Growing up in the 80’s, sports and video games would go together like apple pie. My brothers and I were fortunate enough to be pretty good athletes and played the games at home as well. This article will cover the best of the best from the decade. It will cover all systems as well as arcades. Rankings depend on realism, fun factor, replay value, graphics and sound.
10. Summer Games – Epyx – 1984
Summer Games, this was a classic. It had variety, excellent graphics for its day and was lots of fun to play. I particularly enjoyed the diving event, one would need to make the most moves in the air and try to straighten the diver up for minimal splash. The judges always favored their home country diver, very realistic feature!
- Pole vault
- Platform diving
- Freestyle swimming
- Skeet shooting
Epyx continued with this genre and created Summer Games II, Winter Games, World Games and California Games. These were all great games worth playing again any day of the week!
9. Micro League Baseball -1984- Micro League Sports Association
Ok, this is the sleeper of my list. Micro league Baseball! This is the first baseball game licensed by MLB and the MLB Association which could include actual team names and players. What an outstanding game! This game was also the first game to emphasize management and strategy. Bring the outfield in, play in the infield at double play depth. It really changed the way we played baseball via video games. I remember also buying expansion packs in those days to include teams of yesteryear. This would allow you to play as the 1927 Yankees against the big red machine of the 70’s. I played both the Atari 130 XE versions as well as the Apple II E port.
8. Blades of Steel – Konami – 1988
Growing up in an urban city for all of my childhood, ice hockey wasn’t a sport I had the pleasure of participating in, EVER! I mean, I heard of Wayne Gretzky before and I knew we had the Rangers, the Islanders and the Devils but that was it! This being said, I was surprised to see how exciting and fun Blades of Steel was for the NES. I remember playing a game called ice hockey years prior from Nintendo. It was ok, but didn’t really grab my attention for too long.
Blades of Steel, introduced great graphics, sound bytes, teams from real NHL cities with realistic team colors (not licensed by the NHL) and…oh yeah, I almost forgot, THE FIGHTING MODE! Fighting in the game occurs when two players bump themselves three times without bumping another player. Once you drain your opponents power pellets with timed punches to the face or breadbasket, the losing player gets sent to the penalty box. Then you have a 5 on 4 power play advantage. Fights close to the net will prompt the referee to call for a penalty shot.
Blades of Steel is tons of fun to play and is one of the top 10 80’s sports games! It is available on the wii VC for all of us that want to play this classic once again!
7. Side Pockets – Data East – 1987
In the 80’s, bowling was pretty big, especially in our area. We had two bowling alleys within a 2 mile radius from our house, Colombia Lanes and Nungessors, both in North Bergen, NJ. Sure, we loved to bowl, but between games or even between throws, we would sneak a quarter here and there on arcade games.
Side Pockets was amongst the favorites at the bowling alley. Perhaps because it attracted many older players as well. The controls were great! In the center a white trackball which you would have to roll in certain direction on the billiard table. It also included a jukebox in which you can select some favorite tunes to play in the background. One could play traditional style pool, 9 ball or even trick shots.
Overall the best pool simulation game of the 80’s which spurned sequels well into the 90’s. Still lots of fun to play today and is considered a real gem!
6. Baseball Stars – SNK- 1989
Baseball Stars was the ” Zelda” for the baseball genre! This is the first baseball game that featured a battery pack which opened up many key features which are standard in today’s sports games. It allowed you to create your own players, name your players, accrue stats which would allow you to build up your team and allow you to purchase players with greater abilities.
This game is arguably the best baseball game on the NES. It was such a fun game to play, had excellent repeat value and customization was revolutionary. Most importantly the fielding controls in this game was absolutely perfect. Throughout the 80’s baseball game designers struggled with how to control the fielders. This can be seen in earlier games like Real Sports Baseball, Home Run Baseball as well as the early NES version aptly named, Baseball.
These ease-of-fielding features are characterized by examples such as: off-screen fielders automatically drifting towards fly balls, fielders catching balls anywhere near them, the ability to jump and dive, infielders shifting to prevent extra base hits down the line when men are on base, etc.
5. Mat mania- Taito – 1985
Who can forget the memorable referee count, ONE, TWO, THREEEEE! I mentioned in a previous article about a recent revelation playing Mat Mania a few months ago at Richie Knucklez in Flemington, NJ. After being defeated by the cunning and feisty coco savage, a new player took over the controls. It was Jimmy Linderman, Mr. Do! Twin Galaxies World Champion. He put on the most amazing exhibition, annihilating every opponent with ease! He was so good, that he had to walk away because he would’ve been there forever.
MM is loads of fun to play. It had excellent controls, a WWF WWE feel with the Golden Hulk as world champion. It had a fun cartoony look and feel which still stands the test of time. My favorite part of the game was the Semi-illegal fighting that could be accomplished. Jumping off the top turnbuckle, throwing people out of the ring, pile-driving your opponent onto the concrete floor and my favorite, giving yourself an Irish whip and monster splashing your opponent that is lying outside the ring! You could also win/lose by a ring count of 20, seems as if the developers wanted to give you 10 extra seconds to bash your opponent head in. Mat Mania was arguably the best wrestling game available at the time and is still revered as the best classic wrestling game ever!
4. Double Dribble – Konami – 1987
Basketball was very big in the mid- late 80’s, with players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson,gracing the court! Iit was truly the prime years for the NBA! Our very small NJ town was very big into basketball. We lived and breathed basketball, that of course translated into playing it on the NES on off game-days and rainy days.
Double Dribble was very addicting. It was the first 5 on 5 basketball game available and its AI programming was second to none! The controls really made the game so much fun, especially where you had to time your jump at the peak to obtain maximum shot percentage. The dunking cut screens was revolutionary in 1987! Just to have any character that large moving on a screen(even if the character was in black and white and you couldn’t technically control him) was very new to the gaming scene in 1987. We all can remember the full court press where a skilled player can limit the opposition to not even crossing half court. Also, there was a cheat where the player easily banked 3’s at will from the top corners of the court. Another semi-cheat existed, where you can legally goal-tend by timing a shot just right and jumping towards the backboard while the ball is heading towards the basket. This game stands the test of time, is loads of fun and its on my wii VC library today!
3. HardBall! – Accolade – 1985
I remember visiting an Atari store years ago with my dad, and seeing the Hardball box on shelf. When I turned it around and saw the graphics, I almost lost it. This is the first game that featured the center field view. As a pitcher, you could also control the movement of the catchers glove to indicate where you wanted the pitch to go. As you can see, the pitcher had an assortment of pitches to choose from. As a hitter, you can see that he had an option to bunt or hit away! Hardball combined the strategy features that Micro Baseball boasted and added arcade style revolutionary graphics!
The game was also very intuitive at the time. If you placed a pitcher at second base, he would almost surely commit an error. If you placed a position player on the mound, he would only have “fatpitches” as his 4 options of pitches. Good news for the offensive team of course!
The fielding control was excellent, cutting the field in half to give detail and also allow for tight controls. Accolade was known to make excellent games, why not, their programmers were ex-Activision employees! Overall, the best baseball game of the 80’s on home computers, arguable the best 80’s baseball game overall!
2. Tecmo Bowl – Tecmo – 1988
I wasn’t the biggest football fan back then or now for that matter, but how can one ignore this gem! Growing up, my friends and I would spend the entire weekend challenging each other in Tecmo Bowl. I particularly loved the 4 play, playbook. This gave you a 25% chance of guessing your opponents move and ensuring a sack or interception!
The game featured real NFL players including Bo Jackson, Joe Montana and Phil Sims to name a few. Players had realistic unique abilities, such as Lawrence Taylor being the fastest defensive player and would almost always secure the sack!
The game is the best Football game of the 80’s and it also spawned hits well into the 90’s. It is also available on VC for download! A Winner!
1. Mike Tyson’s Punchout – NES – 1989
OK, Mike Tyson isn’t back, but good thing he isn’t. If he was back he would look like a tanned, tatooed version of King Hipppo! Mike Tyson’ Punchout was introduced in 1987 by Nintendo by much hype via tv commercials and ads. The game was the “Sgt. Peppers” of the NES back in the 80’s. The multiple characters, their personalities, their boxing style and patterns all made this game a true winner.
The game featured a save option to save progress, cut scenes and secrets like holding down select to gain energy in between rounds. We all know about the license expiring and the re-release of the game as Punchout featuring Mr. Dream which occurred after Mike endured life hardships. The game is available on VC and even spawned a new version on the wii a few months ago. Overall, this is hands down the best sports game that the 80’s produced!
Author notes and Honorable Mentions:
This top 10 list was one of the most challenging I’ve had to create. It is difficult to compare games that were released in 1980 with games from 1989. I tend to weigh the earlier games more with innovation and the latter games with graphics and fun. The list doesn’t include soccer, volleyball or tennis because there weren’t any notable games in these sports worth mentioning. I included numerous baseball games, because that was the big sport in the80’s and developers placed more resources to that sport.
Madden – Electronic Arts- 1989
The game spawned a football video game empire that reigns to this day. This early version wasn’t anything to brag about but the fact that it started it all, earns this title a top 10 honorable mention.
Ring King – Data East- 1985
Not nearly as good as MTPO, but lots of fun to play. This game along with Super Punch out were the best arcade boxing games around.
Super Baseball Double Play Home Run Derby – 1987- – Leland Corp.
Remember this one? The game where you had to flick a mini-bat control to hit the pitch? This one I remember vividly!
Ok everyone, this completes my list of the top 10 80’s sports games of all times. Please comment and let me know what you think of the list and if I missed any games worth mentioning!