The Best Sega Genesis Sports Games

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Sega Genesis is one of the most recognizable names in the world of gaming, especially to people who were in the gaming scene of the 1990s. The console was Sega's second entry to the home console market, following their earlier success with the Master System, and marked an escalation of their rivalry with Nintendo. This would eventually come to be known as the first 'console war', and spurred many innovations and advances in game design.

The release of the Genesis (known as the Mega Drive outside the US) enabled the development of lots of iconic games in many different genres, but the console became particularly well known for its large roster of excellent sports titles.

Sega's upgraded hardware allowed game developers to produce some of the first accurate representations of the world's favorite sports. Gone were the 2D environments, top-down views, and basic sprites of earlier console generations. Instead, we were now treated to isometric views, 3D stadiums, more realistic sounds, better graphics, and more complex gameplay.

Sports games were arguably the principal reason behind the success of the Genesis (especially in the US). Many well-known sports games first established their popularity on Sega's iconic console - and some of those franchises, like FIFA, NBA Live, and NHL Hockey, are still going strong to this day. In this article, we cover some of our favorites.

NHL Hockey '94

NHL '94 has been praised as one of the best sports games ever made. While the game features the trademark vertical camera angle of its predecessors (NHL Hockey and NHLPA Hockey '93), many graphical improvements were made, like smoother animations and more detailed player jerseys.

Notable gameplay advances included the 'one-timer', allowing a player to shoot directly off a pass instead of taking possession first. The flow of the game is also distinctly different from earlier hockey games, with an appropriately slippery feel to controlling the puck that can lead to some outrageous, or hilarious, moments of bad luck.

The sound design is excellent, with the crack of hockey stick on puck and the signature organ tunes for each team being particular favorites.

PGA Tour Golf III

PGA Tour III quickly shot to the top of the leaderboard upon release in 1994, and was the last entry in the franchise to be exclusive to the Genesis.

The game is a direct sequel to PGA Tour II and features eight playable Tournament Players Club courses, including Avenel, the Woodlands, Summerlin, and Las Colinas. Eleven professional golfers are included in the game, and players can even create their own, although with limited customization. Players must compete against some of these golfers to win the TPC Championship in tournament mode, but stroke play and match play are also available.

The gameplay features the classic three-click shot meter, which can be quite punishing, even if you miss your mark very slightly. Putting is aided by a simple but effective 3D rendering of the green.

Madden NFL '97

Madden NFL 97 was the fifth entry in the Madden NFL series and was released in 1996. As well as including all teams from the American and National Football Conferences, the game also featured classic teams, such as the 1952 Detroit Lions and the 1990 Buffalo Bills.

As is still the case with modern Madden games, the presentation is excellent, and John Madden himself helps provide the commentary.

The game has great graphics for the time, with players sprinting, dodging, and jumping in a realistic fashion. The gameplay is solid, and gamers are able to choose from a wide array of plays. Unfortunately, the hail mary pass is far too effective against the computer and can trivialize the game. However, playing against another person avoids this flaw and is terrific fun.

NBA Jam Tournament Edition

NBA Jam Tournament Edition was the second entry in the now long-running basketball series, originally published by Acclaim. First released in 1994, the game featured most teams and players from the 94-95 NBA season.

The exciting two-on-two matches are still very fast-paced, but some notable improvements were made over the game's predecessors. Every athlete was given an expanded number of stats, and each team now had three players, with gamers able to use the extra player as a substitute during matches.

The series's signature range of over-the-top dunks and power-ups were expanded and improved. And, of course, if you scored three times in a row, you'd still go 'on fire'.  All these actions could be boosted by holding down the Turbo button, for even more craziness.

Greatest Heavyweights

If you're into boxing, you'll love the Greatest Heavyweights. The game was published in 1994 as a sequel to Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing. Although the two games are very similar, Greatest Heavyweights did have some noteworthy improvements, including upgraded animations and significantly faster gameplay.

Players can create their own boxers to compete in the career mode, where they must fight their way up the rankings before challenging some of the best heavyweights of all time, such as Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, and Larry Holmes.

The depictions of these heavyweight greats are excellent, with their fighting styles being quite accurately reflected. Muhammad Ali dances his way around the ring, flicking out jabs; while Rocky Marciano stalks forward mercilessly, throwing powerful hooks and uppercuts.

WWF Royal Rumble

WWF Royal Rumble was released in 1993 by Acclaim. This wrestling game features twelve fighters, including the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, and Bret Hart.

A variety of game modes are featured, such as Triple Tag team, Tag Team, One on One, and of course Royal Rumble. Each wrestler has their own official entrance music and unique finishing move.

The gameplay can be quite chaotic, but that's what makes it fun. Fighters will enter the ring from all sides, and there can be six sprites on screen at any given time. Every character has a range of moves and attacks, while the addition of an on-screen grapple meter adds some nuance.

Pete Sampras Tennis

This legendary tennis video game was released back in 1994. The game can be played in singles or doubles, and gamers have a wide selection of tennis pros to choose from - although the only real and famous player featured is Pete Sampras. The career mode takes players through seasons of professional tennis, and in addition, you can enjoy warm-up tournaments and qualifier games for the Grand Slam.

The gameplay is simple but quite realistic, with a wide array of shots available to the player (including lobs and top-spin), as well as the full range of court surfaces.

Up to four people can play at once (thanks to the special cartridge used by Codemasters), and it's here that the game really shines with frantic and exciting gameplay.

FIFA Soccer '95

FIFA Soccer '95 was one of the best video games of the 1990s. Released as the second installment of the FIFA series, the game was a big improvement and featured club teams for the first time - from top leagues in Europe, such as Serie A of Italy and the Premier League of England. Unfortunately, this FIFA game does not feature real player names and instead just uses fictitious names.

FIFA '95 utilized a 3D isometric viewpoint of the pitch, with the footballers represented in 2D sprites. The animations were great for the time, and even the fans feature a high level of detail.

Players can choose to play matches against their friends or computer-controlled teams in exhibitions, tournaments, leagues, or playoffs.

  • Updated September 18, 2020