After a two-week column hiatus — this whole UConn-as-we-knew-it-ceasing-to-exist thing has hit particularly hard as a senior — I have returned. But with the Great Sports Depression ongoing, I will follow in the footsteps of the DC Sports staff and write about the next best thing: Sports video games.
In a time when we’re all wishing to return to how things used to be, I’ve been getting pretty nostalgic. With that in mind, I’ve dug up (roughly) five sports video game titles that I played religiously as a kid during simpler times.
I’ll also point out that there’s no “NBA 2K” here, which might be seen as a massive oversight by some. However, while I’m an avid “2K” player now, I really didn’t get into it until about 2K13 (when I was 15), so it mostly falls outside of the bounds of this list — not to mention that my first basketball game was actually “NBA Live 08,” which didn’t exactly make me want to play basketball video games. “Rocket League” was also a consideration, considering I’ve spent about a month of my life on that game, but since this list is limited to childhood, I disqualified it for the same reason. Anyway, on with the list…
Since my parents hated fun and fulfilling childhoods, I didn’t own a console until the Wii. So while I did play a ton of GameCube and other prior consoles at friends’ houses, any sports games pre-2006 basically didn’t exist for me. When I finally got the Wii, the first console game I ever owned (besides “Wii Sports,” which came included) was “Madden 07.”
Unfortunately, this was before total time played was really recorded, but I would wager that I put more time into “Madden 07” than basically any game ever. That Shaun Alexander cover and loading screen is burned into my brain for eternity.
For a Wii game, the “Madden 07” controls were surprisingly complicated. This was right before EA decided to dumb everything down to a kindergarten level — I don’t know if anyone remembers that “All-Play” mode in “Madden 09,” but that was horrendous — and I think that’s partly why I loved it. Even the soundtrack, which featured countless heavy metal songs and other violent alternative stuff that you would never find in a game today, was incredible, but that’s a column for another day.
The funny thing is, looking back on how I spent most of my time on “Madden 07,” I barely played the core game. I rarely touched the Franchise mode, and I’m not sure if I even made a MyPlayer. Instead, my brother and I would just mess around on the “Practice” mode for hours on end, mostly just tossing Hail Mary after Hail Mary and seeing if we could score on each other. Today, I would get bored after five minutes. But as a nine-year-old, there was no better way to spend my time. Wholesome!
“Mario Strikers Charged”/“Mario Super Sluggers”
For the sake of your time and my keyboard, I’ve decided to lump these two marvelous Mario games together. I’ve seen plenty of people talk about “Sluggers,” so I won’t get into that one as much, but it was a superb baseball game to play with friends. The story mode was also an unexpected but engaging experience.
Yet easily the most slept-on game on this list is “Strikers.” Now, again, I’m talking about the Wii version, not the original GameCube version of which I was deprived, but this sequel absolutely slaps. My friends and I played the campaign mode (titled “Road to the Striker Cup”), in which you assemble a team and play in increasingly difficult tournaments, for entire afternoons straight.
The problem is, we never really discovered the whole charging-up-the-ball technique, and so we weren’t all that good. Despite our innumerable attempts, we never made it past our arch-nemesis, Diddy Kong. Alas, it was still crazy fun, and don’t worry, last fall I successfully defeated Diddy with the help of my roommates. Better late than never.
These games come from slightly different periods of my life, but were equally memorable. “Backyard Baseball” is obviously a classic; I played it on my mom’s ancient desktop computer — that thing was literally deeper than my arms could reach — when I was so young that I barely remember it.
Like, I’m talking the original 1997 one, on CD-ROM. If my memory serves correctly, I got it in a cereal box. These were truly different times. But there are some things that you never forget, and seeing Pablo Sanchez swagger to the plate is one of them. (Side note: Pablo gets all the love, but what about Tony Delvecchio? Kenny Kawaguchi? My personal favorite, Achmed Khan?)
“Backyard Football” (2007) I played on my GameBoy Advance, usually while I sat outside my mom’s exercise class waiting for it to end. In hindsight, the gameplay really wasn’t all that great, but it was a perfect introduction to football video games.
This one might be a bit controversial, but I didn’t have the luxury of growing up on “The Show” or even the inferior “MLB 2K.” No, I played the chaotic, intentionally unrealistic baseball game that was “The Bigs” (the first one) for the Wii, where you could literally hit fireballs and make gravity-defying catches.
But that’s exactly what made it so fun: The arcade feel of it was a welcome change of pace from games like “Madden” or “NBA 2K” which tried for ultra-realism. The Home Run Derby mode was fun, and the Home Run Pinball (where you hit some BP in the middle of Times Square, as you do) was just absurd, in the best way. It was far from a perfect game — it was infuriating at times — but it had the highest replay value of any baseball game I’ve played yet.
Finally, I had to throw “FIFA” on this list, specifically the first one that I ever really put a significant amount of time into, “FIFA 11.” I’ve never been a big “FIFA” fan when playing by myself, but in my opinion, “FIFA” is undoubtedly the best major sports game to play splitscreen with friends. And before you say “NHL,” “FIFA” is just the better-made game, sorry.
I dabbled in Ultimate Team and even a little in MyPlayer, but there’s nothing better than getting four people together to play a little two-on-two. I also just loved the presentation of this game, and while people talk a lot about the greatness of “FIFA” soundtracks, this one easily tops them all.
Now if you excuse me, I need to find my copy of “Backyard Baseball” immediately.