a racing game that is a sure crowd-pleaser.
Next month, we’ll take a look at some of the most unique games out there: the “experimental” games that push boundaries of genre and form. Until then, keep telling yourself—just one more level!