In 1958, physicist William Higinbotham developed the very first video game to use a graphical display, Tennis For Two. 14 years later, Pong would take America by storm, devouring millions of quarters and flying off store shelves. Since then, sports have become a popular staple in interactive entertainment, emphasizing hand-eye coordination over athletic ability. With titles such as Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA regularly dominating yearly sales charts, it clear simulation sports games are here to stay.
But why settle for realism? Over the past 50 years, video games have offered up imaginative alternatives to traditional competition. Below we’ve compiled a list of the best sports titles to bend the rules and break the laws of physics. While these titles are certainly extreme, you won’t find any skateboards (or wakeboards) here. Here are the Top Ten Best Arcade Sports Titles.
10. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing (1999)
Launching alongside the Sega Dreamcast in North America, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing showcased the latest 128-Bit hardware in outrageous style. Ignoring weight and gender, Rumble pitted a cast of colorful characters such as Afro Thunder and Boris Knockimov to pound the ever-living tar out of one another. After delivering a number of strong punches, players could unleash a series of super attacks in “RUMBLE” mode. Real time facial damage created cartoonish black eyes and missing teeth, often leaving the winner of the fight to awkwardly mug for the camera. While the Chris Rock impersonations have dated the game, Ready 2 Rumble remains just as fast and ridiculous as it was 16 years ago. Besides, its still fun to hear ring announcer Michael Buffer introduce "Big" Willy Johnson without a hint of irony.
9. Arch Rivals (1989)
5 years before Marcus Smart was born, Arch Rivals brought unrelenting violence to basketball. Rather than carefully stealing the ball, players were encouraged to simply strike their opponents in the face. In fact, the only penalty in the game are shot clock violations.In between knuckle dusting, tight two-on-two gameplay kept competitors passing and shooting down to the last nail biting second. Each two and three point shot was accompanied by the smug smirk of a confident coach or an enthusiastic (albeit, heavily compressed) “Go Team!” from a single cheerleader. Appearing on eight different platforms over the course of 15 years, Arch Rivals still packs a punch.
8. Mutant League Football (1993)
After dominating the world of simulation football with their Madden series, Electronic Arts embraced their dark side with Mutant League Football on the Sega Genesis. Skeletons and monsters took to the gridiron in deadly games of pigskin with devastating results. Landmines, exploding balls, and deadly pile ons obliterated wide receivers into bloody pieces. If the game isn’t always going your way, simply bribe the officials into calling false penalties. If that doesn’t work, you can always kill the ref. Equal parts violent and hilarious, Mutant League Football celebrated corruption while retaining many of the gameplay of the 1993’s Madden.
MLF proved so popular that in 1994 it was given it’s own animated series titled Mutant League. After a Mutant League Hockey follow up a year later, Electronic Arts retired the series. Though for many, the battles between the Sixty Whiners and Terminator Trollz will live on forever.
7. Base Wars (1991)
If the MLB is looking to improve their popularity, they might want to take a few cues from the NES classic Base Wars. Taking place 3 centuries in the future, the game of baseball is now exclusively played by robots. Rather than throwing the ball, pitchers charge up their glowing arm cannons for rocket speed fastballs. Tagging a running player no longer causes an out, but instead instigates a fight to the death between gun and sword wielding androids. The fighting/baseball hybrid never received an official sequel but still remains a favorite amongst classic video game collectors and fans.
6. Super Mario Strikers (2005)
For decades, Mario and his friends and engaged in a number of friendly sports including golf and tennis. For whatever reason, the Mushroom Kingdom takes their soccer a bit more serious. Electrified walls, giant bouncing koopa shells, sliding tackles, and even attacks from the evil Bowser turned “The Beautiful Game” into a brutal competition. The titular “Super Strike” kick power up would hurl futile goalies into the net. But perhaps the most egregious deviation is Donkey Kong exclusively using his front paws. Super Mario Strikers might not be a faith representation of soccer, but it’s face paced pass-and-shoot gameplay and familiar cast make it one of the best titles ever released on the GameCube.
5. Super Dodge Ball (1988)
When Technos Japan combined their popular Kunio-kun with dodgeball, it was a match made in 8-bit heaven. The rules were simply, throw the ball directly into the 3 opposing players until they literally die. Featuring eight unique teams from around the world, competitors would travel from Japan to Kenya, spiking and smacking the competition. Skilled players could catching incoming balls mid-air or utilize the surrounding outfielders for surprise attacks. But the highlight of Dodge Ball were the special curve, fast, and waving power throws that sent their recipients flying through the air for extra damage. Over 25 years later, the classic NES title has been rereleased on Nintendo’s Virtual Console on three separate platforms.
4. NBA Street V3 (2005)
Taking the score based trick system from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, Electronic Arts created their own brand of streetball with NBA Street in 2001. 2 entries later, the NBA Street would reach the pinnacle of 3-on-3 arcade style basketball with Volume 3. The right analog allowed players to quickly Spin Off and Roll On past defensive players in style. Kick passes and backboard ricochet were all legal and encouraged, turning every slam duck into a spectacle. The roaster not only included all 30 NBA teams, but also the Beastie Boys, Nas, Will Smith, and even Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach on the Nintendo GameCube version. What other basketball game pits Michael Jordan against Michael Jackson?
3. NFL Blitz (1998)
In a simpler (and more reckless) time, devastating tackles were celebrated by NFL fans across America. There’s no better representation of this than Midway’s classic NFL Blitz series. Offensively, the jumping and running players resemble a souped up version of a traditional football game. However, the defensive players devastating charges and post-trackle leg drops feel more in line with professional wrestling. NFL Blitz’s simple 3 button gameplay allowed players of all backgrounds to quickly elbow drop opponents and dive past the goal line. After a string a sequels, the NFL quietly backed away from the series. Midway would return with Blitz: The League, a drug fueled look at professional football that failed to impress longtime fans. But that hasn't diminished the love many still have for this turbo-fueled football classic.
2. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (1987)
One of the most celebrated titles in the Nintendo Entertainment catalog, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! remains the best arcade style boxing game of all time. The gameplay is simple; punch, block, and dodge. But the tricky patterns of Little Mac’s opponents challenged players to memorize and capitalize against a slew of unusual tactics. From the pathetic Glass Joe to the unrelenting charge of Bald Bull, each prepared the player for the legendary final battle against Mike Tyson. Nintendo would return to the series with Super Punch Out!! in 1994 and Punch Out!! in 2009. Though some of the game’s characters are downright offensive (especially the later removed Mike Tyson) the “easy to learn, hard to master” gameplay, iconic training sequences, and pulse pounding music are timeless.
1.NBA Jam (1993)
Simply put, this wasn’t even a contest. In arcades alone, the first NBA Jam brought in over 2 billion dollars of quarters, making it the most profitable arcade sports title of all time. The 2-on-2 gameplay pitted up to four players against one another in quick 3 minute quarters. But of course the most memorable element was the charismatic announcer declaring “Boom-shaka-laka” and the signature “He’s On Fire!” Limited turbo ability allowed players to speed into over the top slam dunks and defensive shoves. After the excellent follow up, Tournament Edition, NBA Jam stumbled into 3D will a number of underwhelming sequels before developer Midway declared bankruptcy in 2008. In 2010, Electronic Arts faithfully revived the series to critical acclaim and disappointing sales. Even without Michael Jordan, NBA Jam managed to entertain millions and become the greatest arcade style sports game of all time.