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The Wacky Sports Games Time Forgot

by Matt Bertz on Nov 03, 2010 at 12:00 PM

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While the current obsession with delivering realism in sports games has given fans the chance to rewrite history with their favorite teams, the high stakes world of expensive licenses and yearly releases has significantly diminished the number of options for sports gamers. Before the days when EA Sports and 2K Sports dominated the landscape, developers often skipped authenticity in favor of fantastical, comedic takes on team sports. Here is a handful of our favorite and most reviled off-kilter sports games from eras past. While many of these titles were indefensible abominations that tried gamers’ patience with terrible control schemes and repetitive 8-bit soundtracks, they injected a healthy dose of irreverent fun that is largely lacking today.

Arch Rivals

Before it struck gold with NBA Jam, Midway’s most popular arcade basketball game was this send-up of Ron Artest style basketball. The objective of Arch Rivals isn’t drastically different than most hoops games – score more points than your rivals – but with a blind ref who never calls a foul you have a lot more violent strategies at your disposal. Why waste all that energy boxing out when you can just sock your opponent in the face before you grab the rebound? If fisticuffs don’t win the battle under the hoop, perhaps your rival will trip over the candy wrapper or soda can tossed on the court by fans. Hilarious slow motion dunks, shattering backboards, and the ability to de-pants the ref kept gamers coming back, as the title eventually found its way to the NES, Genesis, and the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 collection for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube.

Base Wars

Let’s face it – baseball is boring as hell. Who wants to watch overweight “athletes” scratch themselves, spit their chew, and repeatedly re-velcro their batting gloves in the infinite time gaps that exist between pitches? Not me, which is why the NES title Base Wars will forever be my favorite interpretation of America’s (former) favorite pastime. In Konami's vision of the future, 24th century George Steinbrenners are sick of paying players outlandish salaries, so they replace the spoiled rotten meatbags with a rosters of killer cyborgs and robots that would make HK-47 proud. Each bot is armed with futuristic weaponry, which players use to decide close calls on the base paths. Given its lack of compelling modern titles not named Castlevania or Metal Gear, perhaps Konami could invest in a remake.

Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball

Not to be outdone by Base Wars, lenegdary Detriot Pistons bad boy Bill Laimbeer lent his name and likeness to Hudson Soft’s over-the-top interpretation of futuristic basketball for the SNES. Here’s the setup: After the league forced Laimbeer to retire due to his rough style of play, he finally gets his revenge in the year 2030 when he’s named league commissioner. His first order of business? Fire all the refs, eliminate fouls, give the players armored jerseys, and allow the fans to throw weapons and mines onto the court to make those SportsCenter highlights slightly more interesting. Unfortuantely, the gameplay didn’t live up to the amazing concept, with one of the worst cameras ever implemented in a sports game and poor controls maiming an otherwise hilarious concept. Though his game bombed, Bill Laimbeer still has 20 years to bring his radical vision of basketball to the real NBA; he’s currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Brutal Sports Football

Roger Goodell could never serve as the commissioner of the Brutal Sports League. This ultraviolent football/rugby hybrid for the Amiga, Jaguar, and PC doesn’t fine players for spearing. These goons receive applause for their actions, and literally use spears to maim their opponents. While the NFL has rules that condemn roughing the quarterback and unsportsmanlike conduct, in Millennium Interactive’s game these actions are explicitly encouraged, with bombs and weaponry scattered across the field and available for use at any time. If you’re having problems containing a specific player, just behead him. Now this is a gameplan that Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor, and Dick Butkus could get behind.

Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball

The NES was the golden era of baseball games, with fondly remembered hardball classics like RBI Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars paving the way for modern sluggers like MLB 10: The Show. Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball took a decidedly different approach. Developer Broderbund ditched all pretenses of realism in favor of a softball tourney filled with the most random cast of characters this side of the 1986 New York Mets roster. Rather than ship with preset teams, players can choose their roster from a pool of ringers that included a devil, witch, and mummy. Each field features outfield obstacles to add a degree of difficulty to routine catches, and some outfielders had the ability to levitate to make home run saving highlight grabs. The Baseball Stars-style gameplay stills hold up to this day – not bad for a game that has always dwelled in obscurity.

Mutant League Hockey

One of the most beloved Electronic Arts series of all time, the Mutant League franchise is a ripe candidate for an Xbox Live Arcade comeback. The hockey version was particularly savage, with aggravated assault deciding who wins puck drops, violent checks turning opponents into piles of bones, and routine impalements taking place alongside the spike-decorated boards. The crazy cast of characters had names that sounded like Garbage Pail Kids, and the groan-inducing coach commentary is so bad it's good. To win a game, you don’t even need to score more goals than the other team. You can achieve the same results by killing everyone else on the opposing team.

Pigskin 621 AD

Like Brutal Sports Football, Midway’s long-forgotten Pigskin 621 AD arcade game bowed down to the altar of cartoon violence. This barbaric mix of rugby and football pit medieval groups against one another on fields littered with field obstacles like logs, puddles, and trap doors. As the game develops, swords and maces start populating the field, and successfully wielding a weapon can quickly turn the tide of battle. If one team falls behind, an indestructible troll joins their roster to even out the competition. If the art design looks familiar, that’s because Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin, the minds behind Rampage, made the game.

Street Hockey ‘95

Nothing is more pathetic than overt and misguided attempts to tap into the cultural zeitgeist. GTE Entertainment’s Street Hockey ’95 is the Mountain Dew commercial of hockey games, featuring “extreme” environments and totally radical players like the token Rastafarian Flapin’ Dred, the neon spandex and Oakley-wearing Power Child, and everyone’s favorite dude-bro, Shred Dog! As the video documents, the gameplay is downright atrocious. My favorite thing about the game? They added “’95” to the title, as if there were going to be yearly installments of this travesty.