Welcome to the JAM
I like sports. Correction: I like the idea of sports. But my complete inability to heft any kind of sports ball and send it where it needs to go is legendary among my friends, and mainstream sports coverage is way too sensational for my tastes. I don't need to know what publication is going to run LeBron James' announcement of his choice of pizza toppings, thank you very much. That's what makes video game sports so great--I can live out my fantasies in the comfort of my cheese doodle-encrusted t-shirts without dealing with all the baggage.
But there's another great thing about sports games: thanks to the magic of computers, we don't have to emulate them exactly as they are in real life. Basketball players with jet-packs? Absolutely! Zombies playing hockey? You bet! Dogs playing football? Uh, sure. The results aren't always great, but they're certainly strange--and they sure as hell beat watching cricket (seriously, how do you even play that?). What follows are some of the strangest, most bizarre sports games ever conceived. Enjoy.
Blitz: The League
The real sport (football): Two teams battle for possession of the pigskin (not actually made from pigskin), an oblong ball that teams throw and carry into the opponent's endzone. Americans call it football. The rest of the world calls it rubbish.
The video game take: Blitz: The League focuses on the "gritty, M-rated" side of the gridiron in an attempt to take the increasingly family-friendly sport and bring it back to its bone-crunching roots. The League rewards you for injuring other players with torn ACLs and bone fractures, and you can "juice" your own injured players with steroids to keep them in the game. Oh, and you can get the clap and give it to other players by playing online. It's fitting that this comes with an achievement that is forever tied to your Gamerscore the way a real STD is forever tied to your genitals.
Jerry Rice and Nitus' Dog Football
The real sport (football, with dogs): Every year, humans gather around the TV to watch the Super Bowl, a showdown between the two best teams in the NFL. On that same day, humans gather around to force dogs into playing the Puppy Bowl, a showdown between novelty and our very dignity.
The video game take: I honestly have no clue how this brilliant piece of shovelware came about, but I like to believe that ex-footballer Jerry Rice saw Air Bud 2 once and thought to himself, "I gotta get me a piece of that." And as that film so wisely taught us, there's no official rule that says a dog can't play football. Or soccer. Or hockey. Or any sport, really. In Jerry Rice and Nitus' Dog Football, you play football as dogs. There are dog puns. Gain enough yards and get a "fur-st down." Careful you don't go out of "bow-wow-nds!" while playing near the "Bark" de Triomphe! Help me, I think I'm in hell.
The real sport (golf): The object of golf is to take a clubbed stick and smack a tiny ball as hard as you can into a hole a half-mile away. Too easy? Let's throw in some sand pits, trees, and gargantuan lakes for good measure. Fashion sense is optional.
The video game take: As if golf wasn't already demented enough, Ribbit King says, "Hey, what if we switched out the ball for a live frog? And what if we made you use a giant mallet to launch those frogs toward a gaping hole?" Don't be fooled by its saccharine exterior--frolf (yep, frog golf) is a cruel sport, as you catapult hapless amphibians around lava pits and into giant spiderwebs for an extra bounce. The frogs don't seem to mind so much--surprising, considering you lob them with enough blunt force to shatter every bone in their bodies--but don't tell PETA what you're up to.
Rusty's Real Deal Baseball
The real sport (baseball): One dude throws a ball really fast at another dude, who tries to defend himself with a giant wooden stick. Spectating requires a three-beer minimum, but it's Bud Light, so you may as well drink your own urine.
The video game take: A down-on-his-luck pooch with extreme marital problems and unruly pups sells vaguely baseball-themed mini-games at a massive discount to try and keep his failing business afloat. Each game is purchased piecemeal, and if you're feeling particularly cheap, you can haggle down the real-world price by using items and coupons. Mini-games range from the simplistic (hitting back pitches from an anthropomorphic ball launcher) to the bizarre (smacking fly balls at passing UFOs). It's honestly one of Nintendo's most oddly fascinating efforts.
Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball
The real sport (volleyball): The chosen sport of greased-up aviators everywhere, volleyball tasks a team of players with spiking a giant leather ball into their opponents' faces. The sand lodged in your junk is a bonus.
The video game take: All of the Dead of Alive vixens have taken a sabbatical to Zack Island, and it's time for some fun in the sun! Watch as the girls have a nice lounge around the pool or a walk through the tropical beaches. No, they don't mind being photographed--they'll even pose for you, and let you buy them new bikinis or accessories to make them happy. Lei Fang really liked the yellow one, I wasn't sure if she would, but she was really excited when I gave it to her and--Oh, you can also play volleyball too. It's not great.
Mutant League Hockey
The real sport (hockey): A bunch of guys strap finely-sharpened blades onto their shoes and skate around on frozen water, beating up anyone in the immediate vicinity. Occasionally, a player decides to hit a small puck into the opposing team's net for points.
The video game take: Not much different from actual hockey, truth be told, but in Mutant League Hockey, all the players are undead skeletons, robots, and trolls. With an even greater emphasis on violent encounters, it lets you actually kill off the other team's players, forcing them to send in replacements. Hazards litter the rink, members of the crowd throw molotov cocktails, demonic goalies explode when scored on, and a giant slug that's basically a Lovecraftian Zamboni resurfaces the ice between periods. You know, now that I think about it, this sounds totally rad.
The real sport (tennis): Two people hit a ball back and forth over a net to a seemingly arbitrary scoring system while a crowd of stuffy rich people watches. 15, 30, 40, Love? Ok, sure, that makes sense.
The video game take: Outlaw Tennis was made during that period in the early 2000s when all you needed to sell a game was some visible skin and a frat-house sense of humor. It lets you play some uninspired tennis matches as a bunch of walking stereotypes (Kiku is a Japanese girl who loves anime! Bruce Liebowitz is a jewish ninja--get it?!?) who spout foul language, make lewd gestures, and generally act really crass. The fact that Stephen Colbert (before his stratospheric rise to fame) provides the voice of the announcer makes this whole thing even more surreal.
The real sport (soccer; or, as 98-percent of the world calls it, football): Two teams of 11 players run around a giant grassy field non-stop for 90 minutes while attempting to kick a ball into a net. Players are seemingly made of glass because they constantly fall down for no apparent reason. The world calls it football. America calls it rubbish.
The video game take: Inazuma Eleven is what you get when you let JRPG developer Level-5 mash up soccer with an episode of Dragonball Z. Mark Evans is a simple tween with simple dreams: to be a great soccer player like his legendary grandfather. In between dealing with school drama, he'll have to recruit a squad of fleet-footed strikers and learn a series of super-powered special moves--moves like a massive palm made of energy, or a giant swirling dragon. Just like real soccer.
Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball
The real sport (basketball): Two teams of five players bounce a ball (colloquially known as "the rock") across a court as they attempt to throw it into their opposing team's hoop for points. Don't grab the rim and break the backboard when you "slam dunk" the ball--you don't look cool doing it, and no one likes sweeping up glass.
The video game take: Know who Bill Laimbeer is? No? Neither did I until I looked him up. Turns out he was a player for the Detroit Pistons back in the 1980s who was notorious for knocking the ever-loving piss out of other players. He was so good at this that in the year 2030, he takes over the NBA, fires all the refs, throws a bunch of bombs and ninja stars on the court, and abolishes all the rules to turning basketball into a bloodsport. Well, all the rules except back court and out of bounds, of course. He's not that monstrous.
Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden
The real sport (basketball, part deux): Basketball is as much about the sport itself as it is the gargantuan personalities who play it. Or, LeBron James, anyway. It's pretty much all about LeBron James these days.
The video game take: It is the future. A Chaos Dunk has decimated Neo New York, killing millions. Basketball players (or "B-ballers") are being being systematically hunted down for fear that another cyberpocalypse will crush society under its rubber sphere. When another Chaos Dunk destroys Manhattan, ex-Phoenix Sun and all-around bad boy Charles Barkley stands accused, and must do everything he can to clear his name, atone for his sins, and save his son. And no, I'm not making any of this up. Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden is both a hilarious send-up of JRPG tropes and old-school sports games, and combines basketball timing with turn-based combat. The best part? You can download it for the fabulous price of zero dollars.
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis
The real sport (table tennis): Like actual tennis, but set on a smaller table where players use a plastic ball and wooden mallets. Somehow the game of bored college kids ended up an olympic sport.
The video game take: From the makers of hyper-violent power fantasies like Grand Theft Auto, State of Emergency, and Manhunt comes a respectful, tactful, surprisingly faithful representation of Forrest Gump's favorite sport. Eerily faithful. Like, "Why is the developer of a game that lets you run over legions of innocent pedestrians treating table tennis with such reverence" faithful. No super powers, no wacky mascots, no outlandish tables or hoops to hit stuff through. Just two people facing off in an empty, dimly lit room in front of a single green slab of wood and a cloth net. And those sounds. Pink. Ponk. Pink. Ponk. It's unnerving. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
The games of cyber-kings
When video games and sports combine, everyone's a winner--even me and my pitiful excuse for athleticism. Did we leave off your favorite futuristic curling game? Or perhaps there's a shuffleboard game set in medieval Japan you're quite fond of? Let me know in the comments below!
Are you a fan of "the sweet science," or do you just like seeing people get knocked the hell out? Take a gander at some of the most satisfying punches in video games. Or are you a gun-nut who also happens to be a pacifist? Then you'd be interested in our list of awesome video game guns that don't actually kill anyone.