THROWBACK: The best sports games of the PS1 era

Dec 21, 2019

THE original PlayStation was launched 25 years ago and over its lifetime, it amassed an impressive library of games.

While Sony’s first gaming console became known for memorable games in the action and role-playing genre, it also had a pretty impressive lineup of sports games. With more powerful hardware capable of 32-bit polygonal 3D graphics, the PlayStation ushered in a new era in realistic gameplay and graphics that made the era's sports games even more in your face.

Here were the best of them.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Developer: Neversoft

Nineteen years on, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (THPS2) remains the gold standard for skateboard games. As a pioneering game for the genre, THPS2 delivers fun skateboarding action, unlockable characters, and challenging levels.

Inventive gameplay modes meant a lot of replayability. Being able to earn cash to improve your skills as well as purchase new equipment and playable characters also gave the game long legs. A built-in level editor lets players design their own skate parks.

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Plus, that soundtrack was unforgettable. "Guerilla Radio" by Rage Against The Machine, anyone?

NBA Live 97
Developer: EA

Jumping from sprite based 2D animation to full 3D models, NBA Live 97 was a virtual hardcourt win for basketball fans. The game used motion capture technology to recreate a player’s on-court movements, while texture mapping gave them their real-life looks. The results may look laughable now, but that was cutting edge 25 years ago.

Two main modes of play, arcade and simulation meant that the game was accessible for both casual and hardcore players of the game.

Actua Tennis
Developer: Gremlin Interactive

The Actua series of sports games may now be forgotten, but during its heyday, it went head to head with the likes of EA Sports games. Actua Tennis featured full 3D courts and motion-captured players. To add to the realism, in-game action and replays could be viewed through multiple camera angles.

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Gameplay was more arcade-y than realistic, but players could create their own player to trade volleys with reigning tennis stars of the time, including Pete Sampras and a very polygonal Anna Kournikova. Multiplayer support allowed players go against human foes or compete in a doubles match.

Hot Shots Golf 2
Developer: Clap Hanz

Hot Shots Golf 2 (Everybody Golf 2 in other territories) built on the solid golf physics and gameplay of its predecessor and created one of the most easily accessible golf games.

Apart from the tour mode with four seasons and 18 holes to play, there was also a VS. match, tour, and mini-golf mode. Gameplay is as simple as adjusting the power of your stroke and setting accuracy, but you had to to consider other factors such as wind direction, terrain, and ball spin. There were 13 available characters that each had a unique style of play, with seven different courses.

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ISS Pro Evolution
Developer: Konami

International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution brought premier football action to the PlayStation with over 70 international teams (most of them unlicensed at the time it was released, so you had David Beckham's name spelled as Bekham) and 10 stadiums modeled after their real-world counterparts. As in NBA Live, the new hardware and 3D graphics allowed the developers to create spot-on player animations. New to the game was the Master Club league which pits 16 European club teams against each other.

Triple Play 2000
Developer: Electronic Arts

Triple Play 2000 was developed as a fully licensed MLB game featuring authenting teams, players, and stadiums. Game modes included a single match, a full season, and an option to head straight to the playoffs.

Although gameplay leaned towards the arcade side rather than a full blown simulation, there were several controls for finessing pitches and batting. Fielders and runners can also be made to run faster for even more button-mashing excitement when chasing down those fly balls or hoofing it to first base. Game physics also came into play when the ball landed on different playing surfaces.

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Knockout Kings 2001
Developer: EA

For those who grew up on arcade-style boxing games like Super Punch-Out!!, Knockout Kings 2001 offered a more realistic boxing experience. Before the Fight Night series came along, Knockout Kings 2001 was the undefeated champ in the boxing game genre.

The game featured an impressive lineup of legendary fighters, like Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Oscar dela Hoya. In career mode, you could rise up the ranks to defeat these fighters, who can be used in later fights.

Virtual Pool 3
Developer: Celeris

Endorsed by pool champ Jeanette “Black Widow” Lee, Virtual Pool 3 came with a money back guarantee: it was supposed to improve your skill at real-world pool. The Black Widow was on board to give players basic tutorials as well as act as the main opponent in career mode.

For its time, the game had the most realistic physics ever created for a pool game and it showed. There are eight venues available where you can play 21 game variations of pool, including nine-ball, eight-ball, straight pool, and snooker.

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International Track & Field
Developer: Konami

Although lacking in an official Olympic license, International Track & Field offered the most bang for the buck for a multi-sports title. The game supported four-way multiplayer in 11 Olympic sporting events. Playing each event meant a lot of frantic button mashing but different control setup made each event difficult to master. Adding to the atmosphere were fully rendered stadiums and motion-captured player models.

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