The slew of titles EA Sports and EA Big release each year has tended to overshadow a few excellent offerings. Unfortunately many of the games I've listed here are relegated to sporadic updates at best, and some of their franchises have even completely died out. A damn shame; hopefully my list can shed some light on notable offerings from the past that, if you are bored with EA's latest yearly rehash, can provide you with years of fun at bargain basement prices.

I wondered if this game could do for basketball what the Blitz series did for football; although it couldn't quite match it in popularity, when the classic NBA on NBC theme blared from the arcade cabinet I knew it would be something special. Although excellent control, nice graphics and sharp sound get it by NBA Jam, unlike Blitz and Hitz the console edition of Showtime doesn't offer enough extra to beat the arcade version's superior feel. Still a classic, and I'll still drop $2 to play a full game when I see it.

It doesn't surprise me that it took a bit for a serviceable football version of NBA Jam to come out. 2-on-2 over the top basketball was possible to make fun on early 90s technology, but football would have been nigh-impossible (with of course, the exception of the #1 game on this list). 2-on-2 football would be no fun, but adding many more players than that would have probably taxed hardware too much, making for a choppy, unplayable and (most importantly) unfun game. Enter NFL Blitz. It did everything it needed to be the football version of NBA Jam: very quick graphics, classic commentary (although nothing entered the lexicon like BOOM SHAKA-LAKA) and an unmatchable fun factor. The N64 version gets the nod over the arcade for its season mode, and over the PSX version because of no loading and better graphics.

One of the best golf simulations of all time features Mario, Yoshi, and the gang swinging through the Mushroom Kingdom. Vivid, colorful courses, amazing golf mechanics and a great multi-player fun factor make Mario Golf a winner among golf aficionados and Mario fans alike. (One of the best parts about this game was a nearly perfectly balanced learning curve; it's very, very easy to pick up and play, and mastering it can take months. A few months ago, I finally got a birdie on every hole after owning the game for 7 years!)

I revere this series as the one that freed basketball loving gamers everywhere from the grip of the stagnant NBA Live franchise. NBA 2K revolutionized the genre with spot-on controls, and 2K1 refined them further with better graphics, sound, and most importantly, online play. (I would have thought the success of the Basketball 2K series would have either forced Live to change for the better or completely force the series out of the market. I was wrong on both counts, as Live continues to stagnate to this day. Meanwhile, the 2K series keeps improving every year.)

Why this over Blitz and Showtime? In the terms of *non-stop* fun, Hitz might just be #1 on this list. Blitz and Showtime can't match Hitz's up-and-down pace; some of the most tense multiplayer moments of my gaming life have come after a goal hasn't been scored for an entire period, my players have been knocked through the glass multiple times, and my superstar has been ejected for LOSING a fight. The XBOX version beats out the Arcade version because of extras, the PS2 because of loading times, and the GC version because of slightly better graphics.

Unlike NBA Live, Madden was NOT stagnant when NFL 2K was released. Madden's been consistently great for almost 20 years now, which is why I was skeptical that NFL 2K could make football on the Dreamcast worthwhile. I was a fool for doubting; the 2K "simu-cade" style of play was different enough from Madden yet still resembled a real game enough to make deep strategy a factor. And oh, the graphics. I can't think of another game that shocked me the way this one did the first time I saw it in motion. NFL 2K blew Madden 2000 out of the water in every way imaginable, and EA didn't catch up until Madden 2002 (the 2001 edition, while beautiful, was much too slow). The 2K1 offering gets the nod for its refined controls, a few glitch fixes, and revolutionary online play.

If you're looking for straight-up multiplayer fun, Virtua Tennis should be number one on your list. No other game on my top 10 (including the ones ranked higher than VT) can provide a 4-player blast the way this game can. Although the simplistic controls might make today's Topspin fans scoff, they actually mask an incredibly deep learning curve; it's similar to Mario Golf in that you can get good enough to hold your own in an hour, yet your skill level will increase exponentially the longer you play it. Virtua Tennis is in over Tennis 2K2 for superior sound; 2K2's additions were primarily cosmetic, and don't add enough to make up for the inexplicably worse sound.

Released near the end of the Saturn's life cycle, I wonder what could have been. Here was a genre that was REALLY scuffling; the Triple Play series never really got off of the ground, High Heat was way too in-depth for most, All-Star Baseball was decent but didn't get that baseball *feel* right, and Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest was just that-a slugfest that was too much blast and not enough small ball. Nearly everyone overlooked WSB '98, which is a shame, because I've yet to play a game that felt so natural and intuitive. A perfectly balanced pitcher-batter interface and responsive fielding controls combined with a great audio-visual atmosphere and accessible menus to produce a game that was fun to play AND manage. If only the game had allowed for trades and created characters - we might still be talking about WSB '98 today (a little like the #1 game on this list.)

I'm not a soccer fan in the least, but thanks to this game I know the difference between a stopper and a sweeper and the difference between Zone Press and Press Up. In short, ISS '98 is a game that is incredibly fun to pick up and play, but should you want to look deeper, it can open up an entire world to you. Through the incredibly fun gameplay, it pulls you in - you start to wonder just how much better at the game you could be if you learn the nuances of strategy. I didn't want to put many long-winded examples of great things in these games in my list, but ISS '98 simply has to be an exception: say you're getting consistenly burned by a quick forward. You can move to the strategy page and tell your biggest, toughest defender to mark him - then when he gets the ball, you can go for a steal, get a little rough with a slide tackle, or, if he's still pestering you, clobber him with a hard (almost) intentional foul. You might injure (injuries are handled amazingly by ISS '98) him, tire him out, or be ineffective. However, as a result of hitting him hard your player might get carded and ejected, leaving you with 10 players. You can go back to the strategy screen and move a midfielder back to defense, or change your entire formation to something more conservative that will negate the quicker opposition's advantage. In short, I've yet to find a game that blends what you do off the field with what happens on the field so well.

If you know me, then you had to know that Tecmo Super Bowl was going to be #1. It's not the graphics (great for its time), sound (also great for its time), strategy (amazingly deep considering your playbook consists of 8 offensive plays, 1 defensive formation, and punt and field goal formations), or at-the-time revolutionary features like a fully-playable season or 700 (697 to be exact) real NFL players that keep Tecmo Super Bowl fans hacking roms to make yearly updates and playing in online tournaments nearly 20 years later. It's not that the controls take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. It's not that the games are the perfect length to keep your attention while staying sufficiently deep, or the almost perfect balance between offense and defense. It's for the simple fact that no game matches the pure fun of Tecmo Super Bowl, and it's unlikely any ever will.

I love many of EA's offerings; Tiger Woods Golf, NCAA Football (2004 edition is by far the best), NBA Street and SSX are some of my personal favorites. But when they're pumped out year after year with reckless abandon, sometimes improvement goes by the wayside and games from the past that helped shape the modern state are forgotten. So if you find yourself bored (or disgusted, if you're an NBA Live 2007 owner) with the latest offerings of today, scour the bargain bin and sift through the piles of EA Sports games for some of these hidden gems; most can probably be had for under $10.

List by intsoccersuperstar (04/09/2007)

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