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A definitive ranking of the best sports computer games ever made

Disagree? You’re wrong.

IT’S A BANK holiday Monday.

A time for reflection, a time to consider the important things in life.

And a time to painstakingly rank the top-20 sporting computer games of all time.

As always, this ranking is final and definitive.*

*Feel free to disagree in the comments section, just don’t call me names, okay?

20. California Games – Multiple formats

Source: William Hunter/YouTube

A skateboarding, freestyle footbag, surfing, roller-skating, frisbee and BMX game all in one? This 1987 gem also boasted an incredible electro-soundtrack.

19. Nagano Winter Olympics – N64

An oft-forgotten classic, Nagano is another game that benefits from being multi-discipline, giving you every reason to come back to the game.

18. Colin McCrae Rally – PS1

Source: AzNstat/YouTube

The first in a number of racing games on our list, Colin McCrae was the first — and some would say only — rally simulator to really capture the attention of a gaming audience.

17. Mario Kart – N64

The first of our top-20 that really requires more than one person to play, Mario Kart was the introduction to racing games for many of us of a certain age.

16. Road Rash – Sega Mega Drive

Source: Cryo/YouTube

Three racing games in a row, but this is the only motorcycle game on our list.  Whether your racing along the Pacific Coast Highway, Sierra Nevada or Napa Valley, kicking your opponent or using a chain, Road Rash was as good as it got in the nineties.

15. Madden 04 – PS2

A sports game that no only let you play football, but also take control of a team, change its location and set the hot dog prices. What’s not to love? Still the best of the Madden series.

14. Fight Night Round 3 – XBox

Source: frogstick/YouTube

As with a lot of games on this list, it’s about picking the best of a series rather than six games from any given one. With a tricky — but importantly, not impossible — career mode and making it much easier to judge just how tired/strong you are during a bout, Fight Night Round 3 redefined boxing games.

13. Daley Thompson’s Decathlon – C64

The game that broke a thousand joysticks, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon is possibly the only athletics game that is a matter of life and death as players are only given three lives  to complete the 10 events. Failure to qualify from three of the 10 events – 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, pole vault, discus, javelin and 1500m — means starting all over again. .

12. TOCA Touring Car Championship – PS1

Source: Retro Gaming Network/YouTube

The best of the racing genre bar one, which we’ll get to later, the original TOCA is based on the 1997 edition of the British Touring Car Championship and, while we admit that sounds really, really boring, the game is as challenging as it is rewarding. A true, but oft-forgotten, classic.

11. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – PS1

Despite having many follow-ups, the original of the Tony Hawk series remains the best. Users can play as one of 11 players, including the Birdman himself, and the game managed to turn a lot of Irish kids into skateboarders.

10. SSX 3 – PS2

Source: GXZ95/YouTube

After doing for snowboarding what Tony Hawk did for skateboarding in both SSX and SSX Tricky, SSX 3 took the franchise, quite literally, to new heights by doing away with linear courses. Instead, players started on top of a mountain and let them go from there.

9. NBA Jam – Sega Mega Drive

The beauty of NBA Jam is its simplicity. An eight-direction d-pad and three buttons were all you needed to play in the two-on-two format. Score three-in-a-row and you’d set the ball and net on fire. BOOM-SHAKALAKA

8. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 - XBox

Source: IGN/YouTube

When this edition of Tiger Woods — better known as Tiger Woods Masters — was released, the titular character was just three years removed from his last Major. What makes this version stand out from its predecessors is that it finally featured Augusta National Golf Club and the debut of the voice of US golf, Jim Nantz

7. Wii Sports – Nintendo Wii

A game that literally changed the way we play sports games, few things to this day feel as satisfying as bowling a strike or firing an inch-perfect volley down the baseline in tennis. It’s probably best to close the curtains as you’re playing though because you do look a bit of an eejit.

6. Gran Turismo 2 – PS1

Source: Jan ツ/YouTube

Very, very unlucky not to crack the top-five, GT2 remains the pinnacle of racing games some 18 years after its release. Ostensibly a racing game; having to earn licences, pay drivers and earn trophies to unlock new modes, means it is so much more than that. And then there is that soundtrack.

5. Tecmo Super Bowl – NES

I’m not going to lie, as your regular NFL correspondent I pushed for this mostly because it’s not Madden, nor ever dreamed of being. Though it looks simple, Tecmo is infuriatingly difficult to master, but incredibly rewarding when you do.

4. NHL 94 – Super Nintendo

Source: Tickenest/YouTube

It is a bit odd that the National Hockey League had EA Sports remove fighting from future versions of the game while still allowing it to happen in real life. This was the first game to feature real players too, one of whom – Jaromir Jagr — is still playing in the NHL today at the age of 45.

3. Fifa International Soccer – Sega Megadrive

The original and the best of the Fifa franchise. If you didn’t spend many afternoons in the company of Germany’s hotshot striker Brian Plank as he put nine goals past a helpless Qatari goalkeeper, can you say you’ve truly lived?

2. Jonah Lomu Rugby – PS1

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

We love this game so much in The42 Towers, we made a video about it last year. We’ll let that do all the talking.

1. Championship Manager 01/02 – PC

In the 24 years since the release of the first Championship Manager — or Football Manager to you kids – game, there have been many versions.

Nothing, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, compares to the 01/02 edition that put Cherno Samba at the heart of your team and allowed you to play half a season in about the length of time it takes to watch an actual football match (as long as the game went to extra-time).

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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