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Ten Commandments of Buying Sports Games

All too many times you have gone into your local retro gaming store and found a boatload of Genesis games, and you get really excited and giddy to drop your scarce dollars on M.U.S.H.A or pick up Sonic 2 because your friends want to marathon it or something. But your excitement and hopes are apparently dashed when you realize that all the store carries is fifty-seven copies of Madden ’94 and a loose copy of Andre Agassi Tennis.

Fear not my Genesis axe battlers, there is yet hope for you! Sports games can be your friend, but you just have to know certain rules when it comes to purchasing and then playing the seemingly bazillion sports games available for the Genesis. What rules, you say?


The Commandments

Commandment One: Thou shalt understand the basic timeline of sports games for the Genesis.

Every single system ever released has had the same issue: there is a general evolution of the quality of games over the system’s life span. Genesis games are not the exception, and it is very evident when it comes to sports titles on the Genesis. The earliest of releases, such as Pat Riley Basketball and James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing were simply not good games, but there were some great ones (such as Joe Montana Football and Super Monaco GP) that were almost classics. As the system grew on and on, more and more third party companies began to make their mark upon the system, and the Genesis was slowly beginning to garner some of the best sports games available in the ’90s, thanks in great part to the help of John Madden Football and it’s six billion sequels given to us by Electronic Arts. EA eventually became the driving force behind the popularity of Genesis sports games, but there were other reputable developers such as Sega Sports, Tengen with their RBI series, and Tecmo with the three Tecmo Super Bowl games.

However, by about 1996 or so, everyone was diving into the Playstation and N64 pool and our Genesis was being left behind like the dust kicked up by a car peeling off a dusty road. Almost exactly like what happened with the Xbox when the Xbox 360 launched; a lot of sports games were just heaped upon us from 1997-98 before the new games dried up altogether. The majority of these (mostly EA games, mind you) are pretty much simply roster updates with the main engine of the previous year being used (1996 was basically the last “original” year for the majority of sports titles, EA again leading the way). They aren’t bad, per se, but they aren’t earth shattering (or really much different from the year previous) or really anything to talk about. There were a few exceptions to the rule, such as College Football USA ’97: Road to New Orleans, which was a solid title that shook up the Bill Walsh College Football “engine” and added the majority, if not all of the Division I NCAA teams. But for the most part, the majority sports games made from late 1996 on are pretty much roster up dates of the engine of the year before.

Commandment Two: Thou shalt be well versed in the best and worst companies involved in producing Genesis sports games.

Let’s face it: EA got to be EA for a reason. Accolade got to be Accolade for a reason (Thanks, Bubsy!). A lot of whether a game is even decent or not has to do with who made it, and were there ever a great deal of developers of sports games for the Genesis. Off the top of my head, I can name a bunch: EA, Sega Sports, Tengen, Tecmo, Arena, Acclaim, Accolade, Tradewest, and even RazorSoft and Renovation got in on the game. Some of these developers truly swung for the fences, and created hall of fame games. You can’t really go wrong with any game from EA, but their early work is a bit stiff and hard to enjoy for long periods of time, and their later entries are efforts solely set on autopilot. I would say that any game from late 1993-96 is a pretty safe bet. Sega Sports is usually a very good developer, but beware of those Sega Sports games that you might have never heard of before. I relate it to walking on thin ice or dipping my feet in the hot tub. Am I going to fall in? It relates to a later commandment about established gaming franchises.

Then we come to the stragglers, the professional pine riders, the bench warmers. I would honestly have to say that the leading creator of bad sports titles for the Genesis has to be Accolade. You have to give it credit for trying, and to be honest, some of its games actually aren’t so bad. The Summer and Winter Challenges (licenseless Olympic games), for example, put forth a serious effort, and apparently someone (not me) liked the Hardball series enough to garner at least three sequels. Al Michaels even got in the mix and “announced” Hardball III (garnering one of the longest titles of any sports game I have ever played: Al Michaels Announces Hardball III). Throughout the 16-bit generation, Accolade really worked at trying to become a viable sports game developer. For all its efforts though, it faltered in the face of much better competition and just really couldn’t get the ball rolling.

Flying Edge was another failed developer/publisher, with such stinkers as Arch Rivals and Roger Clemens MVP Baseball, and Arena was a two-hit wonder with its spectacular NBA Jam titles. Tengen was known solely for its RBI Baseball series and Tecmo was known mainly for its Tecmo Super Bowl series, but the latter did have a number of Tecmo Super releases for baseball, hockey and basketball. None of those games, however, are that great.

Commandment Three: Thou shalt know about the best franchises of sports games on the Genesis.

The question: What are the best sports franchises on the Genesis?

The answer: Madden NFL, Bill Walsh College Football, Sega’s NFL franchise and World Series Baseball, NHL, NBA Jam and NBA Live.

Any of those games will be fruitful investments and will be a great time playing. I own most of them, and they are the majority of the games I play! Better yet, they are all cheap! There is no reason that any (or all) of these games should not be in your collection.

Commandment Four: Thou shalt be very weary about sports games sponsored by television shows or professional athletes/coaches.

Most of the games that are sponsored by professional athletes end up sucking pretty hardcore for the most part, and they end up looking and playing like sad cash-ins by crappy developers who probably knew that their game sucked in the first place. I’m talking to you Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball, Roger Clemens MVP Baseball, Pat Riley Basketball, James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing, Big Hurt Baseball, Andre Agassi Tennis, Sports Talk Football ’93 Starring Joe Montana, Prime Time Football, Troy Aikman Football, ESPN Sunday Night Football, ESPN Speedworld, both versions of ESPN Baseball Tonight, the Sega CD version of ESPN National Hockey Night. The list just goes on and on. It didn’t help the genre out very much at all, but at least they can pad your collection.

Commandment Five: Thou shalt know the prices for sports games on the Genesis.

CHEAP! Don’t pay too much for any sports game (unless you happen to find that masterful copy of John Madden Football ’93 Championship Edition). Two or three dollars should be your limit, but sometimes places will charge a little more for the last few games of a series or a rare-ish item. Cheepie bins are your friend when it comes to collecting and buying sports games. Try to get three or four in a deal, or use them to pad your collection (you can use NFL ’95 as a good coaster or as a topping on your salads!)

Commandment Six: Thou shalt know that there are many sports games that are not necessarily famous, but are still good to chamazing!

Have you ever heard of Jerry Glanville’s Pigskin Footbrawl? College Slam? Mutant League Hockey? The majority of sports arcade games are somewhat iffy to bad, but there are some that are good that you probably have never heard of. Everyone has heard of NBA Jam, so why don’t you throw in Pigskin Footbrawl for a change? Jennifer Capriati Tennis is actually one of the best tennis games I have ever played, and no one has heard of it, AND it was made by Renovation! It’s the magic like that that contributes to why The Sports Guy is The Sports Guy. Pop in that random game that you found in your drawer in, there is a whole world of magic available with sports games. There are more (not many) good sports arcade games beyond just NBA Jam!

Commandment Seven: Thou shalt understand that there is no reason to not have a multitude of sports games in your collection!

Sports games is easily the most plentiful genre available. They are cheap, and there are a lot of good ones. Even if you don’t want to play them, you can buy them and just add them to your collection, and what looks better than shelf after shelf of Genesis games? Beer. Beer is better than shelf after shelf of Genesis games, but nothing else besides beer is better than shelf after shelf of Genesis games. Buy sports games in lots or bunches, find them for free, include them in deals, or whatever. Just get sports games and step up to the Sega-16 sports bar with me and the other dudes who like sports games.

Commandment Eight: Thou shalt know what the best year and best franchise of major sports franchises are.

Lets face it, the three best franchises for the Genesis are clearly NHL, Madden, NBA Live and the World Series Baseball series. There are so many other good ones, but I think that the clear overall best sports series on the Genesis has to be the NHL series. It has the most changes while keeping the gameplay very fresh and interesting over the years while maintaining the interesting gameplay, all without becoming TOO bland. Madden ’95 is probably the best Madden game since they released the series, though Madden ’97 is darn good. I prefer Bill Walsh College Football for the most part, but clearly there were more Madden fans than Bill Walsh fans. NBA Live ’95 is the clear favorite NBA Live game, and I think that World Series Baseball ’95 is the best edition in that series, simply because the game is such an amazing improvement over one that already was spectacular in its own right and wasn’t simply a roster update. Plus, what other game can you spend taunting the opposing team as you hit a home run to beat the Yankees in the ninth?

Commandment Nine: Thou shalt know the ten worst sports games ever made. in Thy Sports Guy’s Opinion:

I have been around this site for so long and have spent so much time playing utter garbage, I just think that I should tell you what games are the worst of the worst:

10. ESPN Speedworld

9. Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball

8. NFL ’95

7. PGA Tour ’96

6. Tony LaRussa Baseball

5. ESPN Sunday Night NFL

4. World Championship Soccer

3. Dick Vitale’s Awesome Baby College Hoops

2. Pat Riley Basketball

1. Andre Agassi Tennis

Commandment Ten: Thou shalt know the ten best sports games ever made, in Thy Sports Guy’s Opinion.

I gave you the worst, now go out and get the best!

10. NBA Jam

9. World Series Baseball ’95

8. Joe Montana Football

7. NHL ’94 (Genesis Version)

6. NBA Live ’95

5. Sports Talk Baseball

4. Bill Walsh College Football

3. NBA Jam Tournament Edition

2. Bill Walsh College Football ’95

1. NHL ’96

Heed the Commandments and Prosper

There, I laid out the ten god-given rules of buying and playing sports games for you so now you have some sort of idea when you have some spare change lying around or want to get a huge lot of Sega Genesis games on the cheap. So go out and play those Genesis sports games, my friends.

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