It seems like every sports game is the exact same nowadays. Just a reskin with new team rosters. Game developers will tout this new feature and that new feature. It winds feeling as if you’re playing the exact same game as you did last year. And the year before that. And so on and so forth. Experimentation in sports games has gone away. Instead, developers only want to create a “realistic” experience. Outside of a few new game modes, every sports game is the same. Play as a team. Do a season as the team. Run a franchise. Have a career mode. Very rarely is it anything else. But you know what games were able to make the same sport feel so different? Arcade sports games.
Before everyone had a console or a super-powered peace, we got our gaming done at the arcade. Every arcade game had to make the most of the little time that it had with the players. I couldn’t build something like a lot of today’s simulation style sports games do. Players had to get satisfaction from every quarter and every play. Two great examples for this frenetic style come from Midway games: NBA Jam, which gave us the gift of “Boomshakalaka!”, and NFL Blitz, a hard-hitting touchdown filled Bonanza.
What these games did was provide a great time in 30 minute spurts. Every game would be filled with hard-hitting action, gravity-defying dunks, and moments that would make you say “fuck yeah!”. Today’s games have those moments too, but they aren’t built in there. The drama for those games comes only from what the players create. Arcade games have them built in, in addition to those moments. In the NBA and NFL Street series, gamebreakers could be built up to turn the tide of the game in one score. In NBA Jam being on fire means you literally set the net on fire.
Not every game needs to be played for hours on end at a time. It’s nice being able to hop on the couch for 30 minutes and just chill with the game. And the competitive aspects that today’s games have, are surpassed in some ways by old school games . I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played NBA Street with a friend, and it comes down to who has the last possession. Who makes that amazing dunk. Who’s able to get that crucial steal. The huge feeling when the bell tolls, one of us breaks out the game-winning dunk breaking the rim, and the heart of your best friend. Pure poetry.
Arcade Sports Renaissance
Video games of evolved in a sense. Now, watch ability is a huge part of the game. Games are being developed for lets players specifically. The ironic part about that, is that sports games were already perfectly watchable. Now today’s sports games are still interesting to watch, but it’s like a stripped down version of what you already see on television. Arcade sports games? That’s a whole different ballgame. Watching super human versions of athletes who already seen superhuman is awesome. It’s true, I like watching Michael Jordan dunk from the free-throw line. But you know what’s even cooler? Michael Jordan dunking it from the three-point or the half-court line. You know what’s cooler than seeing somebody get tackled for a sack? How about watching a defensive lineman suplex Brett Favre 10 yards back.
You see, video games have lost one of their greatest assets. Their fictional place. Everybody is so obsessed with being realistic, you forget you’re playing a game. Games are meant to be fun, fantastical and different than what we have. It’s a form of escapism for so many different people. You lose a bit of that when you bring in so much reality. Whenever my friends and I are playing 2K and we decide to make ourselves, we know we’ll never get that good. But when we play NBA Street, or NFL Blitz, or even Rocket League you can place yourself in that game. Because an arcade sports games you Feel Like Anything Can Happen. Because it can.
There’s a bit of a revival in arcade sports games going on right now. Mutant Football League is getting rebooted, Rocket League is one of the games around right now. And new arcade-style sports games are popping up as well. Games like Disc Jam or NBA Playgrounds. I’m sure that many more games will help revitalize arcade sports in the future.