The Best Sports Games of All Time

The sports gaming sector is one of the most popular of all gaming genres, and looking at the range of games that have been produced over the last 30 years, that is not surprising. 

Of course, sport is enduringly popular, particularly in a sports-mad nation like the US, and this has meant that games companies have been able to push the limits of what was previously thought possible in a sports game, secure in the knowledge that there would be a keen audience for it, whatever sporting arena it was based upon. 

The growth in the sports gaming sector has paralleled that of the sports betting sector, and both have been powered by ever-improving internet technology. The same tech that underlies online sports gaming lies behind the success of sports betting operations, and just as the number of sports games based around the NFL and other leagues has dramatically increased, so has the range of NFL betting sites, which are particularly busy ahead of the start of a new NFL season. 

To celebrate the sports gaming genre, we’ve put together a list of the five best sports games of all time. And with the NFL in mind, you won’t be surprised by the identity of the first franchise on our list:

Madden NFL 2003

Coming out a year before the classic NCAA football title mentioned later on, Madden NFL 2003 rates as arguably the best of the long-running NFL Madden franchise. Released on PS2, GameCube and Xbox, Madden NFL 2003 is one of the very best sports games of all time and was big gaming news at the time of its release in 2002. 

The game managed to do what too many franchise editions fail to achieve – it retained much that was great about previous titles and added new features. For a start, there was a major graphical overhaul and everything about the game looked like an upgrade on what came before, including the tweaked control system and the new features, which included a Minicamp mode, the chance to play as a full NFL franchise, and even Al Michaels on play-by-play announcing. 


The snowboarding series SSX may not grab the attention of sports fans these days, but in the days of PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, it was one of the most popular series around, and the third release, SSX3 is considered to be the best of those. 

In a snowboarding game, the quality of the trick system is everything and there was almost universal praise for the way in which it was handled in SSX3, as the third-person viewpoint made it possible for players to perform outrageous stunts. 

The game also provided impressive depth, offering a variety of characters to choose from and giving players the chance to play across a range of tournaments, earn money and discover collectibles. The game included more than 30 types of snow, and there was even an online multiplayer option for those who were able to play the game on PS2. 

NCAA Football 2004

The mid-2000s was a golden era for football games and NCAA Football 2004 was one of the best, capturing the intensity of college football rivalry in a way that few other games have ever matched. 

The game came out in July 2003 and built on all the top features of previous games in the series, including a huge range of fight songs and over 150 college teams. There was a Dynasty Mode that enabled you to play with the same team over several seasons, and a College Classics mode that gave you the chance to recreate famous college games from the past. 

The game animation itself including new moves such as the wide receiver double reverse and the halfback throwback, as well as all of the traditional college football pre-game hype, including elaborate introductions, cheerleaders, flag holders and mascots. 

ISS Pro Evolution 3

It is hard to imagine a world in which FIFA titles do not dominate the soccer gaming audience, but you don’t have to go back far to find ISS Pro Evolution regularly rivalling FIFA. The third entry in the ISS series dealt with some of the problems of the previous editions and delivered what is widely regarded as one of the best soccer games ever produced. 

It was a PS2 exclusive and although it didn’t have the full licensing power of FIFA, it did provide 16 clubs that were clearly based on the real world, laying the foundations for the system of modding that has become common among sports gaming fans. 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

The third instalment in the famous skating series will also go down as one of the very best sports games of all time. That a game based around skateboarding should have such success against the giants of the soccer, football and basketball worlds is remarkable, and is testament to the way that the developers crafted an absorbing game that all could enjoy. 

Released in October 2001, it was available across all consoles, and introduced many innovations, including online play and new tricks, such as the revert. It also included 13 real-life professional skaters, and a range of fascinating locations for players to show off their skills. 

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