The Early Lead:
By BRANDON HURLEY
Lists are a beautiful thing. And late summer between sports makes for a perfect opportunity to compile a “Best Of” list.
I’m sure many of us remember the days well. The tail end of our summer breaks, spent indoors escaping the blistering heat to hone our video game skills. For myself, I have always been fond of the sports video game genre. It’s the first type of video game I really fell in love with as a young kid. I’ve spent numerous days and nights diving deep into the dynasty mode of several different games. So here it goes, my list of top five favorite sports video games of all time.
I’m also going to take it a step further and pick a specific year of the game as well.
These games may not have received glowing reviews from critics and may not have the smoothest game play, but they were favorites of mine. Games that I spent hours and hours playing with my friends or by myself.
So hold on and enjoy, or laugh at me, if you desire.
1. Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball for the Nintendo 64 (1998)
This list actually came to light from “The Kid’s” recent induction into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame over the weekend. This is my earliest memory of sports video games. This game was simple, yet challenging. You moved a little circe cursor and pressed a button to hit the ball. No fancy mechanics, no multiple joy-stick usage. Just simple, point and click baseball. The way the game should be played.
Some of the most average players became household names to me, like Jay Buhner and GlenAllen Hill, It was just a great, simple game ahead of its time.
2. NCAA Football 2003 (2002)
This was the year I fell in love with the NCAA Football video game franchise. With former Oregon great, Joey Harrington on the cover… this game had everything. Unlike football games today, you could find relative success on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. But, the most fun part of the game was offense. Whether you like throwing the ball or running or even a balanced attack, you could do it. Offense wasn’t a struggle, and you didn’t have to practice for hours on end to become semi-successful at it. You could also play defense with relative ease, which made the games have a solid balance. Like many of the games before NCAA Football on this list, the commentators made the gaming experience even more enjoyable.
Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso - the G.O.A.T. of video game booths. What also was cool was the fact that EVERY Division I football program could be used, complete with their actual fight songs and school colors. It wasn’t the first game of the NCAA Football franchise, but it was the one that really hooked me and spawned my love for the physical, real life version of college football.
One of the underrated aspects was the ability to alter your team’s non-conference schedule in the dynasty mode. The quickest way to vault your team up the rankings was to schedule, and beat, a highly ranked team in the first week of the season.
I could go on and on about the beauty of this franchise. Even the the detail of the individual stadiums and the impact the crowd could have on the game was great.
A few paragraphs of love doesn’t do this franchise justice, even after it was disbanded.
3. MVP Baseball 2005 (2004)
The greatest baseball game ever created, even though it doesn’t top my list.
From a pure baseball and video game stand point, this takes the cake. The detail was there, with the hot zones, the throwing meter, the farm teams, and the stadiums.
And best of all, the commentators were top notch - Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. To this day, I will fire up the game and can’t wait to hear them yell “Swing the bat, meat.”
The great, and sometimes goofy, Manny Ramirez graced the cover as well and was by far the best hitter in the game.
4. NBA Live 2004 (2003)
What made this game awesome was the sound track. The game opened up with a remixed, basketball version of a Chingy song (where is this guy now?) and just got better from there. There’s that, and then there’s the fact Vince Carter, Air Canada, was on the cover. As a young teen, Vince Carter was my idol. The dude could throw it down from anywhere, it seemed, and he had such an entertaining game. Let’s not forget that Marv Albert and the Czar, Mike Fratello were calling the games, my favorite NBA commentator combo of all-time.
5. Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2003 (2002)
The thing that made this game for me was the Sunday Tiger player option, and obviously, the build your own golf course was great too. You could tweak real-world holes and make them as difficult or as easy as you like by tightening the fairways, lengthening the rough and shrinking the greens. You could even put logos in the fairway. This was such a cool concept
Heck, getting to play, while virtually, some of the world’s most famous golf courses such as Pebble Beach and St. Andrew’s was quite the thrill.
The game was also fun to play for everyone, even non-golf fans. I remember a few of my friends, who didn’t know the first thing about golf, erupting with excitement in my basement after a miraculous eagle once or twice.
• Tony Hawk Pro Skater (1999)
I don’t know if this technically qualifies as a sports game, more of an extreme sport, but boy, was this ever a classic video game. I played it on the Nintendo 64 and couldn’t set it down. Landing kick flips, ollies and backflips was never so entertaining. Finding those hidden tapes in the mall or parking garages and dominating the tournaments was awesome, as well.
Not to mention, that was the beginning of the golden age of video game soundtracks. To this day, some 17 years later, a handful of songs are still stuck in my head. I still don’t know much about skateboarding, but when that franchise was released, I thought I was a veteran of the sport.
((ITALICS)) Brandon Hurley is the sports editor for The Jefferson Herald. If you’d like to contact him regarding story ideas or tips, you can reach him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @BrandonJHurley.