PGA Tour 96

With shots like this, I'm not sure who the target demographic was for these games. Were adults playing the SNES at the time?

I played this game for much longer than I expected.  In fact, I was tempted to not bother playing it at all; after all, it’s a golf game.  You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, as far as I am concerned.

But it was pretty relaxing and mildly challenging in a weird sort of “why does my ball always go seven hundred feet to the right” kind of way, so I played three holes, going from 3 over par to 2 over par to 1 over par.  Exciting.

The core game of golf is not something I object to.  I can see why it’s fun; the few times I have played it, I found it quite enjoyable.  There is a certain relaxing abstraction to it.  It’s all about figuring angles and forces and wind resistance and whatever, and it barely feels competitive at all.  The spatial geometry of golf is almost as satisfying as that wonderful sound – the thwuck of a club hitting a golf ball is, perhaps, one of the most satisfying sports sounds that exists.  It certainly beats out the swish of a basketball hitting net, or the sharp crack of a hockey stick hitting a puck, or the more wooden, meatier crack of a bat hitting a baseball.

But golf is simultaneously silly, perhaps even irresponsible.  The absurd amount of space – a manicured, surreal facsimile of natural space – required for the sport is a little sickening.  Of course, it’s not like they put a golf course in the middle of a downtown core or anything.  And I suppose if you’re going to be driving a golf ball 300 yards, you need a lot of room.

Of course, I’ve always found minigolf to be far more interesting and entertaining, although I feel like it could be made into something much more fascinating than the childish puzzle solving it currently is.  If you turned minigolf into some kind of fiendish Rube Goldberg machine that you had to navigate, with gears and hydraulics and eerie, featureless planes of colour and other such hallmarks of modern design, well.  I’d pay good money for that.

I would not pay good money for this game; I’d rather go to a driving range and try to hit the poor guy who’s picking up the balls.

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NHL 95

“Ottawa’s first pick for NHL 95, number 17: Brilliam Isawesome.”

Thus began the career of one of Ottawa’s many bust first-round draft picks: Brilliam Isawesome.

Entering the league with an overall score of 91, he was built to slot right into the first line of the team. He should have been the next (or rather, first) Alexander Ovechkin.

One game, and it was a slow enough start to what could still be an illustrious career. Not one of the three stars, he scored no goals, no assists, and a plus-minus of -2. Still, he was young, and perhaps brought up without a proper stint in the minor leagues. Some conditioning, even in the major leagues, would see him emerge as a great star.

About three minutes into his second game, he was on the ice for another opposition penalty, this time against rivals Montreal. It was around this point that he skated off the ice, into the dressing room, and quit the game of hockey forever.

That is, until he was drafted in NHL 96. And 98. And 2003. And 2008. and 2009. And 2010.

I love fake sports.

Magic Johnson Super Slam Dunk

I'd like my Magic Johnson to super slam your dunk.
I'd like my Magic Johnson to super slam your dunk.

David Foster Wallace believed that tennis is the most beautiful sport, but basektball isn’t too far behind – it’s just that, as a team sport, it doesn’t have the purity of movement that tennis does.  Similarly, fencing and boxing are close, but they are directly violent and thus lack some of the grace and geometry that makes tennis the most beautiful.

It is indubitable that basketball is a beautiful sport.  Many will say that it’s not as fun to watch because it’s too high scoring, and any individual basket is unexciting because, in itself, it is not a significant event.  But the beauty of the ball’s motion in basketball is what really makes me enjoy watching a game, even if I rarely watch sports at all.  The straight lines and small weaves of hockey, or the tumbling, bouncing irregularity of soccer – they don’t do it for me.

I am also terrible at hockey and soccer, so.  You know.  That could have something to do with it.  I’m kinda okay at basketball, when compared to other people who are not very good at basketball.

And so, the problem with a basketball video game is that it loses the beauty of the sport.  The round loops and swirls and quick reversals of direction, the bursts of speed and smooth transitions from one direction to another by the players as they relentlessly hunt the ball, the surges in the tempo of ball-to-court as the tension explodes in the ball’s vicinity – that’s all lost.  Instead, the game becomes a pallid, cardboard strategy game – move closer, pass to open players, shoot and hope you hit the net.  In this game, where your shot doesn’t even depend on your own abilities as a player but on some eldritch random number generator buried within the cartridge, the soul of basketball flits silently in the bleachers and watches you play.  On top of that, this is a game with almost no collision detection and distorted isometric perspective, and bizarre screen-rotation every time you reach the other half the court, and so what little sluggish strategy you can find in other basketball games is lost here as well.

Maybe that’s why football games seem to be the most successful, and the most high quality, amongst the mainstream SNES sports games – football and hockey.  Football is a game of strategy and collision and deployment, which can easily be simulated on even an SNES’s virtual field, and hockey’s straight lines and larger spaces make it easier to model as well.  Baseball, too, because it so easy to divide into tiny condensed chunks of play.

I can’t say I was ever impressed with any of the older soccer games, or any of the old basketball games (no, not even NBA Jam).  None of the boxing games, either, that’s for damn sure.  Football and hockey games are the only ones I recall being any good in that era.  But I was never a huge fan of sports game at that time, nor am I now, so I may be unenlightened.

I do know that this game is probably the worst basketball game I’ve played, including that time I was playing in real life and I stepped on my cousin’s foot, and he tried to move back but fell over because I was standing on his foot, and he fell  backwards right onto a trailer hitch.  I got in a lot of trouble.  This is still worse.

John Madden Football

John Madden Football

John Madden Football
John Madden Football

Let me just go right out and say it: I hate sports games.  I especially hate football games.  It doesn’t help that I greatly dislike the sport of football as well.  I’m much more of a fan of refined-skill games like soccer.  Or should I say real foot ball.  Fucking Americans polluting the namespace.  That’s right.  I went there.

Fake left, dodge right, long, cut-in chicken leg, hook deep run pass, with a cherry on top.  Who cares?  You're just going to be sacked by the computer bee-lining for your QB anyways.  Why bother?
Fake left, dodge right, long, cut-in chicken leg, hook deep run pass, with a cherry on top. Who cares? You're just going to be sacked by the computer bee-lining for your QB anyways. Why bother?

Sports games always try too hard to simulate the experience of some sort of fantasy league.  I guess that’s great if you’re the type who likes fantasy football.  I can’t stand it.  If I’m going to play sports games, I’d rather play games that consider the sport, its rules, and the related management as loose parameters to apply to a game that is primarily designed to be fun.  Good examples are any Mario sports games.  They’re not really sports games.  They’re fun games that happen to use the rough parameters of whatever their title sport is.  Another good example is the classic NES World Cup Soccer.  It was ridiculous and silly, which made it tremendous fun.  It didn’t care that you were breaking every rule of soccer.  It was interesting.

The visuals are rather mundane.  And I'm not asking for life-like realism here. I'm asking for something interesting.  It was done in the NES era so hardware isn't the issue.
The visuals are rather mundane. And I'm not asking for life-like realism here. I'm asking for something interesting. It was done in the NES era so hardware isn't the issue.

So how does John Madden Foodball fare?  Well, it makes good use of the expensive franchise that went on to sell over 16 sequels and counting.  I assume when he dies, they’ll start selling Posthumous John Madden Football, where he comes back from the grave to say his cliches for the voice-overs.

Verdict: It’s a sports game! What?  What do you want me to say?  You are either in that niche target market and drop $60+ every year for the newest and greatest football game, or you’re a gamer.  They’re all the same.  That’s all.  End of discussion.

Jeopardy! Sports Edition

Imagine this: you get the call-up. You’re going to be on Jeopardy! You hit every textbook, every question in every version of trivial Pursuit, watch past episodes, research the buzzers… you’re 100% ready to go.

Then you get there, they slap a baseball kit on you and make you hold a bat in your other hand. Welcome to the SPORTS Edition. Prepare to be embarrassed.

“What the fuck?” you might ask. “Alex, what is this shit? Ask me questions about quarks and protoceratopses and James Joyce and Paula Abdul and shit! What the fuck is this shit? I don’t even know who Fay Vincent is!”

WHAT?
WHAT?

You start to hyperventilate. Someone from off-stage comes on during the commercial break, and, mercifully, paper bags you. Another comes and replaces your hat; you’ve managed to sweat through it already. He threatens you, quietly, in your ear: “stop fucking sweating or I swear to God I am going to rip out each of your glands, one at a time.”

Oh... my... god. Oymygodohmygodohmy GOD.
Oh... my... god. Oymygodohmygodohmy GOD.

Alex might have heard. You look at him:

Submit, HUMAN. You are on JEOPARDY now.
Submit, HUMAN. You are on JEOPARDY now.

His cold, uncaring eyes burn a hole through your pathetic, sportsless head.

You watch in horror as each answer comes up more perplexing than the last, as your rivals buzz in and answer “Wrigley Field” or “George Steinbrenner” flawlessly nearly every time because, apparently, they’re the only two things in baseball.

You manage to hold out with a modest score of $-800 by Double Jeopardy, and start turning around your fortunes. I’ts not until Alex starts asking you about whose number 34 was retired at Auburn University (a question you find, later, isn’t even easily Googled) that panic sets in again. You look to him for even a shred of mercy, but all you are greeted with is:

YOU DO NOT KNOW AUBURN'S #34? YOU DISAPPOINT ME. EVEN BO KNOWS THIS NUMBER.
YOU DO NOT KNOW AUBURN'S #34? YOU DISAPPOINT ME. EVEN BO KNOWS THIS NUMBER.

I had a nightmare like this once. Fuck this game.

Hyper V-Ball

Did you know that UbiSoft was once a tiny company that had to crank out sports franchise games to make bank? They’re now one of the biggest developers of games in the world, with offices internationally, and are likely responsible for a 200% spike in polo shirt, cargo pants, and weird internet caffeine drinks in the city of Montreal in the year 2009 alone.

And they made Hyper V-Ball

There's nothing I can really add to this.

Now I’m not, nor was I ever, a sports game afficionado. I almost picked up NHL 10 this year. Whenever I talk to Brilliam about football manage I get a strange itch and want to look at sorted tables of prospects. I am so close to being into sports I can pretty much taste it.

Volleyball, though, seems to be synonymous with mechanical simplicity. I have played no less than three volleyball games: this one, another one that’s under my byline somewhere, and Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball. DOA being the first volleyball game I’ve ever played, I always assumed that the mechanical simplicity therein was a side effect of a number of bespectacled salarymen politely asking if they can skip to the part where girls drag their junk across logs in swimsuits.

This doesn’t seem to be the case. Every volleyball game I’ve played has been at its core a game where you attempt to out-time a device that measures its ability to time things in thousands of operations per second. Is real volleyball like that? I just remember spraining my ankle a whole bunch.

I played Germany. It was like Vimy Ridge all over again.

VolleyFact: Yukon "Yukon" Jones is the descendent of Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted Police.

ESPN National Hockey Night

ESPN National Hockey Night
ESPN National Hockey Night

An ESPN game? Srsly? Do I actually HAVE to review this? Ugh. Fine. But I don’t want to ever hear anything about me not being a dedicated reviewer. It’s not all Chrono Triggers and Starfoxes. I wade through the crap too. Willingly. I’m THAT kind of reviewer.

So, ok, let’s get to it. ESPN National Hockey Night. Kinda like other nights, only this one is the National Hockey one. Oh, and ESPN threw its logo all over it… wait… Uhm. Yeah. There’s some gameage in here somewhere. Under one of the logos, I think. I mean, it’s really important that we know that it is an officially licensed NHL product. Wouldn’t want any of those fake hockey games.

Is there such a colour as puke blue? I get vertigo following the terrible attempt at a vanishing point in their sinking depth.  An architectural consultant could have saved you some epilepsy suits.
Is there such a colour as puke blue? I get vertigo following the terrible attempt at a vanishing point in their sinking depth. An architectural consultant could have saved them some epilepsy suits.

This game might be the saddest excuse for a sports game I’ve ever seen. Maybe. It’s a pretty low bar. I don’t want to give it too much credit for its suckiness. Don’t want it to seem remarkable in its asstacularness.

ESPN National Hockey Night manages to make one of the fastest sports an exercise in frustration at the slow speed of play. It’s bad enough that I can’t tell what player I’m controlling, or if my button presses are actually having any effect – but to sit through 5 seconds of loading every time the ref wants to blow his whistle… well… I’ll just go to a real game if I want to be bored to tears.

Joyest of days! More loading time!  You wouldn't know the SNES was cartridge based.  I've seen first-gen PS1 games load faster.  At least the Door Sim... errr Resident Evil 1 had zombies.
Joyest of days! More loading time! You wouldn't know the SNES was cartridge based. I've seen first-gen PS1 games load faster. At least the Door Sim... errr Resident Evil 1 had zombies.

There’s really not much else to say. Ooooh, the game features 2 VIEW MODES! Stop the presses! You can view the same pixelated pieces of shit on skates moving up and down or side to side. Le yays. You can experience pointlessness in 2 axes!

Blah, blah, blah, hardcoded SNES sound bites, blah, blah, blah, my mustache got stuck in my mic while I was reading my lines, blah, blah, bl... GOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!  Wait...
Blah, blah, blah, hardcoded SNES sound bites, blah, blah, blah, my mustache got stuck in my mic while I was reading my lines, blah, blah, bl... GOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!! Wait...

The most amusing part of the game is the digital voiceovers by the ESPN sportscaster. I loled when he said “Ok, let’s go down to the ice for the puck drop.”. This game would be more fun if it were just him talking in a strangely SNES-sound-engine-like digitized voice about the weather, or the intricacies of shoe tying.

Verdict: ESPN National Hockey Night is uninteresting, uninformative, unpointful, unhelpful, undesirable, unfun, and unremarkable in every way other than the fact that it isn’t pathetic enough to actually deserve any praise for it. I’ll say no more lest it actually be remembered. Purge your brain now!