25 best sports games ever

We’re training for the Olympics with this selection of classic video games that take the sweat out of sport

FIFA 2012 (2011)

Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Xperia Play

Totting up how many hours you’ve spent playing sports games this year? We’d put good money on FIFA 12 coming out on top (see why in our FIFA 12 review). Bringing better defence timing and positioning tactics alongside more true-to-life player interactions thanks to EA’s Impact Engine, it’s no wonder Pro Evo has lost its edge. A football game more than worthy of a Stuff team tournament.

Wii Sports Resort (2009)

Nintendo Wii

Wii Sports Resort is the summery sequel to Nintendo’s original sporty Wii title – and joins Wii Sports as one of the best reasons to own a Wii. Play basketball, table tennis, golf and bowling with your mates in the collection that made number 29 in our Best Games Ever list. Plus someone at Ninty had the genius idea for power cruising and wakeboarding too.

Super Stickman Golf (2011)

iOS, Android

Our sports app offering comes in the shape of this simple 280 hole golf puzzler – you and your stick man can choose from plenty of power-ups and awesome moves like Ice Ball, Sticky Ball and Air Brakes (freezing the golf ball in mid-air). Super Stickman Golf is all completely free – if only golf could be like this is real life.

Leaderboard (1986)

Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST

Leaderboard makes our list for being the first game in Access Software’s golf simulation series and the predecessor to tons of Links Championship games and expansion packs that turned up during the 90s and 00s for PC, Mac and Xbox. Best known for the Commodore 64 port, Leaderboard controls of arrows to move and control to play are a world away from touchscreen swiping but just as fun.

Sensible World of Soccer (1994)

Amiga

Sensible Soccer was a breath of fresh air when it hit the shelves in 1992, its fast-paced play a winning riposte to the po-faced likes of Kick Off 2.

Sensible World of Soccer added leagues, a career game and pro teams – giving the game a sense of depth alongside the fun and frolics.

QWOP (2008)

PC

Said by some to be the hardest game ever made, QWOP puts you in the shoes of a 100m sprinter whose calf and thigh muscles you control with the Q, W, O and P keys. Without carefully-timed keystrokes, poor Qwop will hurtle face-first into the tarmac. Even if you master the correct sequence, his gait is less graceful swan and more interpretive dance. Whatever it is, it’s utterly addictive. Play it here

Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (1984)

Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum   

Based on Konami classic Track & Field, Daley Thompson's Decathlon destroyed many a joystick as players furiously waggled their way through the 100m sprint, long jump and punishing 1500m events. Until Wii Sports came out, it was possibly the only computer game to burn significant calories as you played.

Punch Out!! (1987)

NES

This NES adaptation of the boxing arcade game stripped back the graphics and let you pound on Glass Joe to your heart's content in the comfort of your own home. Which was all well and good, but then your got to face the final boss – Mike Tyson (added to the console version of the game) – and found yourself looking like a mug as he battered you senseless.

Madden NFL 12 (2011)

Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, iOS, Android

The 12th edition of American Football classic Madden NFL comes charging at you with 25 plays added for your violent pleasures. If plays means nothing to you, fear not, Madden is a great way to learn the game, and this version – with an addictive soundtrack, Franchise mode for buying players as a manager, and rookies with real faces – is the best Madden to date. Umpire’s decision is final.

Brian Lara Cricket ’99 (1999)

PlayStation, PC

Brian Lara was one of the greatest batsmen in cricket, and this version of his game is just as impressive. This was its first appearance on shiny PlayStation CD. Unlike the DOS and Mega Drive versions before it, this Brian Lara featured full 3D environments, motion-captured players and intelligent opponents. It was so addictive the famous afternoon tea break was the only thing that stopped you knocking them for six all night long.

Jonah Lomu Rugby (1997)

PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC

Not only was this rubgy-brilliance endorsed by All Blacks winger and legend Jonah Lomu, it was also the first rugby game on PlayStation. If you were lucky enough to have four controllers you could play international teams with a group of mates all at once, even replaying real-life games. But what made it truly brilliant was the “hilarious” commentary: “Oh! Mercy me! What a tackle! That could've put him in Ward 4!" "I hope not, Bill, that's a maternity ward!".

Virtua Tennis (2000)

Dreamcast

Some of the most stunning and realistic graphics to grace an arcade came with Virtua Tennis, coupled with explosively action-packed game play. Then it was ported to Dreamcast in 2000 where it was thankfully just as good, and even had four player mode. All great, except you had to own a Dreamcast to play it.

More after the break...

NHL 12 (2011)

PS3, Xbox 360

The virtual game of hockey is, frankly, better than the real thing – because in this version you can actually follow the puck. Plus there’s full on fighting like the real thing. Minus the bruises. And if that’s not enough realism for you, NHL Winter Classic is thrown in, so you can play games from the real annual tournament. In fact there’s a total of over 300 improvements, making this the best hockey game on ice.

California Games (1987)

Commodore 64 (and many others)

While the yoof of today think Nintendo is responsible for the birth of game compilations, Epyx was well ahead of the crowd with its California Games sports mash-up. Which probably means your Dad was skateboarding, surfing, roller skating and executing stunts on his BMX way before the majority of today's young even knew what a games console was. And while today's generation would throw their heads back with uncontrollable laughter at the mere sight of those pixilated graphics, they were the height of awesomeness back in the 80s.

Kinect Sports (2010)

Xbox 360

Transforming your living room into a stadium, bowling alley or football pitch is a luxury Kinect Sports brought to the gaming arena. Well, that and getting our lazy backsides off the sofa. The motion-controlled sports collection doesn't do much for solo players, but amongst friends it’s bags of fun. Whether you’re a sports nut or a wheezing sofa spud – there’s fun times to be had by all.

Flick Soccer (2011)

iOS, Android

Paper Toss proved that flicking scrunched up bits of paper into a bin comes with a side serving of addiction. Flick Soccer comes with the same addictive qualities, but in place of a bin and oscillating fan, you get a goal, goalie and various configurations of defenders actively attempting to prevent your ball from reaching its target. After-touch ball control makes Flick Soccer a bit more sophisticated than competitors like Flick Kick football, and promises to bring out your competitive streak.

Top Spin 4 (2011)

PS3, Xbox 360, Wii

Top Spin 4 adopts a more patient approach to tennis, teaching you the full selection of shots, along with the strategy and skill needed to execute them, while visual indicators attempt to make the game easy to grasp whatever your skills. Chuck in some brand spanking new animations and you’re looking at 2K’s best version yet. We’ve come a long way since the days of twiddling a dial to bat a square ball back and forth.

Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (2004)

PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC

Pro Evo 4 won the heart of many a footie fan with its realistic gameplay and introduction of a few fully licenced leagues and on-pitch referees. We fondly remember spending hours upon hours in living room tournaments, shouting, celebrating and screaming at our telly in gruelling battles of male pride. FIFA 2005 never stood a chance.

NBA Jam (1993)

Arcade

NBA Jam’s two-vs-two head-to-head multiplayer mode and over-the-top arcade style combined with it being one of the first games to offer a fully licensed sports league resulted in the arcade version netting a whopping US$1bn in its first year. Throw in its responsibility for the popularisation of phrases like ‘He’s on fire!’ and you have yourself a classic sports game gem.

Championship Manager 97/98 (1997)

PC

Championship Manager’s in-depth database editor, nine European playable leagues and added control over tactics increased its vice-like grip over blokes up and down the nation, much to the dismay of their significant others. Maybe Chelsea’s Villas-Boas could have a quick session to sort out the Blues’ present-day form?

Football Manager 2010 handheld (2010)

iPhone/iPod Touch

Football Manager 2010 was released on Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch for £7 (a far cry from the £0.69 games available now), but was it worth your money? The fact that it was as addictive as Class A narcotics strongly suggests it very much was (as did our Football Manager 2010 handheld review). Based on the 1998-era Championship Manager with a 20,000-strong database of modern players, it was simply irresistible to all virtual dugout regulars.

PGA Tour Golf (1991)

Mega Drive

Originally built as a DOS golf sim, PGA Tour Golf came of age on Sega’s console before pairing up with Tiger Woods to become one of the biggest money-spinners in gaming. Where Tiger’s private antics became too much for many endorsees, EA hung in there and is releasing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 in March 2012. We’ll be in the queue.

Grand Prix Legends (1998)

PC

Gripping stuff Grand Prix Legends wasn’t. True to its 1967 era GP simulation, it was stripped of such cheats as traction control and steering assist, pitting the driver against the track in a true test of skill and nerve. Granted, failing to keep the car the right way up was less deadly on your PC, but we applaud GP Legends’ raw driving appeal.

Sega Rally (1995)

Arcade

You can park your greatest rally sim argument where the sun don’t shine (the early morning Norwegian rally stage, perhaps). Sega Rally’s mud-slinging playability and straight-up driving kicks drove it so deep into the hearts of race sim afficionados’ hearts, you can still find beaten up old arcade cabinets in the dustier corners of Gamesville’s better bars.

Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker (1991)

Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Mega Drive

Although its makers had gone to great lengths to make Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker as true to playing on the green baize as possible, it wasn’t without quirks. Even gin-soaked Jimmy might have raised a quizzical eyebrow as a red ball started taunting him for taking too long over a shot. Thankfully Chas ‘n’ Dave’s Snooker Loopy was omitted from the soundtrack.

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