TAG Mount Rushmore – Sports, Golden Age

Introducing TAG Mount Rushmore

In our last Mount Rushmore, we wrote about our favorite platformers. This time around, we’re talking about sports!

We are officially in the twilight years of the 8th generation of video games. Here’s a quick recap of our TAG Ages:

  • Golden Age | “The Bit Era”: Nintendo Entertainment System | Gameboy | Sega Genesis | Game Gear | Super Nintendo | Other 3rd + 4th gen consoles
  • 3D Age | “The Disc Era”: Playstation | Nintendo 64 | Dreamcast | Playstation 2 | Gamecube | Xbox | Other 5th + 6th gen consoles
  • MMO Age | “The Social Era”: Xbox 360 | Playstation 3 | Wii | Other 7th gen consoles
  • Present Day | “The Greatness Awaits Era”: Wii U | PS4 | Xbox One | Other 8th gen consoles

Feel free to check out our original Tag Mount Rushmore post on Golden Age RPGs for more details on each era!
 Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Sports Games

Growing up, we played a bunch of sports. Naturally, it made sense that we’d be attracted to this genre in video games.

In the Golden Age, this meant two friends facing off in a competitive match then passing the sticks to whoever was next in line. The “winner stays” mentality had us taking things very seriously.

Although the graphics weren’t anywhere close to the realism of current-gen releases, the gameplay was exciting and addictive. We still play a decent amount of sports games today and our skills grew from this early list of titles.

The Process

We ranked our favorite Bit Era sports individually and then come together to form a combined list. After assigning values for 1st through 4th place, we summed up their total score then ordered this list based on the total. 

Without further ado, here is the TAG Mount Rushmore – Golden Age Sports Edition.

#1. Tecmo Super Bowl (NES, 1991)
Julian (1st), Fred (1st)

Before the Madden series took hold of the football gaming industry, there was Tecmo. Tecmo Super Bowl simplified the game of football without sacrificing fun factor or features. 

Offenses inputted a combination of the A or B button plus the directional pad from the 8 displayed plays. The defense selected the play they thought the offense selected. If correct, the defense would throw an all out blitz. 

This is a far cry from the vast scheming options in today’s Madden games, but it worked. Additionally, passing was accomplished by cycling through receivers with one button and throwing the ball with another. This gave unique meaning to looking off defenders. 

Tecmo Super Bowl showcased the greats of yesteryear. It featured offensive stars like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Brett Favre, Randall Cunningham (named Eagles QB), and Bo Jackson. We also saw defensive legends like Reggie White, Deion Sanders, Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, and Lawrence Taylor. 

Dusting off your NES will send you on an action-packed trip down memory lane.

Julian’s Take: 

Is Bo Jackson from Tecmo Super Bowl the greatest video game athlete of all time? “Bo Knows” that he’s certainly in the discussion. 

Outside of the sheer greatness of one of the best two sports athletes of all time, Tecmo holds a great place in my heart. I believe it was the first sports game I owned that had a season mode. My older brother and I played many a years. 

However, you are restricted to only one season and can’t progress from year to year like in a franchise mode of today’s games. To compensate my brother kept a journal – the marble hard covered one – filled with all the season stats. After about 5 or 6 years we could do calculations and figure out career stat leaders. A bit much, but this was my initial gateway into a fascination of sports stats. 

Fred’s Take:

Before highlight sticks and the cone of vision, we had the simplest, most pure form of American football. Tecmo Superbowl is exactly what the world needed in an 8- bit gridiron battle.

If this game was only the broken tackle animations, I’d be a happy camper. Throw in an intuitive playbook and you have the makings of a hall of fame level video game. 

I really liked the mechanic where the defense gets an automatic sack if you pick the formation which perfectly matches the offensive play. Back then, I didn’t put much thought into choosing a play, but now that I know more about football this is a very useful feature.

The game manual was one of the most detailed that I had ever seen, depicting every aspect of the game in clear descriptions. Before the time of virtual training camps, this made it easy to jump right in and start scoring touchdowns. 

#2. NBA Jam (Genesis, 1993)
Julian (3rd), Fred (4th)
  • “From downtown!”
  • “Is it the shoes?!”
  • “He’s heating up”
  • “He’s on fire!”
  • “Boomshakalaka!”

NBA Jam’s iconic quotes were just the beginning. From outrageous gravity defying dunks, to net scorching 3’s, NBA Jam still remains one of the best arcade sports games of all time. 

After selecting two stars from your favorite team, you participated in a two-on-two full court game. Shaquielle O’Neal and Scott Skiles vs Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley? Done. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant vs John Stockton and Karl Malone? Check ball. 

Missing a certain Michael? This was right at the height of Jordan infamously not being in any video games. Sorry, you won’t be able to play with His Airness. Could I interest you in Clinton, though? Not just former president Bill Clinton but George “P-Funk” Clinton. Both of these Clinton’s were among a deep, and strange, list of unlockable secret characters. Just another gem that NBA Jam gave us.

NBA Jam’s success led to games like NBA Street series, NFL Street series, and lesser known titles like And 1 Streetball and NBA Playgrounds. 

Side note: In this write up we learned that another favorite, Arch Rivals – a game where you can literally punch your opponent to steal the ball, was a predecessor to NBA Live. 

Julian’s Take: 

NBA Jam is a relic in the sports gaming world. Many have tried to capture it’s greatness and many have failed. 

Featured in actual arcades across the country, NBA Jam gave us one of the most enjoyable arcade experiences while maintaining a level requisite skill that kept the game competitive. 

There are simply few things more satisfying than catching fire and draining threes from all over the court. Well, this is a tad more satisfying.

Fred’s Take:

This may be one of the most meme’d games of our childhood. NBA Jam is hilarious enough that you can rationalize the ball catching on fire, but realistic enough that it still feels like basketball. 

Instead of stealing the ball, you just try to smack people (no refs in this game so no foul trouble). Everyone has a 12-15 foot vertical jump. Dunks break the backboard with decent regularity. It all works so perfectly well together somehow.

For the basketball purest out there, you can still do the basic things like shooting jumpers and passing to your teammate. Realistically, you should just run up and down the court dunking on each other.

#3. NBA Live 95 (Genesis, 1994)
Julian (2nd), Fred (Unranked)

Before the NBA 2K series jumped into the mix, NBA Live was simulation basketball. From SNES/Genesis up until Sony PlayStation, NBA Live delivered stellar games. 

One of the standouts was actually the first, NBA Live 95. However, if you asked around you’d probably also hear that 96, 97, or 98 was the superior game. 

NBA Live provided the ability to play a 5-on-5 exhibition game, create a player and team, and, depending on the year, play pickup style games. 

Julian’s Take: 

I believe NBA Live was one my first opportunities to create myself in a sports video game. Entering myself into the lineup of some of my favorite teams is an experience that can not sufficiently be described. Today’s games give you seemingly unlimited customization options but back then I thought the idea of customizing ratings like speed, 3 point shot, and steal ability were rightfully groundbreaking.

Stat tracking and progression through NBA seasons and playoffs allowed for replayability and sustainability in a game that never grew old. The argument against annual sport game releases being simply roster refreshes may have a bit of weight. But, these games were must haves for avid sports fans and although they aren’t as technical as today’s games they were equally as engaging.

Fred’s Take:

Speaking of basketball purest, if you were alive in the 90s then this was the game for you. 

The UI of the score + game timer has an authentic broadcast feel. Paired with an overhead camera angle and the end result is something like this:

http://gph.is/1dyUwqB

It was also really nice to hit 95% of your open jumpshots and your players don’t get injured every 4 minutes (cough NBA 2k cough). 

Funfact, if you type REFLOG (Golfer backwards) as a player name, you will play a game of golf!

I’ll leave you with this bonus video of NBA Live through the years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExdXf9RIaVI

#4. NHL 98 (Genesis, 1997)
Julian (4th), Fred (Unranked)

Similar to NBA Live, the NHL series was produced by EA Sports. And as the slogan went, these titles “were in the game.” 

The industry standard for simulation sports games, NHL was no different. NHL 98 gave you the ability to create your own player and insert him onto your favorite team’s lineup. Filled with the crowd noise and music you’d find at a typical NHL game, NHL 98 just like 95, 96, and 97 before it, was the closest thing you could get to enjoying ice hockey without risk of injury.

Julian’s Take: 

I didn’t grow up a big fan of watching hockey but the NHL series was a staple in my collection. The fluidness of the game’s controls was impressive. The slipperiness of the ice was captured in the lack of ease in changing direction like in the Live or Madden series. 

Scoring and delivering a bone rattling cross check against the boards were incredible feelings. And I can’t say enough about how the game’s sound kept the experience fresh and authentic. 

Fred’s Take:

I had Blades of Steel in this slot originally, but then I checked out some gameplay and saw that this was the much more advanced hockey game. The crowd noises and siren after a goal were nice details on top of the fluid gameplay.

NHL 98 let you toggle on fighting as a setting, gave players the freedom to change game speed and had some very funny animations where the puck would bounce off the goalie. It was fun against the computer or a friend, bringing some positive attention to the sport.

From the Community

We surveyed the Average Gamer Community to hear which honorable mentions should be on the list.

Image result for kermit typing gif

Here are some great games that would sit proudly on the hypothetical fifth head of our mountain!

  • Fifa (Multi-platform, 1993) – This was one of the first full simulations of the FIFA soccer league. There were 48 national teams with fictitious players. The game received high praise for it’s attention to detail and was a fan favorite among footballers.
  • Madden ’92 (Genesis & SNES, 1991) – John Madden brought a more refined feel to American football video gaming, adding to pres-season games and play reviews. The view of receivers on passing plays was innovative and the game earned a Hyper Game Award for it’s excellent gameplay.
  • Mutant League Hockey (Genesis, 1994) – A much less serious version of sports, the Mutant League series features weapons and monsters in modern-day sports. When fights break out in the ice, it switches over to a mini-game. Players fall into traps and can be maimed, only to be picked up by a slug in between periods.
  • Baseball Stars (NES, 1989) – Baseball Stars was another title that allowed you to customize a team of players and compete against made up teams like the American Dreams, Brave Warriors or Lovely Ladies.
How’d we do?

What grade would you give our Mount Rushmore? Would you change any of our selections? Which game was your favorite {Genre} from the {Age}? Let us know in the comments!

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