Top NFL Video Games of All Time
NFL video games are perhaps the most controversial of all sporting titles. The barrage of predictable criticism the Madden series receives for its shortcomings doesn’t correlate to a drop off in sales. In fact, each year, Madden games are the most popular sporting titles in North America and sell well in unexpected markets such as Europe and Australia, and with Madden 25 (14) just around the corner, the time is perfect to recap the top 10 NFL video games of all time!
10. Madden 95 (Sega Mega Drive/ Genesis)
Madden 95 for the Mega Drive (Genesis) was perhaps the most revolutionary NFL video game of all time. It was the first Madden game to feature both the NFL team logo and NFLPA licenses which were huge steps at the time. But perhaps even more importantly was the removal of passing windows. In all Madden games prior to the 95 edition, gamers were limited to the passing window mechanic
As you can see, the ability to see down the field was greatly impeded by this system. Madden 95 changed this with the removal of it and has never looked back. The game also featured dynamic weather conditions (making it hard to throw in the wind and rain) and hot streaks, all of which was documented by John Madden himself during the pre-game show. Madden 95 was the crowning sports game of the entire generation.
9. Madden 2000 (PS1/ PC/ N64)
Madden 2000 was the first (and only) title on the PlayStation one to feature a full franchise mode complete with an off season schedule of retiring players, free agents and drafting of A.I. created players. It also featured a limited variety of classic teams. Due to licensing issues, however, the names of the legends couldn’t be used. This detriment impacted on some of the nostalgic value, but the feature still provided plenty of replay value. The game also the only in the series to legitimately tried to offer an alternative to the sim heavy game type by introducing an arcade mode.
8. NFL 2K (Dreamcast)
Following the decision (not, not THAT decision. Relax, Lebron) from EA Sports to not produce any of their games for the Sega Dreamcast, Sega countered by launched Visual Concepts to create NBA and NFL games. The very first game of the series blew gamers away not just with the impressive graphics and animations, but the never-seen-before AI. For the first time in any sports game, on any platform, the A.I. was actively taking notes on your gameplay and making adjustments accordingly. In short, you could no longer rely on running the “off-tackle” play on 3rd down each and every time. Football, and sports game in general, would never be the same again
7. Madden 2001 (PS2)
Madden 2001 was the first instalment onto the new generation of systems and considering the expectations created not just from their previous titles, but their new competitor in Sega, it would have been very easy for them to not live up to the hype. This did not happen, however, as Madden 2001 delivered one of the finest launch sporting titles ever produced. The graphics and physics were second to none and was complimented with a brilliant franchise mode.
6. Madden 2003
Madden 2003 ushered in Al Michaels to replace Pat Summerall as the new play by play man alongside John Madden. The game also introduced a new minicamp training mode which allowed gamers to take control of all player positions to work on specific skills. But what Madden 2003 will be remembered for is the general improvements to each important component of the game. As mentioned before, the commentary team was completely rebuilt. A new audio engine delivered appropriate commentary based on current game situation and player/team statistics. The greater use of on-field player sounds, including player banter, offensive and defensive audible calls, crushing hits and improved crowd reaction sounds all added significantly to the audio experience. The presentation and graphics was also improved with new signature player animations like sidearm QB passes, gang-tackling, stand-still receiver catches and additional emotion-based bench scenes. Franchise mode was enhanced with the ability to evaluate and progress rookies, free agents and created players during a four-game pre-season, Rookie Scouting Reports serve as a new way to evaluate rookies and thirty years of player progression logic with full career stats and enhanced computer managed team logic for trades and drafting.
5. Tecmo Bowl
This is the game that really started it all. Before the days of complicated playbooks, this game had 2 running plays and 2 passing plays. That was it, and it felt like it was more than enough. Despite the limited variation (especially when compared to games of the last 10 years), the gameplay felt like a football representation of chess. If the defense picked the appropriate play to counter what the offense was doing, a huge chunk of yards could be lost. Conversely, if they got it wrong, a huge gain could be had. What happened after the snap was in many ways irrelevant, so the importance on getting the right call was critical.
The games lasting legacy, however, might just be how fondly gamers remember the virtual representation of those players. The Tecmo version’s of Bo Jackson, Lawrence Taylor and Randall Cunningham all became cult figures in their own right due to how unstoppable they were in the game. Just like it is impossible to compile a list of the top NBA players without Bill Russell, Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl also needed to be included in the top 10 football video games of all time.
4. NFL 2K1 (Dreamcast)
Following up on its ground breaking debut, Visual Concepts took the NFL 2K series to a completely new height with 2k1. New animations, better graphics, an entirely new franchise mode that is good enough to rival that of Madden’s and online multiplayer, NFL 2K1 was completely before it’s time. Just stop and think about that for a second: this game was released in 2000 and had virtually lag free online gameplay on a 56k modem. I’m not sure about you, but my mind is blown when I think about that. This game could easily have been #1 on this list due to how ahead of its time it truly was.
3. Madden 11
Most recent versions of Madden have been widely criticised for not being innovative enough, that they have become complacent due to the fact that with the exclusive NFL licensing there is no legitimate competition. This could not be said for Madden 11. The game featured online team play (3 vs. 3 online multiplayer) along with Madden Ultimate Team (a way to construct your own personalised NFL team through obtaining players via player packs. The game also saw additions and improvements to various elements of the game ranging from collision physics to the addition most exciting commentator in all of sports, Gus Johnson. But perhaps the biggest improvement was that to the Madden Moments mode, where the final challenge was so difficult and memorable (literally requiring a miracle of a Touchdown, 2 point conversion, onside recovery and another TD just to get the game into OT), it would be the peak of that game mode.
2. ESPN NFL 2K5
Features, features, features! ESPN was absolutely packed with features, ranging from a VIP system which extensively tracked traits of individual players and was able to create an artificial intelligence based of this data to a heavy incorporation of the ESPN license. The aforementioned VIP system was nothing short of revolutionary, and has taken the video game industry 9 years to finally attempt something similar (Forza Motorsport 5). The reality is, this should have happened years ago, and in all games. Can you imagine shooters, or basketball, or open world games where the opponent is actually a clone derived from real human behaviour? ESPN was also head and shoulders above the competition in terms of graphics and presentation. Pre, Halftime and Post Game shows were hosted by Chris Berman that included highlights from games the user didn’t even play! In addition to that, it also had post-game interviews with Suzy Kolber. ESPN NFL 2K5 also boasted extensive online options. It was the final NFL game by visual concepts due to Madden obtaining the exclusive NFL license, and because of that, still enjoys a passionate user base.
You may be wondering how any game could be ranked higher than ESPN 2K5 based off what was just written. The answer is simple: Whilst ESPN 2K5 was indeed the most complete football game (and perhaps sports game) of all time, Madden 05 was the first game in history to put a point of interest on the defensive side of the ball. The introduction of the hit-stick, along with individual defensive player hot routes helped make defense actually competitive for the first time in a football game. In addition to that, Madden’s franchise mode featured an unprecedented “storyline central” mode to coincide with the gameplay. Tony Bruno’s radio show featured interviews of players along with newspaper reports of players responding to big games and trade rumours. The offense was explosive, the defense was rewarding and the franchise mode was a pleasure to play. Whether you preferred Madden 2005 or ESPN 2K5, it’s obvious that 2005 was the pinnacle of football video games.