The 15 Best Sports Games
It doesn't matter what time of year it is, sports games are always in season. They can take the edge off a painful loss; keep hope alive during a lengthy lockout, or provide a few moments of joy during the offseason. And, of course, they're a lot of fun to play with other people.
We've compiled a list of the 15 best sports game on the market today. Our list covers pretty much every major sport in North America (sorry, no Rugby or Cricket), and highlights the franchises that have truly captured the look and feel of their game. Read on to see which games you should be playing when watching the real thing is just not enough.
15 | UFC Undisputed 2010 | PS3, Xbox 360
Although it's a stylistic departure from UFC 2009 Undisputed, THQ and Yuke's second round with the mixed martial arts franchise is nonetheless a much deeper experience than its predecessor.
Aside from an improved roster count and tweaked controls, UFC Undisputed 2010 is a dramatic time sink. Career Mode has been improved from mindless menu navigation to a genuine progression from camp to camp, as you have to hone certain skill sets to even qualify for the UFC ranks. Once you do, it's a consistent and engaging grind to raise your stats and master grappling and striking techniques as you move up in the division. What's especially welcome is the expanded online mode, when you can enlist friends into a fight camp and collectively work towards common goals.
UFC 2010 also has a dramatically improved combat system, with more avenues for dishing out damage. New fighting styles help to make key fighters like Lyoto Machida feel much different than Frank Mir or Rashad Evans, and the grappling movements have been remapped on the analog stick so you'll be less likely to mess up transitions and guard passes. More than anything, the stand-up game is much more complete, as you can now sway to dodge punches, and use the fence to trap opponents. Pack in common modes like classic match recreations and tournament ladders, and it's an impressive update. There's a bunch of new stuff to learn, but it's still very good training for UFC Undisputed 3.
14 | Top Spin 4 | PS3, Xbox 360
Top Spin 4 has always been one of the more realistic tennis sims available, but Top Spin 4 makes the entire experience more approachable than ever. Not only does the game look terrific, but the expansive career mode ensures that you feel a solid progression through the game's ranks, even when you're playing by yourself.
And the game's even better on PS3, since it includes Move Support. While it's not quite one-for-one control over your character, it makes the game fun and approachable for fans of all ages and skill levels. Surprisingly, though, the Wii version of Top Spin 4 is the weakest version; imprecise controls and terrible graphics ensure that you're better off sticking with the Wii Sports version of the game.
13 | Mario Strikers Charged | Wii
You may not think that a game centered around Nintendo’s portly plumber clad in soccer cleats would make for one of the Wii’s most enjoyable sports titles, but it’s very tough to deny the insanely addictive nature of Mario Strikers Charged. Playing as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and a whole slew of Nintendo’s best and brightest original characters, you’ll kick, scrap, and shoot your way to victory over, and over, and, well, until your Wiimote runs out of juice.
Featuring arcade-y soccer action by way of the Mario gang, Strikers Charged remains a GamePro office obsession to this day, and if you own a Nintendo Wii and have even a passing interest in arcade/sports titles, it comes highly recommended.
12 | Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters | Xbox, PS3, Wii
It’s been a rough year for Tiger Woods the golfer, but not for the game. While EA didn’t make many gameplay tweaks, this year’s edition introduced two things that have made Tiger a better golf game. The first is a caddie. And while this should’ve been in the game years go, the addition of a caddie is pretty cool.
The caddie gives you shot recommendations, and unlike traditional aiming guides of the past, these tips are actually pretty close to where the ball lands. And you can level up your caddie, adding an RPG aspect to the game. The other great addition is this little golf course you may have heard of somewhere: Augusta National, the home of the Masters. The entire course has never been in a game before, so this makes PGA Tour 12 a must-buy for serious golfers. The Wii MotionPlus controls are great, but avoid the PC version: It’s beset with issues.
11 | Football Manager 2011 | PC
This is the series for the obsessive compulsive sports fan who cares less about the action on the field than managing the front office. In Football Manager, you can take control of anything from Manchester United to tiny village clubs that no one has ever heard of. From there, you not only manage the roster, but the players themselves.
Unlike other sports games, the players in Football Manager have actual personalities. You have to figure out how to get on their good side, and sometimes you need to know how to discipline them. For those willing to put in the effort, it can be a fascinating exercise in actually managing people. It's unscripted, crazy, and utterly brilliant if you're willing to take the time to learn how to play it.
10 | Fight Night Champion | Xbox 360, PS3
While the popularity of “the sweet science” has lost a lot of ground to more brutal upstarts like MMA fighting, no UFC-themed game has come close to putting forth a control scheme as intuitive and appropriate for its sport as EA Sports’ Fight Night series has.
Like NBA 2K12, the Fight Night series pays its respects to the sport’s earlier history by featuring classic boxing matchups and legendary fighters of all weight classes. 2011’s Fight Night Champion brought in a narrative-based single player campaign, but it’s really the core gameplay, namely the analog controls that keeps this series so consistently good.
9 | Wii Sports Resort | Wii
If you've purchased a Wii since 2009, you've probably played Wii Sports Resort -- it came bundled with the system. WSR takes your Mii on a Club Med-esque vacation to the fictional beach resort Wuhu Island. Players have twelve different sports -- archery, sword fighting, Frisbee golf, and cycling to name a few -- and can compete cooperatively, against a computer, or solo. The game even tracks progress, awarding stamps and experience points to players developing their Wii sports skills.
Unlike popular sports simulation game franchises like Madden or MLB: The Show, Wii Sports Resort is a kind of sports-themed party game. Up to four friends can compete head to head or form teams, mimicking the basic movements of each of the sports, free of the confines of a stationary controller. The cute, cartoonish charm and excellent in-game physics compliments the integrity of Wii Sports Resort being both an adult and kid-friendly game. It works as a rainy day retreat and after-hours party.
8 | Punch-Out!! | Wii
Punch-Out!! is a classic series; its roots are based in American arcades. The Wii exclusive Punch-Out!! game is a big deal for a number of reasons. Not only is it the first addition to the series in over a decade, it's also the first to be rendered in 3D with full motion video and it's got a multiplayer mode. You can play it like the original home console version, holding your Wii remote horizontally and using 1 and 2 as A and B. Or you can use the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii to punch with the Wii remote and nunchuk.
The game centers on your character Little Mac, and it's up to you to bring him up in the professional boxing circuits. The boxers you face range from relatively easy "tutorial" characters to exceptionally skilled heavyweights. Every opponent is brimming with character, from King Hippo (a veteran of the series) the enormous oaf to Mr. Sandman, the undefeated MVBA World Champion. Even Donkey Kong makes a special cameo appearance (appearing in Last Stand Mode and Exhibition Mode) as the Lord of Games.
7 | NBA Jam: On Fire Edition | Xbox 360, PS3
”Booooom-shaka-laka!” Any gamer worth their salt has to be familiar with NBA Jam’s overzealous announcer, and his many over-excited in-game exclamations. But the constant spouting of these silly slogans is just a small element in the game’s overall over-the-top charm.
Featuring characters with big heads pulling off bigger stunts with downright huge attitudes, NBA Jam successfully blurred the line between “sports game” and “arcade game” on its initial release, and On Fire Edition, the series’ most recent iteration, brings that same arcade-y charm to HD-gen consoles. It’s an over-the-top blast, and it comes highly recommended for b-ball pros and newbies alike.
6 | Madden NFL 12 | Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
EA's premier franchise continues to reign supreme as the sports genres sales king; but bugs and a general lack of polish have taken away some of its luster. Nevertheless, Madden 12 is a solid sports game that makes big strides in defensive AI and tackling physics. And despite representing one of the toughest sports to develop for, the online play continues to be a strong suit.
So while it's not quite up to the level of polish and quality of NBA 2K12 or MLB The Show, Madden 12 is one of the franchise's better games. Assuming that this is the beginning of a trend, Madden NFL may soon be ready to return to the upper echelon of sports games.
5 | NHL 12 | Xbox 360, PS3
NHL holds the distinction of being GamePro's favorite office sports game for a reason: it's the best and most consistent EA Sports title this side of FIFA 12. And NHL 12 is particularly strong, sporting big improvements to the physics and the presentation. Finally, it's possible to achieve your dream of getting into a fight with a goalie.
Thanks to the physics engine, the puck ricochets around the rink more realistically than ever before, with little touches including the ability to knock the net off its moorings. It's an exceptionally smooth and entertaining sports game with one of the best franchise modes in the genre, and certainly deserving of your attention.
4 | Skate 3 | Xbox 360, PS3
There was a time when it didn't seem like any game could unseat Tony Hawk as the de facto skateboard game, but that's exactly what Skate did. Trading in the more arcadey style of that series for a nuanced, realistic approach, the Skate series now sits as the best of the best for skate sims.
Further refining the formula that made the previous games so good, Skate 3 adds even more venues, new difficulty modes (to make the game harder or easier, your choice), and a more expansive tutorial than ever before. If you ever wanted to thrash like those kids you see in the parking lot, but you don't want to suffer the major head trauma you get from wiping out, Skate 3 is the game to play.
3 | MLB 11: The Show | PlayStation 3
The best-looking sports franchise on the market today, bar none. MLB 11: The Show features incredibly realistic animation, great highlight reels, and realistic looking fans who will wave from the stands after a home run and try to snag foul balls. It's the sort of game that can hold even non-sports games transfixed.
MLB 11 revamps the controls in a way that utilizes the analog thumbsticks, making pitching and hitting much more intuitive than before. And the offline franchise mode continues to be deep and fun to use. All that's really holding it back is its online play, where the lag plays havoc with the precise nature of the hitting.
2 | NBA 2K12 | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
The basketball series developed by Visual Concepts and 2K Games is another one of those sports games series that has established a firm beachhead in the war for positive critical response. So much so that they scared EA Sports off from even releasing a competing basketball game in 2011.
The superlative simulation is rounded out by a ridiculous host of modes, one of which stands up as something other video-game sports makers should be trying to emulate. NBA’s Greatest mode lets you play classic players against each other in historical matchups. The care and attention that went in to the mode’s development shows a love and respect for their sport that more sports games need.
1 | FIFA 12 | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Even non-soccer fans are aware of how much the FIFA series has dominated sports games. EA Sports’ footy sim has remained a worldwide hit for years thanks to its yearly technical innovations that have made the game more realistic and more fun at the same time.
The newest iteration, FIFA Soccer 12, employs a number of revolutionary improvements, but the most impressive is easily the Impact Engine, which breaks new ground in realistically recreating the way players come into contact with each other. It may sound like a little thing, but the result is a virtual recreation, happening in real-time, that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds | PlayStation 3
The Hot Shots Golf games have made up one of the most user-friendly series in the sports genre, with fun, fluid gameplay that’s easy to pick up, but keeps you playing. Out of Bounds marks the series’ PS3 debut, and it introduces some noteworthy additions to the established series, such as a modified shot system, worthwhile online play, and a slick HD graphical overhaul. Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds is certainly worth a look for those that’re even slightly interested in the game of golf -- and even for those who aren’t.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is the latest in a yes, evolving , soccer simulation franchise. The great thing about Pro Evolution 2012 is that no two teams play the same, and so you get a real feel and appreciation for the different clubs throughout the world. The dribbling controls are varied and give you plenty to think with, and the organic feel of the game and responsive AI make every match feel unique. Play as an international side or as Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid or any one of dozens of football clubs from around the globe.
Super Mario Sluggers | Wii
Mario Super Sluggers is Mario flavored baseball, and a sequel to Mario Superstar Baseball on GameCube. As a Wii game, MSS uses controls similar to the baseball game in Wii Sports; players swing the Wii remote to hit and simulate an overhead throw to pitch. The game sees players unlock characters, stadiums, and preventing Bowser Jr. from taking over the ballparks in Challenge Mode. Mario Super Sluggers is far from being the greatest baseball game, but it is a kid-friendly combination of America's favorite past time and everyone's favorite plumber. Not to mention it's a must-have for diehard Mario fans.
3 on 3 NHL Arcade | Xbox 360, PS3
One of the more underrated titles on XBLA and PS3. 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is intended for the NFL Blitz and NBA Jam set--the people who are more concerned with big hits and flaming footballs than accurate physics. It includes power-ups like extra speed and "big player," and can be a real blast to play. The only thing holding it back is that some of the power-ups are poorly coded, and will actually hurt your players. D'oh.
iOOTP Baseball | iOS
Out of the Park Baseball is, without a doubt, the best baseball-management sim out there. The iPhone version, in our opinion, is better because you can now take it on the go. The game is a sim; no hitting pitches, painting home paint, or making diving catches. Rather, you play as the manager and GM, making decisions that affect your team on every level. You can sim the 2011 season (our Oakland A’s finished 78-84, just four games ahead of their real 2011 season), play a fictional season, or replay one of three historical seasons (1923, 1965, or 2004) and see how your outcome differs from history. It’s addictive and a lot of fun, and we’re eager to see next year’s version.