Rules are made to be broken.
Reality is overrated. Too often do we prop games up on a pedestal for their 'realism' and the amount thereof. Personally, I don't give a flip about how many pores you can count on Nathan Drake's backside, or how accurately the latest racer simulates my worn-out brake pads. Give me over-the-top, gravity-defying action. Give me 'cartoon violence' on my ESRB rating. Give me chaos.
In no other genre is the schism between realism and reality more apparent than in the sports genre. From football to wrestling to automobile racing, each one of these activities has been translated into the realm of video games. But while some strictly adhere to the rules and restrictions of their source material (including silly things like gravity) others have taken a more... liberal approach. Here are 10 examples of games that kicked realism to the curb and put a new twist on our favorite pastimes.
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is a ruse. What appears to be a cartoonish-looking boxing game is, in fact, a cleverly-disguised rhythm-puzzle game. It has little interest in adhering to the rules and play style of actual boxing, and instead focuses more on pattern recognition and learning your opponent. And it's a blast to play. When you get into the rhythm and are able to shut down your opponent before he can even throw a punch, that's a good feeling.
How it tops reality: The eccentric characters. The Punch-Out series doesn't have the most culturally sensitive lineup of cartoon pugilists, but it has graced us with many memorable mooks. Bald Bull. King Hippo. Soda Popinski. These fighters have only minutes of screen time, but each made a lasting impression. Though Italian boxer Pizza Pasta, who appeared only in the arcade version, may push it a bit too far.
NBA Jam nails that sweet spot between fantasy and reality in a way few sports games have before or since. It elegantly distills basketball down to everyone's two favorite moments: sweet dunks and stylish three-pointers. It may feature real NBA players playing on a real court with real squeaky shoe sounds, but the action is anything but realistic.
How it tops reality: Flaming slam dunks from half court. NBA Jam limits you to only two players per team, but those two players have the strength of 20 men between them. We're talking full-court chest passes, backboard-shattering dunks, and firing off flaming basketballs when one of your players is "on fire." Boom shakalaka, indeed.
Mutant League Football
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only football. There is no peace among the players, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of corrupt referees. Mutant League Football answers the age-old question of what would happen if we gave American football a real death metal makeover. The result: a hell of a lot more zombies, skeletons, land mines, and explosions - a vast improvement all around.
How it tops reality: It's post-apocalyptic football. Apparently, after some sort of thermonuclear disaster befell the Earth and transformed us all into mutants, we were left with an insatiable desire to play football. And play we shall - to the death even - until every other team is pounded into rubble. Just make sure all the players on your side don't get killed first, or you'll have to forfeit.
Super Baseball 2020
Holy crap, you guys. We only have five more years to get our butts in gear if we want to live up to Super Baseball 2020's idyllic, neon-colored vision of the future. When I'm busy ignoring a baseball game while eating alone at my neighborhood Applebee's, I can't help but notice the distinct lack of jet packs, robots, or women on the field. However, there is a money-for-upgrades system present in both Super Baseball 2020 and the MLB that's basically spot-on.
How it tops reality: Robotic players. It's comforting to think that, in just five short years, robotics will be so sophisticated and so widely available that it will have entered the world of professional sports. If we can do that, what's stopping us from having robotic barbers or piano teachers? In fact, let's just replace ALL the humans with robots!
NFL Blitz is a sophisticated man-tackling simulator loosely based on the rules for American football. In this sim, two groups of 11 gigantic, nearly-identical men line up in parallel rows facing one another. Then someone gets thrown a ball, and everyone starts tackling each other while grunting. This lasts until either everyone has been tackled to the ground, or one of the players (somehow) scores a touchdown.
How it tops reality: Wrestling and football collide. Nearly all football fans will recognize the 'standard' tackle, but NFL Blitz also supported a number of more creative tackling techniques. Inspired by the world of professional wrestling, these techniques included everything from German suplexes to elbow drops. Also a lot of grunting.
I'm going to level with you, I know nothing about professional snowboarding. What little I do know is that snowboarding is an olympic sport, and that sometimes people call the snow 'powder'. However, I feel confident stating that real snowboarding probably lacks a lot of the spectacle found in SSX Tricky. The game's fireworks budget alone could probably finance a small nation. But it isn't all flash. Tricky packs plenty of substance to back up its outrageous style.
How it tops reality: Insane course designs. SSX Tricky is probably best remembered for its star-studded cast of outlandish characters (including David Arquette as hippie snowboarder Eddie), however the game's track designs were just as nuts. Each one was packed with hidden routes and huge drops that made them a delight to challenge again and again. Oh, and giant, plate-glass signs. The game loved making you crash through plate-glass signs.
Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation
It's difficult to imagine how one could make the world of professional wrestling any more nuts than it already is, but Japan found a way. Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation - and the entire Ultimate Muscle franchise - is a vehicle for having otherworldly creatures (people?) wrestle each other. Ever wonder who would win in a matchup between a giant man-walrus and a dude who transforms into different chess pieces? You didn't? Well too bad!
How it tops reality: I didn't have you at 'giant man-walrus'? Ultimate Muscle applies over-the-top anime logic to professional wrestling. This means it's no longer sufficient to body slam someone. You must first lift the person 20 feet into the air, trap him or her in a full-body lock, and then crash down into the mat while screaming the name of this new attack - bonus points for destroying the ring.
Super Mario Strikers
When discussing Super Mario Strikers it's important to note this is the game where - when performing a 'mega strike' - Princess Peach flies into the air, sprouts pink, magical angel wings, and launches a volley of four soccer balls at the goalie. Yeah, it's a little odd. While the game itself is a simplified version of soccer, layered on top are all the fixings you'd expect from a Mario sports game, turtle shells and all.
How it tops reality: Teams usually score more than once, which isn't that difficult thanks to all the charge-shot, Dragon Ball Z-flavored nonsense flying around. Seriously, everyone in this game has a move that involves them powering up while looking uncharacteristically menacing. And if that wasn't good enough, there are plenty of items - such as green shells and bananas - that knock the other team around just as well.
Outlaw Tennis wanted to put the 'extreme' back into 'extreme sports'. The game simply oozes misguided attempts at edginess and sophomoric humor from every pore. Dudes getting hit in the balls? Check. A veritable grab bag of cultural stereotypes? Check. A roster of rail-thin ladies sporting the FCC-required minimum of clothing? Oh, you better believe it. Also there was maybe some actual tennis in there somewhere.
How it tops reality: While Outlaw Tennis has few redeeming qualities, it does let you periodically beat the crap out of the other players, which is something more tennis games should really adopt. It also features a young Stephen Colbert as the game's announcer (what?) and this amazing rock anthem about life as an outlaw tennis star (if you're at work be sure to play this really loud).
Blur is the fabled missing link between kart racing and motorsports. It brings the familiarity of driving real, licensed cars and deftly combines it with the item-based havoc of Mario Kart. If you've ever felt the sting of road rage while playing a Forza or Need for Speed, and quietly prayed to the gods of motorsport to give you the means to smite your fellow driver, then Blur has you covered. Specifically, it has glowing red rockets that can blow that pesky Ford Focus right off the race track. Good riddance.
How it tops reality: Real cars plus power-ups. It's simply a fact of life that power-ups make any activity even better. Go on, try and think of an activity that wouldn't immediately be a million times cooler if you also had, say, a speed boost, or some lightning mines, or a handy auto-repair. Yeah, that's what I thought.
As you can see, once you cast off the yolk of 'realism' and embrace the infinite possibilities video games have to offer, there are all sorts of creative twists you can put on classic sports. And while there is certainly a place for the more pure, dedicated simulations, I'd love to see more of the goofy crap we just covered. Just don't try any of these ideas while playing in the school yard.