There’s nothing better than firing up the old SEGA Genesis for my favorite game of all-time. That would be NHL ’94, playing as the Pavel Bure and the Canucks, beating on the less-than Mighty Ducks. It just doesn’t get any better. I know that many have a favorite year of Madden, or NCAA Football (at least until it goes the way of NCAA March Madness, RIP), or even Tiger Woods PGA, but let’s discuss some of those lost gems. This week we’ll reach way back into the closet and put on our nostalgia caps, highlighting the games that you loved playing, even though you probably forgot about it.
Here are my Top 5 underrated sports video games.
Mutant League Football, SEGA Genesis
This title, along with its brother Mutant League Hockey, combined to probably be the most-rented games of my formative gaming years. Re-skinning Madden and NHL ’94 turned out to be just as much fun as the originals. To be fair, re-skinning would be one of the more tame ways of dying in these games, which included mines, decapitations, random explosions, and holes in the sidelines that sucked you into space.
Additionally, there were delightful puns on player names, like Bones Jackson, or Smelios. Games would usually devolve into literal chaos, and usually end in a forfeit when one team ran out of the necessary number of living players to continue on.This is by no means a detriment, it actually ended up being a lot of fun, seeing the quarterback collapse into a pile of bones after a particularly nasty sack. These games completely reinforce the fact that hitting after the whistle is perfectly acceptable behavior, and hockey would be better if the players could fall through the ice and carry chainsaws.
Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey, Nintendo 64
Speaking of inhuman powers, being able to knock a goalie into the net for a goal will never stop being awesome. The NHL equivalent to NFL Blitz would never be truly popular (much like hockey itself, sadly) but made the action fast and furious, adding insane speed boosts, the ability to launch flaming power shots, and seemingly shrinking the rink smaller than the one I tried to make in my backyard when I was 8.
They also decided to set the goalie AI back about 10 years, which means every game was an excuse to fire as many shots as possible. The sad scene of the goalie hanging his head in shame while pounding his stick the ice will forever be etched into my memory, along with the strains of the poor announcer screaming “He SCORES!” at the top of his lungs 20 times a game.
Super Dodge Ball, NES
Obviously, I grew up in a time before the wussification of gym classes. So yes, I consider dodgeball a sport, probably even more than I consider baseball a sport. Call me crazy, but a game where you sit on the bench half the time should not be considered anything more than a game. That being said, Super Dodge Ball for the NES was, in many ways, the precursor to many of these games. Players would try to knock the other team unconscious by whipping the ball at the opponent indiscriminately, using a variety of insane, physics-bending super throws. You could duck, dash, dodge, and possibly even dip and dive (my memory is a bit fuzzy) around the court, defeating teams from India, Japan, China and England. Was it a tiny bit racist? Possibly. But it was a blast, and hard to master.
For added fun, the game included a team from the U.S.S.R., and as anyone who saw Rocky IV can attest, ending the Cold War through athletic competition and domination is the only true way to glory.
Ken Griffey Jr. Presents: Major League Baseball, Super Nintendo
Sometimes not getting a license from the professional sports league (or player’s association) you want can lead to something even better. This is the case with this game, which somehow forgot that people usually like to use the actual players on the team instead of just the team names and stadiums (they got MLB licensure, but not MLBPA, another disappointment for Junior Griffey). But instead, players are named after things loosely associated with their respective cities (B. Commons and M. Harvard for the BoSox, for example).
Some players were woefully overpowered, like in Tecmo Bowl (I vividly remember being torched single-handedly by the Kenny Lofton doppelgänger) and the game could get out of control early if you could learn how to time the pitcher properly. But the game had definite charm, and for any 90’s kid, there was no baseball player who will ever be as cool as Ken Griffey, Jr.
Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs, SEGA Genesis
Now this game, a precursor to the NBA Live series, was pretty popular in my family. I’m guessing that between my cousins and I, we probably put in about 10,000 hours of play into this game. It might not be the best basketball game around, it didn’t even include all the NBA teams, but it had one thing that stood out above all others: signature moves.
There was nothing better than throwing down foul-line dunks as Shawn Kemp while 4 or 5 players cowered in fear. No matter what was going on in the game, I would hand the ball off to Kemp, take one step in towards the foul line, and unleash holy terror on the opposition. My cousin was a Suns fan and would love to play as Tom Chambers, who would seemingly take off from the three-point line and end up with half his torso above the rim. This game paved the way for every other basketball game that preceded it, and really was the first sports game I remember being “cool”.
Matt Brockway once scored 11 goals in one game with Pavel Bure in NHL ’94. You can follow him on twitter @subtlehyperbole.