5 Notably Terrible Sports Video Games
A well-planned sports video game licensing agreement can be a great thing; such arrangements have given us classics like the Madden football series, NBA Jam, and, to a lesser extent, Bassin's Black Bass with Hank Parker. On the other hand, poorly thought-out games just look like embarrassing cash-ins for their celebrity endorsers. Obviously all video games can't be great, but here are a few notably terrible sports licensing misadventures:
1. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City
In the mid-1990s, Michael Jordan was the world's biggest basketball star, an almost universally beloved pitchman who could bask in the glory of multiple NBA titles. It seemed only natural, then, that he would have his own licensed game for the Super Nintendo. What seemed far less natural was that the game wouldn't involve basketball.
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City is a two-dimensional platform outing like any generic adventure game of the era. The plot follows Jordan as he tries to rescue his friends so they can play with him in a charity all-star game. Air Jordan has to navigate levels and collect keys to extricate his buddies while armed with little more than "“ wait for it "“ weapons-grade basketballs! His Airness is equipped with all manner of balls: ones made of ice, grenade balls, homing balls, and boomerang balls. It's worth finding a ROM of this gem just to see how blatant the cash-grab was; it even made Nintendo Power's list of the top 10 worst games of all time. See for yourself:
2. Shaq Fu
To be fair, Jordan wasn't the only huge NBA star of the mid-90s to fall prey to the allure of video game immortality. Shaquille O'Neal also made the jump to 16-bit systems and handhelds with a game of his own. Like Jordan's romp, Shaq eschewed basketball action. Instead, Shaq made a Mortal Kombat-style fighting game that shared its title with his second rap record, the gold-certified Shaq-Fu: Da Return. In the game, Shaq is on his way to a charity basketball tournament (you think he'd have learned his lesson from Jordan's misadventures playing basketball for free) when he gets pulled into an alternate dimension. At this point, Shaq is talked into saving a kidnapped young boy from an evil mummy by fighting off a series of opponents while clad in a generic-looking basketball jersey. Really.
The gameplay was even worse than the incoherent plot; the game often didn't give players credit for scoring obvious hits. Like Jordan's pixilated adventure, Shaq Fu frequently shows up on lists of the worst video games of all time. Sound unfathomable? Check out this video:
3. Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager
By 1989, Kenny Dalglish's legendary soccer career was winding down. The high-scoring forward was 38 years old, and he wasn't as quick as he'd been earlier in his career. He was, however, showing his stuff as an effective player-manager, a position he'd held with Liverpool since 1985. Such a popular figure in British football seemed like a natural licensor for a soccer game for the Atari and Commodore 64. And thus, Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager was born.
Young fans across the U.K. doubtless sat down in front of their TVs to square off in some hot pitch action"¦and learned that there's no actual soccer in the game. Players take over a 4th-division team and make roster moves and set the players' formations, then the computer tells them whether or not their team won a game. Who needs to take penalty kicks when you can consult with the team physician on an injury? Diving headers are no fun compared to viewing scouting reports! Perhaps something's just lost on my American sensibility, though, as soccer manager games kept coming out for various systems, including Kevin Keegan's Player Manager for SNES in 1993.
4. Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball
When basketball fans think of Bill Laimbeer, they think of one thing: his legendary coaching career that's seen him win three WNBA titles. Oh, wait. They think of his rough-and-tumble antics as a four-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion with the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons. Since Laimbeer had a reputation as one of the NBA's premier tough guys, it seemed sensible that he would be the star of a hybrid hoops/combat game. However, that's the only remotely plausible element of this setup. The game is based in the year 2030, where basketball is the exclusive province of robotic players with one human exception: player-commissioner Bill Laimbeer, who can still play at age 73 thanks to medical advances. The result is a no-rules brand of basketball where armored players can duke it out just as easily as they can shoot jumpers and bombs occasionally appear on the court. Critics decried the game's simplistic gameplay and inane storyline, but this video will let you be the judge:
5. Kurt Warner's Arena Football Unleashed
You couldn't turn on an NFL broadcast during the 1999 season without hearing about the incredible story of Kurt Warner, who had rapidly risen from a former grocery stocker/Arena Football League QB to the NFL's MVP and Super Bowl champion. As such, it was time for a quick video game cash-in. The next May, fans got their wish, as the QB licensed his name to a violent arena football game. Just as some fans think of the Arena Football League as a watered-down version of the NFL, this game proved to be a diminished version of another much more popular franchise, NFL Blitz. Like in Blitz, players could stomp, kick, and generally maim each other both before and after the whistle, but the game didn't catch on with fans. With Warner's resurgence this season, though, we can always cross our fingers for a hastily produced sequel.