It’s been a curious 12 months in the best sports games of 2019 department. WWE 2K20 was terrible - the worst triple-A release of the entire genre in this generation. Stablemate NBA 2K20 misses out on our top ten, too: for the first time in years, Visual Concepts’ b-baller felt more formulaic than fantastic, and it’s a similar story for PES 2020. (Is anyone, anywhere, still calling it ‘eFootball’?) Thankfully, a couple of pleasant surprises managed to upset the formbook - as you’ll shortly discover in our rundown of the best sports games released in 2019.
10. Madden NFL 20
EA’s gridiron sim has been due a rebuild for half a decade, and this year saw it kickstarted at last. In recent times the series has struggled to capture the feel of controlling elite players such as Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes; a system called X-Factors resolves that drawback in Madden 20, with powerful traits unlocked via tangible in-game actions. Off-field upgrades are there too: Ultimate Team made noob-friendly, Face of the Franchise revitalising career mode, the Pro Bowl’s return. It falls short of its PS2 heyday, but should still be commended for a bold, innovative turnaround.
9. Ring Fit Adventure
This may be stretching the definition of "sports game" slightly, but Ring Fit Adventure is a revolution when it comes to fitness. Wii Fit shocked the world with the introduction of the balance board, but ultimately it was just a series of minigames. Ring Fit Adventure combines athletics and working out with one simple goal: stop Drageux and save the world, defeating enemies and getting fit along the way. The Ring-Con accessory is truly genius, creating the most enjoyable way to exercise the industry has seen. Now we just want to use the Ring-Con to play Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild…
8. FIFA 20
FIFA Street is a fan favourite of the series from the PS2 era, and in an effort to modernise short-sided football in video games, Volta was created in its image. Replacing Alex Hunter's story in The Journey, you take your created player up through the ranks of street football all over the globe - and it’s highly enjoyable. The core 11v11 game has been built upon since last year's title too, and despite the replacement of Juventus with Piemonte Calcio, Ultimate Team is still FIFA 20's flagship mode with brand new seasonal objectives, challenges, and easier-to-access elite tier players.
7. MLB The Show 19
Unquestionably the noughties’ finest sports series, Sony exclusive The Show suffered a dip in form upon the jump to PS4 - clearly struggling for original ideas after exhausting its options last gen. That fallow period is officially over following an edition that re-tooled fielding to make the best players in the business feel genuinely special at saving runs, and the new March To October mode. Offering a season in microcosm where you only play key moments, it encapsulates the feel of a realistic franchise mode without having you put your life on hold for a 162-game season. Sublime.
6. F1 2019
The magic of F1 2019 isn’t F1. Paradox, much? A stalwart of console racing going back to its Sony-owned days on PS1, the Codemasters era felt more Toro Rosso than Ferrari until this year’s introduction of the F2 Championship. Suddenly, career mode is a must-play, with a campaign of F2 racing to enjoy before you can mix it with the big boys. Ingeniously, two fictional characters graduate with you, triggering cut-scene driven rivalries that endure through your F1 career. A comeback so tremendous it could only be topped by Nigel Mansell lining up at Melbourne next March.
5. Football Manager 2020
Anyone that doesn't play Football Manager struggles to see the appeal of it. A bunch of colourful spreadsheets where you don't actually control your team during matches seems baffling to most, but for those that do play, FM (and its predecessor, ‘Champman’) is like a religion. There's no better feeling than taking your local club to the top of the footballing pyramid and Football Manager 2020 features a compellingly deep yet intricate look at how to run a football club and the difficulties it entails. It's a must-play for any aspiring gaffer.
4. NHL 20
Named GamesRadar’s best sports game in 2018, the supremely polished puck-smacker falls short of a second straight Stanley Cup - but there’s still much to be positive about in NHL 20. While other annual sims are loathe to rework key gameplay elements so close to next-gen, EA Canada subtly overhauls its shooting mechanic with a raft of new animations and trademark real-life styles. Presentation evolves too, via two new commentators, fresh overlays, and the brilliant Play Of The Game feature, providing super slo-mo replays of key goals or big saves. Not this year’s champion, but still pucking great.
3. DiRT Rally 2.0
Codies’ dirty racer may be the best rally simulator of all time. It's a bold claim, but since the first days of World Rally Championship 2001 and the TOCA Touring Car Championship on the PS1, the rally genre has constantly been evolving, leading up to this moment. A revamped weather system, licensed tracks throughout the globe, a deep team and vehicle management system, and so much more make DiRT Rally 2.0 the optimal choice for any off-road enthusiast - provided you're content to go without the WRC affiliation.
2. Out Of The Park Baseball 20
There’s nary a sports fan on the planet who hasn’t heard of Football Manager - yet it’s been surpassed by a less famous name once owned by the same studio. SI Games published OOTP from 2005 to 2007, before it was returned to Markus Heinsohn - the German mastermind of every OOTP since its 1999 conception. The ability to import saves from previous editions, play historic seasons going back to 1900, and start your game from any point in the 2019 campaign - with real-life stats accurate to that exact date - add up to the consummate sports management sim.
1. Lonely Mountains Downhill
The year’s best sports game is one you’ve almost certainly never played - and you need to rectify that as quickly as possible. Juxtaposing gruesome deaths with breathtaking scenery, you speed-run a cube-man biker through four mountains worth of challenging, enduring courses. Each demise is brutal, and hilarious, and informative: an individual learning experience as you constantly refine your routes, seeking to obliterate your best time instead of your kneecaps. Controls are simple yet deft, unlockables generous, nights spent having “just one more race” plentiful. It is, in every sense, bloody brilliant.