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The Tech Deck

Back when sports and arcade collided

With photorealistic graphics, sports video games in the current generation have sought to simulate, hyper-realistically, the action on the field. Gamers are asked to ooh and aah over the sweat dripping from Kevin Durant's nose in NBA2K, the weekly tweaks to stats and abilities for virtual stand-ins in the Madden franchise and the easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master batting mechanics of MLB The Show.

But whatever happened to the laugh-out-loud, brilliantly over-the-top escapades of sports games in generations past?

We all know and love the NBA Jam and NFL Blitz franchises for their iconic announcing and turbo-infused gameplay. So we're leaving those games off the list. But below are some of the greatest mixes of zany action and sports that video games had to offer in the heyday of virtual experimentation on consoles past.

To relive some of the great arcade sports titles of yesteryear and to share your own memories, go inside the blog.

Looney Tunes B-Ball

YouTube user: ZombieSwarm1

Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: February 1995
What made it great: Releasing in the heady days before Bugs and Co. would feature alongside Michael Jordan in the 1996 film “Space Jam,” Looney Tunes B-Ball offered exactly what you would expect from the title: Zany action with a sheen of NBA Jam-inspired basketball gameplay. Whether it was the look of joy or disgust on the face of your character as you used up all your turbo, the character-specific special moves or the spot-on voiceovers, Looney Tunes B-Ball offered an infectious formula that was tailored to the experience the player wanted. Don't want to have the ball swiped from you after a pie in the face? Simply turn down the zany meter. But beware, your friends will think you're a stinker.


Mega-Man Soccer

YouTube user: SuperNESGuideX

Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: April 1994
What made it great: Capcom got into the soccer game with its Blue Bomber franchise just as the World Cup was kicking off in America. You could forgive them, then, if the game played a bit like a cash-in. Instead, the game offered competent, 7-on-7 soccer (with a goal keeper) and deep team customization options featuring several of Mega Man's most famous foes. Add in a soundtrack true to the franchise's platform/shooter roots and some fun couch co-op and you have a great soccer title that would inspire other arcade futbol titles for years to come.


Hot Shots! Golf

YouTube user: John GodGames

Platform: Sony Playstation
Release: April 1998
What made it great: The main knock among critics on this title, known as Everybody's Golf in Japan, was that it simply wasn't a golf simulator. That's what made it so fun to pick up and play. A simple power meter and spin control eschewed complicated meters and mechanics that golf nerds undoubtedly love. But some of us simply want to wail on the ball and putt without having to worry about slight undulations in the greens. Even without voice acting, Hot Shots Golf had a lot of charisma and a bevy of features that made this game a mainstay of your Playstation rotation. While there are several subsequent games in the series that refined the formula, it's the original that still holds up well after all these years.


Super Baseball 2020

YouTube user: Shane McComas

Platform: Neo Geo
Release: July 1993
What made it great: While MLB Slugfest was certainly a blast to play for its Blitz-inspired brutality, this arcade mainstay turned the sport on its head and offered a dizzyingly quick, constantly engaging baseball experience that few games of today, even on the lightest simulation settings, can emulate. Look past the strange robotic setting and the laughably inaccurate view of what baseball will look like in 2020, and you find a strangely compelling, meaty gameplay experience that munched quarters in early '90s arcades. There was even a quasi-RPG element to the game, in which players earned cash for impressive play that could be spent on power-ups. Thank goodness a port was subsequently released for the Super Nintendo or I wouldn't have ever made it through a full, 9-inning game.

Mario Tennis

YouTube user: Nintendewd

Platform: Nintendo 64
Release: August 2000
What made it great: You didn't honestly think we could get through this list without a Mario game, right? While the red-hatted plumber has been in some awesome sports games, his finest outing (sans Kart racing) has been his tennis appearances. Before the Wii made sports shovelware omnipresent, Nintendo gave us an extremely fun, extremely deep tennis experience in 2000's Mario Tennis. With more than a dozen playable characters, a simple and also highly strategic two-button striking system and plenty of match customization options, Nintendo had another couch co-op Mario hit that would keep players up way past their bedtimes smashing aces and serving up backspin.


Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey

YouTube user: N64Guide

Platform: Nintendo 64 (later ported to Playstation)
Release: March 1997
What made it great: Those first guitar licks on the intro screen still give me goosebumps. This is what an arcade sports experience is supposed to be. While the NHL games of the early '90s adopted an overhead view and some sweet fighting, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey took the sport to a whole new virtual level. Huge hits, a turbo system inspired by NBA Jam, comic brick-wall goalie animations and even an ambulance for big hits, a competent fighting system and the voice of Midway, Tim Kitzrow, all made this title a must-have not just for sports fans who owned an N64, but anyone looking for frenetic gameplay and late-night swearing, controller-throwing sessions. I still have memories of slumber parties where impromptu Wayne Gretzky tournaments would break out. The game was one of the few on this list that was as fun to watch as it was to play.


Joe Montana Football

YouTube user: PopoMan101

Platform: Sega Genesis
Release: January 1991
What made it great: Some of you will bemoan the lack of Tecmo Bowl on this list. While the thought of Bo Jackson running willy nilly all over the field does bring a smile to my face, the most competent arcade football game of the early 1990s undoubtedly featured the visage of its biggest star at the time. Joe Montana Football would later become Sega's NFL 2K franchise. While Madden sought to deliver a true-to-life, balanced approach to offense, Joe Montana football was pass-happy and insane, leading to much more score (read: fun). Madden ultimately won the football video game war, but there are rumblings a return of the Montana franchise may be on the horizon. And competition can only mean better games.

What do you think of the list? Did we forget one of your forgotten arcade sports gems? Tell us in the comments below.

The Tech Deck