I’ve always wanted to do this. Let’s rank the five major video game series – “Madden NFL,” “NBA 2K,” “FIFA,” “MLB The Show” and “NHL” – based on an arbitrary ranking system that would make employees at The Ringer blush.
We have five criteria, and the series will be ranked in each criteria from one to five, receiving their ranking as their score. The five scores will be averaged for each series, and then the series will be ordered from the lowest score to the highest. This is like golf, in that you want to receive a lower score.
Let’s look at the criteria.
Presentation: How impressive are the graphics and sound in replicating the sport and the experience of watching it? (Also covers user interface, which is especially important in navigating the Russian nesting doll-like menus for franchise and Ultimate Team modes.)
Feature Suite: How many ways are there to play the game? How deep is the franchise mode, the king of sports game modes? How much can you do with the sliders to make the game play differently.
Year-to-Year Progression: How much does the series work to improve, year after year? These changes don’t always have to be hugely successful, but it’s nice to see these developers try, rather than porting the engine and updating the rosters.
Realism: How closely does the gameplay replicate the sport it is trying to represent? Obviously, easier for some sports, and harder for others.
Fun Factor: Probably the most important criteria here, but for the sake of discussion, weighted equally. How fun is the game to play?
So here are the rankings, in order from worst (highest average score) to best (lowest average score).
5. Electronic Arts’ “NHL” series
Average score: 4. Presentation 5/5, Feature Suite 3/5, Year-to-Year Progression 3/5, Realism 5/5, Fun Factor 2/5.
The “NHL” series was the first series to truly establish itself on the seventh generation of consoles (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) with a pair of novel innovations: the Skill Stick in “NHL 07” and the EA Sports Hockey League in “NHL 09.” However, the series has been spinning its wheels in place for years, and botched the move to the eighth generation of consoles pretty badly. “NHL 18” seems like a step forward, and the game remains fun as hell, but no one will ever mistake one of these for actual hockey.
4. Sony’s “MLB The Show” series
Average score: 3.4. Presentation 2/5, Feature Suite 4/5, Year-to-Year Progression 4/5, Realism 2/5, Fun Factor 5/5.
“The Show” perfected its authentic brand of simulation baseball gameplay a while ago, and has spent the last several years spit-shining its intracacies. Its ranking is largely subjective; if you really, really like baseball, then this one will probably sit higher. I don’t, but damn if “The Show” doesn’t perfectly replicate the sport’s pleasures. As for innovation in the scene, Sony doesn’t take many chances, and their career and ultimate team modes aren’t particularly inspired.
3. Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL” series
Average score: 3.2. Presentation 4/5, Feature Suite 5/5, Year-to-Year Progression 3/5, Realism 3/5, Fun Factor 1/5.
The “Madden” series has long been a punching bag for fans upset that sports games never change, and for good reason, but it has taken a quiet step forward this generation towards more lifelike gameplay. The game’s development in other areas has been unfortunately been affected by the profitability of the Ultimate Team mode moreso than its EA brethren, but the cinematic story mode introduced in “Madden NFL 18” is quite interesting despite the mountains of cheese involved. Franchise mode remains a graveyard.
2. Electronic Arts’ “FIFA” series
Average score: 2.6. Presentation 3/5, Feature Suite 2/5, Year-to-Year Progression 1/5, Realism 4/5, Fun Factor 3/5.
Hell hath no fury like an angered group of dedicated gamers, and “FIFA” fans seem to throw more fits than anyone. Calls of rigged gameplay aside, this remains a series that has a rock-solid gameplay base, and refuses to rest on its laurels when it comes to either its feature suite or its on-field action. Devotees will defend it to the end. I take umbrage to those stretches where your opponent is ping-ponging the ball around and there’s nothing you can do about it.
1. Visual Concepts’ “NBA 2K” series
Average score: 1.8. Presentation 1/5, Feature Suite 1/5, Year-to-Year Progression 2/5, Realism 1/5, Fun Factor 4/5.
“NBA 2K11” put Michael Jordan on the cover in a bold move that the game backed up with a truly awe-inspiring package. The series has continued to build on that foundation with unbroken success, and despite some microtransaction tomfoolery (especially with “2K18”) you won’t find a game that more aptly imitates the subject manner. Yes, it handles like your player is in quicksand, but whatever.