Friday, February 15, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Sports

After the thorough stomping I administered in the Strategy/Sim category, we move on to Sports. With no ado whatsoever:

5 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out!

Which do you think Mike Tyson is better known for? Biting off half of Evander Holyfield's ear or Punch Out! on the 8-bit NES? The way you answer this question can sort of define you as a person.

An altogether great game that just about everybody has played at some point or another. Everybody remembers certain annoying fighters in the game that were their nemesis too. For me, it was Soda Popinski, who kept me from the upper tiers more than most of the other fighters. He had this horribly annoying laugh and was also purple, the color of pure evil.

It's very satisfying to watch this video where the guy houses the purple jerk in 1:08. I wish I knew this trick back in the day.

4 - Excitebike

I'm a sucker for any game that allows a high degree of customization. Excitebike was way ahead of its time because it allowed you to build your own tracks, which was by far the coolest part of the game. The gameplay was ridiculously simple so that anybody could learn it quite quickly, but the real fun was making impossibly hard tracks by stringing gigantic jumps and obstacles together and just trying to figure out how to make it to the finish line.

3 - Football Manager 2007

Known here in the states as "Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007", the story of this franchise is actually pretty interesting.

The company Sports Interactive used to release their soccer sports management game under the title Championship Manager via publisher Eidos. However, for the 2005 edition of the game SI signed on with publisher Sega while Eidos held on to the brand name of "Championship Manager". This led to a lot of consumer confusion, especially when SI's release of the latest version was delayed. Eidos wasted no time releasing Championship Manager 2005 which wasn't put together by the same team.

Since then SI has put out its regular yearly edition of what is now called "Football Manager" (except in the states where "football" isn't played with your feet), and this was the version that got me hooked.

I'm probably behind the curve compared to European players of the game, who have almost certainly jumped to FM 2008 by now. In fact, critical reception of FM 2007 overseas was really not that great. But it was the first version of the game I've ever played and I'm still playing the darn thing.

I've always dug sports management games like this where you don't actually PLAY the games but are in charge of every other aspect of managing a franchise. Baseball Mogul and Out of the Park Baseball are two great examples of these types of games in baseball. But there is something magical about the beautiful game, especially when you see your carefully considered tactics play out on the road to a trophy.

The English football league system is much more complicated than in the US also. In English football, the bottom teams get "relegated" to lower leagues, while lower tier teams that finish on top of their respective leagues get "promoted". This means that if you don't perform, you won't be in the same league next year, which is a pretty serious incentive to do well. Imagine, for example, that this system was in place in American baseball. The Kansas City Royals would be playing in the minors.

So it's particularly fun to try to build a lower tier team into a top tier contender. Playing the game has given me a much greater appreciation for soccer in general, and I watch it avidly on weekends now.

2 - Tecmo Super Bowl

Video game football reached perfection with this game. It's just that simple.

This game is so awesome that people STILL release roster updates for it (check out Tecmo Bowl Repository).

Madden had a few years there back in its early days where it was fun. NFL 2K5 was the last really excellent football game to come out in the past several years. But none of them were ever as fun and entertaining as Tecmo Super Bowl.

You've probably seen this before, but here's a video of Bo Jackson lapping the field a few times.

1 - MLB Power Pros

This is not the best game ever. In fact, I'm going to fully admit that in a few years this choice might end up looking silly.

But I can't stop playing this game, and it's existence has pretty much single handedly kept me from going out and buying a PS3 or Xbox360.

I could pretty easily make a top 10 of just baseball games, I've played so many of them. This game is a combination of everything I love about all of them.

It has the player customization and development of Baseball Stars.

It has the career mode style of MLB The Show.

It has the incredible stat tracking of a baseball management game like Baseball Mogul.

It has all of the pure FUN of playing the game like RBI Baseball.

In a word, it's perfect.

I do question whether we'll ever see an updated version of this game because from what I understand, sales in the US have not been great. And that makes me sad. But if you are a baseball fan and you haven't played this, you are doing yourself a great disservice.

Worst Ever - Madden 2005-Present

Around 2003, EA Sports and the Madden franchise stopped trying very hard. They were content to release small amounts of new content, comfortable with the fact that people would be willing to shell out $50-$60 for a yearly roster update.

Then NFL 2K5 came out for $19.99. And the gameplay was years ahead of Madden.

Rather than deal with a coming franchise war as people figured "Why not?" for the $20 price tag, EA made the most sensible business decision possible.

They went to the NFL and negotiated an exclusive contract to produce video games.

Now, with absolutely zero motivation to make improvements to what was already a stale franchise devoid of any innovation whatsoever, the Madden games really are nothing more than roster updates.

And why should they ever be anything more? Without any competition, people still line up to shell out $60 a year for these sorry excuses for "new games". Madden 2009 will still be Madden 2004 with shinier graphics and a roster update. And that's annoying, especially since there was at least one other franchise out there that would have pushed football video games forward.

Taken individually, none of the last 3 Madden games are BAD. But taken as a collective, taken in the context of what MIGHT HAVE BEEN, these games are an example of why exclusive deals suck for the consumer.

Update - LBAM here. TPoTT here.


Andy said...

Punchout, Excitebike, and TemcoBowl are all great games I can't argue with. Football Manager and PowerPros look fun.

A-freakin'-men to the Madden worst-place finish. Last time I played Madden it was the early 90s, when it was good. Now it's pretty much the same game as then with the same controls.

We need another Pigskin...

White Kobe said...

PowerPros... Come on!