Whatever has happened to all of the sport games?
I am sure I am not the only person who remembers video games such as Actua Soccer, NFL Quarterback Club, NBA Inside Drive, Links Golf, the NHL2K and NFL2K series of games and Adidas Power Soccer. It seemed back in the era of the Playstation and Nintendo 64, a month barely passed by without at least one new sports game being released but today, it feels like this situation has been almost completely reversed.
Take football for example, only two football games are now released on a yearly basis, FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. Both of these series have been aroudn for long time now and in one form or another, they can both trace their origins back to the 16-bit era of gaming, and have managed to fight off a myriad of competitors in what once a very crowded market.
Fans of other sports though don’t often even get a choice of two games to pick when it comes living out their sporting fantasies in video game form. EA Sports Madden franchise, has been the exclusive NFL game now for ten years now, there has only been one NHL game for four years now, and until recently if you didn’t like the NBA2K series of basketball games, you had no choice but to buy it if you were a basketball fan.
For some sports this situation is even worse. Golf games seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years, and even EA haven’t bothered to make a new Tiger Woods game for a while and to be honest, they were becoming so poor maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. The problem is if you are a big golf fan, apart from the admittedly excellent but not really realistic Everybody’s Golf games on Sony’s consoles, the only other choice you have is the bug ridden The Golf Club. Some sports though don’t even get the a choice at all, there hasn’t been a video game portrayal of Rugby Union now since 2011; though there is one scheduled to be released early next year. Boxing is also another sport that seems to have fallen out of favour as there hasn’t been a boxing game for over three years.
The question is, has the lack of competition really been bad thing? The answer to this, really does vary from sport to sport.
Lets start with football, for the last few years now FIFA really has had very little competition from its traditional competitor Pro Evolution Soccer. the last truly great PES game was released on the PS2, as Konami have struggled to adapt to online gaming which became more or more important to sports games enthusiasts. FIFA though after a few shaky years, had a nice leash of life, and from 09 to 13, EA Sports produced some really great football games which had most importantly had generally great online features Sadly though in the last few years, FIFA games have been degressing, culminating in this year’s title that was average at best. It seems EA has grown complacent after six or seven years of dominating the market and personally, all the new features they have added recently have actually made FIFA an inferior game. Thankfully, Konami after years of tarnishing the once great PES brand, have finally stepped up to the plate, and this years entry of the franchise is easily the better of the two football games released this year. Hopefully this will give EA a boot up the backside and maybe next year’s FIFA will actually be concerned with playing a good game of football, instead of just being a vehicle for EA to make money from the Ultimate Team mode that has been so profitable for the company in recent history.
Now I must come to my biggest issue and it concerns the poor state of the NFL sports titles, or in this case I should say title. Back in 2005 2K Sports released their NFL game ESPN NFL 2K5 to great acclaim, gaining rave reviews, and with the help of a reduced retail price, it’s sales figures came close to that year’s version of EA Sports Madden NFL title. EA were were running scared, their Madden title was their biggest seller, so EA being EA made a move that even today still annoys fans of American football. In 2005 they made a exclusive deal with the NFL that allowed only themselves to release any future NFL video games. To cut a long story short, even today after ten years with the same number of new Madden titles and far more powerful hardware to play with, EA have yet to produce a game that is superior or even as good as NFL 2K5. Lack of any competition of any kind, has allowed EA to rest on their laurels and quite frankly the standard of their NFL games has been shameful at times. With barely any innovation, and still lacking the gameplay and presentation that 2K Sports did so well Madden in recent years has been a game so poor I have only kept most of them for a month at most before trading them in. Hearing the news EA had managed to prolong their exclusive with the NFL was a sad day for gamers who were hoping their misery would end and finally we might get to play a really great NFL game made by someone who wasn’t EA Sports
Other sports have thankfully fared better in recent times with the lack of competition, Basketball and Baseball being the two best examples. The former has been luckily to be represented in video game form by the amazing NBA2K series of games from 2K Sports, with this year’s title possible being the best one yet. While the latter. not only has the one game representing the sport, it is also only available on Sony consoles as well. Luckily this game is MLB The Show, which in my opinion is the only sports game that even close to the NBA2K games in terms of quality and it’s simulation of the real life sport. EA Sports though have recently brought their NBA series of games back from the dead, and while they are not up to the standard of 2K’s game as yet, competition can only be a good thing and will hopefully keep 2K on their toes and will continue to keep pushing the standards of their NBA game to even greater heights.
Now while fans of realistic sport games have an ever decreasing selection of games to pick from, at least they have a choice. Fans of arcade type sport games, literally really don’t have choice at all. In the past games like NBA Jam, Virtua Sriker and NFL Blitz, catered for the gamers who wanted to just have some mindless fun and were not worried about any type of realism in their sport games. Today though it is almost impossible to find any type of these sort of games, and even indie developers have failed to fill this gap in the market which for me is a crying shame.
They say competition breeds success, and in general, when it comes to sports video games, this statement rings true. The sad state of the Madden franchise is testament to this and while luckily some sports have been graced with some great video games, most others have really suffered from the lack of choice and us poor gamers have paid for this.