With the birth of Nintendo came the birth of gamers. Kids would spend endless hours playing video games instead of doing homework or going outside. For kids like me who loved to play sports the Nintendo Entertainment System gave us the opportunity to control our own destiny in the games that we loved to play.
I wanted to write this after I took a walk down memory lane and looked up old Nintendo games while I was bored and online. I came up with a list of my personal favorite NES sports games of all time and then narrowed it down to the top ten.
10.) 10 Yard Fight – released in 1985, this was one of the first sports games for the NES. It allowed us to choose a team and play a full football game. It was very slow, there was no way to run faster. 10 Yard Fight was as simple as you could get. The field was straight up and down, every play included motion and it could get a little frustrating. The only reason this game made the list is because it was the O.G. of the sports games that we all know and love…this game is the Grand Master Flash of NES sports games.
9.) Ice Hockey – released in 1988, Ice Hockey gave you the opportunity to pick your own team. Although you could only pick national teams, you could choose the individual players. There were three options, the skinny guy that was fast but had a weak shot, the medium-sized guy that was the all around player and the fat guy who was slow but could check everyone and had a great slap shot. This game wasn’t like other hockey games that hit the market. It had no season to play, just a great game to throw in and play for fun against a friend or the computer. It was easy to play and the fights, like the whole game, had a very cartoonish feel to it. Overall it was a great game.
8.) RBI Baseball (1987) – RBI Baseball was one of the first games to have real MLB teams with the players names. Like 10 Yard Fight, the players moved slow once the ball was hit. You couldn’t jump or dive but this was still a great game. The best part of the game was the actual pitching and hitting. As the pitcher you could control where on the mound you pitched from, the speed and placement of the ball. For one of the earlier games, it had great features…the game was viewed from behind the plate and as you were hitting or pitching you could see the men at first and third base from two side panes. Baseball games had a long way to go but RBI Baseball captured something about the game that makes me still remember playing, 25 years later.
7.) Skate or Die (1988) – This was an all around fun game. Even though I wasn’t a skater I could pretend like I was while playing this game. You could play against friends or just try to beat your own records in all of the different events. This game was very difficult to learn the controls, but once you got past that it was awesome. This was the first skateboard game to hit the market and had a very X-Games feel to it. I guess it was ahead of its time. The events were the Race, Joust, Jam, Freestyle and High Jump. Again, once you figured out all of the controls for this game it was fun…it had a very typical fun, 80s vibe to it. It was very Gleaming The Cube.
6.) Pro Wrestling (1986) – As a kid I was into all sports, even wrestling. My friends and I would watch the WWF on the weekend and we were amazed at what we saw. Guys flipping off the top rope, bringing the foreign object into the ring or biting one of the other wrestlers was just part of the allure. Pro Wrestling brought all of those things into one video game for Nintendo. Although it didn’t have any of the WWF characters it was still an awesome game. They had their own characters for this game like Star Man, Fighter Hayabusa, Giant Panther, The Amazon, and Kin Corn Karn. Each of these characters had their own special moves, they could fight outside the ring and it was as close to the real thing, at the time, as you could get.
5.) Blades of Steel (1988) – Although Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel came out at roughly the same time these games couldn’t be any more different. Blades of Steel was what a real hockey game should look like. The hockey players looked realistic, the fighting was intense and not as cartoonish as Ice Hockey. The movements, skating and shooting by the players all looked pretty good. Going back to the fighting for one second…it was one of the best parts of the game. If you got into an altercation on the ice the game would stop, go to a close up shot and the players would drop their gloves and you would be able to control your player in the fight. Incredible! I loved that! Outside of the game, the introduction when you first put the game into the system was outstanding too. You knew this was going to be a good game.
4.) Double Dribble (1987) – Like Blades of Steel, the intro to Double Dribble still sticks out in my head. Both games were very similar because they were made by the same company. It had the players in the old-time short shorts, and the loud dribble of the basketball as you came down the court. It was also the first time that I saw cut from the actual flow of the game as you drove to the hoop to show a slow motion dunk. That was incredible to me at the time. The only draw back to Double Dribble was the fact that there were only four teams to choose from. There were New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago…I guess if you think about it there were only four teams in the NBA at that time too. This was the first basketball video game I have ever played and it is still one of the best. It was also the first basketball game for th NES.
3.) Tecmo Bowl (1989) – Before EA Sports existed and NCAA College Football or Madden were games, Tecmo Bowl ruled the sports video game landscape. This was the first game that had a combination of everything…it had great graphics, for the time, it had the licensing from the NFLPA to use the names of the players and it played like you were in an arcade. The only down side when this game came out was that there were only 12 teams. Even though they had an agreement with the NFLPA, the NFL never approved this game so they went with 12 teams (just the cities, not the team names). This was the first time that kids could play a video game and control their favorite players and play their friends who were fans of another team. Trash talking was always encouraged while playing Tecmo Bowl. What makes this game so great is that it stands the test of time. Most people who remember when this game came out could pick it up and play like they never stopped. It’s still a fun game over 20 years later.
2.) Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (1987) – Everyone that I have ever met in my age group has played this game a one time or another. Even though we have all aged, this game hasn’t aged a bit. This was the first game that, not only, attached a popular athlete’s name to itself, but the game was actually good. As Little Mac, you had to go through all of the boxers before you landed in the Championship bout with Mike Tyson. After fights there were cut away scenes of the New York City skyline and Little Mac running while his trainer, Doc Louis, rode a bike (very Rocky-esque). Little Mac was tiny compared to the other fighters but he could beat them by dodging and counterpunching. Obviously, the most difficult opponent was Mike Tyson. If Tyson hit you with one punch you were down for the count much like the real Mike Tyson, at the time. After Tyson ran into some legal issues the game was renamed Punch-Out!! This game will go down as one of the best that was available on the NES.
1.)Tecmo Super Bowl (1991) – This is my favorite game of all time. I know some would dispute that Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out should take the title but, for me, Tecmo Super Bowl was the best ever. They made many improvements on this game from the original Tecmo Bowl to make it the ultimate sports game. The larger playbook, ability to change the plays in the playbook, substituting players and injuries all made this game great. One improvement was the incomplete pass…in the first game every time the ball went into the air it was complete or intercepted. A huge step in sports video games, Super Bowl finally had the agreement with both the NFL and NFLPA to produce the game in their likeness and all the teams were represented…and most of the players. Players like Jim Kelly from the Buffalo Bills did not give their permission so it would just list their position (QB Bills for this example). The ultimate for this game was the ability to play a full season schedule, including the playoffs and Super Bowl. It had a battery backup that saved the season and stats so that you could come back and continue playing where you left off. You can’t forget the music either…very catchy, synthesized tunes that made the game even more exciting to play. For all of these reasons, and more, Tecmo Super Bowl is number one on my list.
My age group was the first to have a very interactive gaming console that you could actually enjoy the sports that you loved at any time. Atari doesn’t count. They made a great attempt but Nintendo started the enormous popularity of the gaming consoles. After Atari died no one wanted to even attempt the in home gaming experience until Nintendo threw its hat into the ring. Since then the gaming industry has exploded. The Super NES, Sega Genesis, Game Cube, PlayStation, and Xbox have all out done each other and gaming consoles are truly entertainment systems with Blu-Ray players installed, wireless internet capability and the graphics are more true to life than ever before. Even with the new age in gaming the Nintendo Entertainment System was the true O.G. and this is my tribute…