June 5, 2023
In 2022, sports video games got really, really weird |  Digital trends

In 2022, sports video games got really, really weird | Digital trends

Sports games are one of the most ubiquitous genres in gaming, with NBA 2K, Madden, and FIFA top sellers every year. These franchises are also some of the most stagnant in gaming, as their developers and publishers tend to focus on minor year-over-year tweaks and changes rather than major innovations. The disappointment of games like Madden NFL 23 gives the genre a bad name, but 2022 has actually been one of the best years for sports games in a while. It’s thanks to games that were ready to get weird.

Of course, multi-million dollar sports franchises aren’t going anywhere. That said, games like OlliOlli World, Golf’s Cursed Rollerdrome, wind jammers 2, Roller champions, What is the bat? and even Nintendo Switch Sports pushed the boundaries of what the genre can do. Sports inherently translate into solid video games, but this year has highlighted how those games can go beyond that, becoming wackier than what’s possible in reality. It helped breathe some life into an otherwise outdated genre.

Sports games get weird

Looking back to 2022, there are plenty of sports games worth pointing out aside from the usual suspects. Nintendo Switch Sports is this year’s flagship casual sports game, providing users with an accessible, motion control-based way to play golf, badminton, tennis, bowling, chambara, soccer, and volleyball with the Nintendo’s exclusive visual flair. Although it’s one of the most hyped twists and turns in the genre, indie developers have led the charge, allowing the sports genre to shine this year.

Roll7’s OlliOlli World, for example, is one of my favorite games of the year. Skateboard games have been a mainstay of sports games since the 90s, but OlliOlli World achieves this formula in a way that’s as satisfying to play as the best Sonic the Hedgehog games. To his favorite, OlliOlli World is a colorful and fast-paced 2D platformer where each level has multiple paths that adapt to different skill levels of players.

It doesn’t try to have precise physics or recreate iconic real-world locations. Instead, it creates its own dynamic fantasy world where everything is skateboard-based, and the gameplay gives players plenty of leeway to experiment and possibly fail with flashy tricks. Roll7 didn’t stop there, also delivering rollerdromea game that combines score-based rollerblading with shooting to create a mix of action and sports games players didn’t know they needed.

Playing sports can give you an ultra-focused adrenaline rush, and a game like OlliOlli World and rollerdrome can achieve that same state of flux through gameplay. Meanwhile, other games interpret the sport in a whole new way.

Golfer hits a long distance drive

Chuhai Laboratories Cursed at golf turns golf into a 2D roguelike with card-based abilities. Clubs of varying power levels, cards with various useful abilities, and unique level gadgets keep the experience fresh. It’s technically a golf game, but it attracts and captivates a totally different audience than a standardized golf simulation game like PGA Tour 2K23.

from Ubisoft Roller champions is here to turn inline skating into a competitive team game of scoring in a small goal. Windbreaker 2 reinterprets Ultimate Frisbee as an extremely intense 1-on-1 fight where reflexes and predicting how your opponent is going to do are key to success. So there is What is the bat? A VR game that replaces your arms with baseball bats.

What is a sports game, really?

Do all those games I mentioned really count as sports games? I think so.

They may not accurately simulate a traditional sport, but they’re ready to get weird and explore how the video game medium can distort traditional sports. Every game genre needs developers willing to push the boundaries of what that type of game can be; it’s good to know that sports games are no different.

A character prepares to brush their teeth with a baseball bat in What the Bat?

These unique games make 2022 one of the healthiest years for the genre in a long time. While the “sports game” moniker might immediately make you think of Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K, they’re far from the only ones and certainly not the ones pushing the boundaries.

There are also new sports games as we approach 2023. Nacon’s Blood Bowl 3 is looking to deliver a football fantasy strategy game, Devolver Digital’s skateboarding history will give skateboarding a flashy aesthetic, and even THQ Nordic AEW Fight Forever tries to return to the N64 glory days of wrestling games.

While the quirkiest sports games might not be bestsellers like these simulation titles, some developers are pushing the boundaries of what a sports game can be. Focusing on reinterpreting classic pastimes and finding new ways to captivate players into a sports-induced state of flux is good for the entire sports genre, even if EA and 2K aren’t innovating at a pace quick.

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