Fans of sports games have never been in a bigger ditch than the last 10 or so years. While games like Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K have pushed simulation game technology to its limits and attempted to make the best sports games possible, it has come at the cost of a lack of variety. Sports fans don’t really get much of a choice these days when they get to itch play a football game, basketball game, or really any kind of sports game. They have their standard simulation games and not much else to choose from. However, we may be on the precipice of a change that is going to inject some new life into the sports game genre.
We’re finally starting to see some arcade games again! Once a goliath of the entire genre, sports arcade games were one of the major casualties of video games moving to HD. For whatever reason, starting with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the licensed arcade sports game took a major step to the side. This may have something to do with a lot of those sports leagues becoming more involved in how they choose to hand out their licensing, how much more expensive video games were becoming to make, or the inability to attach microtransactions to them. We still saw some here and there, but they lacked the same level of polish and detail of games that we all fell in love with like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NBA Street, NFL Street, etc. For a long time, the only way to play a fun arcade-style sports game was to rely on one of the Mario sports games or to play an unlicensed game like Super Mega Baseball. These obviously have their place and are very fun in their own right, but there’s something about taking an established star on our favorite team and performing acrobatic feats that are impossible in reality.
Soon, we will get a return to the arcade sports genre with 2K’s newest NFL game. They were recently given the license to make non-simulated NFL games again. While fans of the original NFL 2K series may be disappointed, this could be a great moment for video games as a whole. For starters, it’s an opportunity to have a different kind of football game out there that isn’t Madden. EA Sports College Football likely won’t be out until 2023 at the earliest, and unlicensed football games have never done particularly well. More importantly, though, it’s an opportunity to play a style of game that doesn’t get made enough of anymore.
Arcade sports games are fun because they aren’t as serious as their simulation counterparts. Yes, we all get the desire to live out our dreams of being an NFL coach and taking our favorite team to the Super Bowl, but sometimes you just want to break free of the more restrictive, realistic elements of sports games. You know those clips in Madden where someone takes Lamar Jackson and runs an entire loop around the football field? Those immersion breaking moments in simulation games are expected in arcade games and they’re more fun because of it.
Arcade sports games also bring in a different kind of audience. There are plenty of people out there that don’t really enjoy watching sports, but who really enjoy arcade sports games. There are plenty of people who get the latest Mario Golf or Tennis game that don’t spend a single minute of their lives watching those sports, because they just enjoy playing the arcade style games. These same people also enjoy games like NBA Jam, because of the over the top nature of them. There’s no need to be a sports fan to appreciate an arcade style game and sometimes it can even bring in new fans. This may be why the NFL looked into giving out their license for an arcade style game.
So what exactly do we want from NFL 2K’s arcade rebirth in particular? Chaos. The best way for any of these arcade style games to succeed is to provide the most chaos possible. Let players chuck a football 80 yards, give them turbo boosters, and add in a whole lot of flash. Embrace the absurdity of everything and the details of the game will work itself out. However, anyone that was hoping for a return to the NFL Blitz formula is going to be out of luck. This is still the NFL we’re talking about and their desire to promote player safety likely played a role in why games like NFL Street were discontinued. They don’t want games that promote and glorify the violence of the sport and that was what NFL Blitz embraced above all else. Expect 2K’s game to put more emphasis on absurd physics and less on crushing hits. It wouldn’t be surprising if, when the game comes out, the style of the game is extremely cartoonish to make the violence that does exist in the game feel less realistic.
If all of us are lucky the NFL 2K game will be wildly successful. Even EA has said that it wants the game to succeed, because then that means we’re going to get more of it and in other genres too. Imagine an NBA Jam revival that’s actually good this time? If licensed arcade games work then maybe we’ll see some from more obscure sports. Snowboarding is already appearing primed for a return to the arcade scene with games like Shredders on the way, hoping to tap into a market that’s been begging for an SSX Tricky revival.
It’s time for arcade sports to make their return. They’ve been laying dormant for too long and there’s too many people out there that want to play them. Hopefully 2K’s next NFL game is the right kind of game to kick off a new generation of arcade sports.