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The 10 Most Influential Sports Video Games of All Time


Madden NFL 19 was released on Aug. 10 and opinions differ on whether this version is better than last year’s. No one, however, can deny the franchise’s influence on the video game world.

Madden and all sports video games are the best they have ever been, but there were many groundbreaking efforts that got us to this point. Here are the 10 most influential sports video games of all time.

10. Blades of Steel (Konami) – 1987

The first major hockey video game for the Nintendo offered tournaments, power plays, and best of all, fighting. It showed what was possible and influenced the development of future ice hockey games.

9. Cabela’s Big Game Hunter (HeadGames) – 1998

This first iteration was not well received by critics, but future versions improved significantly and gave folks the thrill and excitement of hunting big game without having to get up early or even leave their basement.

8. Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One (Electronic Arts) – 1983

Better known as One on One, anyone with an Apple II could partake in a showdown between these all-time greats. The game’s popularity put Electronic Arts on the map and gave them the finances and influence to develop other games like Madden NFL and PGA Tour.

7. PGA Tour (EA Sports) – 1990

PGA Tour has been the gold standard for golf video games since the early days of Sega Genesis and is better known as Tiger Woods PGA Tour (It’s now Rory McIlroy PGA Tour). And with the exception of The Godfather: Black Hand, no other game seems as tailor-made for the Nintendo Wii as this one.

6. NCAA March Madness (EA Sports) – 1998

Like its sister game, NCAA FootballMarch Madness allowed gamers to take the court with the actual likenesses of the players on college teams. It also got the attention of former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon, who sued the NCAA and Electronic Arts and won a settlement for compensating players. Both games have since been discontinued.

5. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (Nintendo) – 1987

Nintendo of America founder Minoru Arakawa attended a Mike Tyson fight and decided he would be the perfect final challenge for the newly developed Punch-Out!! He signed Tyson to a three-year licensing deal and placed him at the end of a "murderers' row" of colorful characters that included Glass Joe and Bald Bull. When Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was released, Tyson was at the height of his dominance and the game was a smash. Tyson’s license expired in 1990 and Nintendo replaced his likeness with the fictional Mr. Dream, but the franchise still remains popular.

4. Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo) – 1991

While we all have a soft spot for the original Tecmo Bowl, its successor was more revolutionary because it was the first game to have licensing agreements with both the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA). This meant Nintendo owners could play 16-game seasons with actual NFL teams and players and keep stats and records. So popular is the game that players still compete in it in tournaments across the country.

3. MLB: The Show (Sony Computer Entertainment) – 2006

Baseball games existed before this franchise’s arrival, but MLB: The Show took the genre to a new level with its functionality and realism. Its success forced all baseball game developers to improve their product as well.

2. Wii Sports (Nintendo) – 2006

Included with the newly developed Nintendo Wii, players could literally try their hand at baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis. Once they saw what was possible with Wii Sports, they went out and bought more Wii games.

1. Madden NFL (EA Sports) – 1988

Originally launched as John Madden Football, this game got licensing agreements with both the NFL and NFLPA in 1993 and changed its name to Madden NFL. The rest is history. It went on to be the most influential video game of all time, setting the model for all league sports games. While fans may quibble over each edition every year, no one will deny the franchise’s greatness. But what about the so-called Madden curse?

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.