The Top 10 Sports Games You Should Be Playing From 1995

International Superstar Soccer Deluxe gameplay

The Top 10 Sports Games You Should Be Playing From 1995

Though the sports games of today boast some stunning graphics and complex franchise modes that far exceed anything previously possible on older consoles, you still shouldn’t count out the sports games of yore. In particular, 1995 would end up being host to a slew of incredible experiences across the 4th and 5th console generations, with several of the best sports games of the year arriving on PlayStation and Sega Saturn alongside their SNES and Genesis counterparts. Despite their somewhat rudimentary graphics by today’s standards, several of the top sports games from 1995 are titles that you should still be playing, provided you can emulate them or play them natively on their original hardware.

Hockey, soccer, baseball, football, and even extreme sports are all represented in the lineup of classic sports titles from 1995. Additionally, there are a handful of highly-regarded racing games arriving on the PlayStation that still hold up as being incredibly fun almost 30 years later. With only one exception, the games on this list each represent a different professional sport, meaning there’s something for everyone when it comes to the sports titles from 1995 that are still worth your tim

10. Wayne Gretzky and the NHLPA All-Stars

Wayne Gretzky and the NHLPA All-Stars gameplay

©Wayne Gretzky NHLPA All-Stars gameplay screenshot – Original

With two hockey games bookending the list of the top sports games from 1995, it’s obvious that the mid-90s were still riding high on the popularity of the Mighty Ducks film and the hockey mania that followed it. Not to be outdone by EA and its officially licensed hockey game in partnership with the NHL, game legend Wayne Gretzky lends his name to the almost-as-good Wayne Gretzy and the NHLPA All-Stars. Some of the things that immediately set this game apart from NHL 96 are its chunky character sprites and isometric viewpoint, giving the player a vastly different perspective from what they might be used to coming off of NHL 95. And, with the ability for the gloves to come off and engage in fights on the ice, NHLPA All-Stars is about as true to the game as it gets on the SNES and Genesis.

9. Ridge Racer

Ridge Racer gameplay

©Ridge Racer gameplay screenshot – Original

Despite Ridge Racer releasing in arcades in 1993 and on Japanese PS1s a year prior, Western console players wouldn’t get the chance to have Namco’s hit racing game in their living rooms until a year later. Ridge Racer would end up becoming one of the best launch games for the Sony PlayStation, a stunningly fast and beautiful arcade racer that further blurred the lines between consoles and coin-op cabinets. As a full-price retail release, it becomes painfully obvious that there’s not a lot of content on offer in the original Ridge Racer, but what’s there is a great showpiece for the power of the PS1 and an excellent arcade experience that still holds up more than 30 years later.

8. Toughman Contest

Toughman Contest gameplay

©Toughman Contest gameplay screenshot – Original

While SNES players would get the incredible Super Punch-Out!! in 1994, the next year would see the arrival of the cult-classic Toughman Contest on the Sega 32X peripheral for the Sega Genesis. This boxing game is much more realistic than Nintendo’s counterpart, and many still praise Toughman Contest for its mechanical depth and fun factor as one of the best boxing games of the 16-bit era. Boxing games aren’t nearly as popular today as they were in previous console generations, and games like Toughman Contest illustrate why the sport translates so well to the medium of video games. You get all the fun of participating in an approximation of a real-life boxing match without any of the risk of injury.

7. ESPN Extreme Games

ESPN eXtreme Games gameplay

©ESPN eXtreme Games gameplay screenshot – Original

Long before the arrival of Tony Hawk on our PS1s, players would get a surprisingly competent extreme sports hodge podge in ESPN eXtreme Games. Though the title features skateboarding, inline skating, and BMX races to choose from, the real highlight of ESPN eXtreme is the Road Rash-style fights that players can get in during those races, punching and kicking their way past the competition to eke out a victory. Fun fact — ESPN eXtreme Games is one of the few titles with a playable demo on the pack-in disc included with the initial retail PS1 units in North America, which would help the game become a best-selling title in the early days of the console’s life span.

6. PGA Tour 96

PGA Tour 96 gameplay

©PGA Tour 96 gameplay screenshot – Original

Sports games have existed for as long as there have been video games (e.g. Pong), and golf happens to be one of the most popular sports to translate well to the medium of gaming. The 16-bit era is where golf games would truly begin to come into their own, introducing mechanics (such as the swing power meter, precise aiming, and calculating for wind speed) that are now genre-standard for any self-respecting title emulating the sport. The best of them is PGA Tour 96, which would hold the crown for the best console golf game until the release of Hot Shots Golf 2 on the PS1 and Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64.

5. International Superstar Soccer Deluxe

International Superstar Soccer Deluxe gameplay

©International Superstar Soccer gameplay screenshot – Original

Though EA would end up getting exclusive rights to the FIFA license and practically squeeze out every other soccer game from being able to make a blip on the radar, the 16-bit era is host to a wide variety of competing soccer titles. One of the best is International Superstar Soccer Deluxe, harkening back to an era in which Konami’s cross-cultural sensation would sit as the pinnacle of soccer games. Konami would continue the International Superstar Soccer series with more entries on newer consoles in the years following, but the best soccer game on the SNES is undoubtedly this 1995 gem, blending the best parts of simulation-style and arcade-style sports games in one slick package.

4. Madden NFL 96

Madden NFL 96 gameplay

©Madden NFL 96 gameplay screenshot – Original

The Madden series is as synonymous with the NFL as Monday Night Football, and the franchise’s incredible evolution of the classic video game football formula makes it easy to see why. After several excellent entries on the SNES and Sega Genesis (the true “home” of sports games in 16-bit era), Madden NFL 96 would be the first title in the series to release as a cross-gen game, arriving simultaneously on SNES, Genesis, PC, and the Sony PlayStation. The SNES and Genesis versions feature slight refinements and year-accurate rosters over their predecessors, but the PS1 and PC versions are the first Madden games to incorporate 3D polygonal graphics, moving the series forward in a major way and still retaining the franchise’s classic gameplay.

3. Destruction Derby

Destruction Derby gameplay

©Destruction Derby gameplay screenshot – Original

While only loosely a “sports” game (thanks to its association with the racing genre), Reflections Interactive’s Destruction Derby would end up being one of the “must-have” titles on the PS1 at launch. Along with futuristic racer Wipeout, Destruction Derby takes the racing genre and flips it on its head, quickly establishing the massive gains in realism and immersion possible thanks to the PS1’s power and the CD-ROM format. Players can engage in standard races with realistic crash physics and visible damage to cars, but the highlight is the titular Derby mode, an endlessly fun free-for-all where the only goal is to hit the other cars as hard as you can, for as long as you can.

2. WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game

WrestleMania: The Arcade Game gameplay

©WrestleMania: The Arcade Game gameplay screenshot – Original

Though there are plenty of mostly arcade-accurate ports of hit titles to the SNES and Genesis (looking at you, Street Fighter II Turbo), the 32-bit era is where console arcade ports would reach almost full parity with their coin-op counterparts. One of the best of the bunch also happens to be one of 1995’s best sports games and one of the best wrestling games in the pre-Nintendo 64 era, WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game. Part wrestling game and part fighting game, WrestleMania features an amazing roster of current and classic WWF superstars and a huge variety of modes, from one-on-one exhibitions to tag-team matches and more. Wrestling games would get a huge surge in popularity in the ensuing years, with the Nintendo 64 becoming the undisputed home of the genre, but WrestleMania is the last and greatest of the old-school entires.

1. NHL 96

NHL 96 gameplay

©NHL 96 gameplay screenshot – Original

NHL 96, or “Chel” as many affectionately refer to it, is many things. It’s the best sports game of 1995, it’s one of the best sports games of the 16-bit era, and it’s quite possibly the best hockey game ever, even in the modern day. The beauty of NHL 96 is how it strikes a careful balance between real-world accuracy and video game escapism, simplifying the complex game of hockey down to just a few button presses and letting just about anyone pick up the controller and be able to wrap their head around its mechanics fairly quickly. Friendships were formed and tested on the digital ice in NHL 96, and it still persists as a must-have title in any library of SNES or Sega Genesis games.

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