As is the case with most public events right now, the world of professional sports has come to a halt due to COVID-19, aka the novel coronavirus. But while there’s no football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or hockey games you can go to or watch on TV, that doesn’t mean you and your loved ones are all out of entertainment options during this time of self-isolation. If you’re missing the action and have a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch or PC, or even an iOS or Android smartphone, chances are your favorite sport has a digital counterpart.
Yes, the testosterone levels probably won’t match when you go to a game IRL and you’re cheering your heart out for your team, or when you’re yelling at the players from the opposing team, but playing FIFA or NBA 2K against people online can definitely get a little emotional and testy. Look, as long as you’re not breaking any controllers — not speaking from personal experience, I promise — these games below are guaranteed to be a blast.
As a bonus, we also included a list with a few old-school gems... in case you have a retro console laying around. And if you don't, well, thankfully you have us to help you emulate Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PlayStation, Sega, arcade games, and more on your PC, Mac or Android device. Enjoy.
Missing Manchester United or FC Barcelona? Same, but at least with FIFA you can pretend like there’s some soccer (er, football) happening on your TV. It's a must-have video game for all true fans of the sport.
Unlike FIFA 20, which has some competition with eFootball PES, NBA 2K20 is the only AAA video game for basketball fans. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint, and it is especially fun if you play with friends online. If you need an NBA fix during this self-isolation period, NBA 2K20 is definitely it.
Madden NFL 20
Tom Brady is leaving the New England Patriots to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and you can’t wait to see him with his new team — for better or worse. Well, you’ll have to wait months to witness that IRL, but you can get a head start right now in Madden NFL 20. EA Sports’ flagship football video game will come in handy as you wait for the new NFL season to start later this year… if it happens at all.
MLB The Show 20
Out of all the sports games we’ve mentioned so far, MLB The Show 20 is the latest one. It launched this month despite the MLB season being postponed, but at least now baseball fans have something to pass the time with. A PlayStation exclusive, the game looks fantastic, and you’ll have an incredible amount of fun playing it — especially if you choose the best team in the history of baseball, the New York Yankees.
The warmer weather season may be upon us, but we know your love for the ice never stops. And if all you want to do right now is play hockey but can’t because you need to practice social distancing, then you always have NHL 20. For an easy time, you can play this hockey simulation game against the AI, though I would fully recommend challenging your other stay-at-home friends. It’s a win-win: you enjoy some hockey and you get some friendly competition going.
The odd balls
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Super Nintendo)
Ryan Houlihan — NBA Jam is that basketball game you remember from the '90s where the players, thanks to a cheat code, could all have huge heads. There was a good reason for this design choice, as the game featured unlockable characters that included Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, Reptile from Mortal Kombat, Will Smith, Prince Charles, and Hillary Clinton. The game itself consisted of fast-paced, catchphrase-loaded, superhuman feats of basketball glory. Oh yeah, and the ball itself would occasionally burst into flames. Boom shaka laka!
Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64)
Ramy Zabarah — For a kid who wasn’t really into sports games, Mario Tennis — first released for the N64 in the year 2000 — was perfect. Its deeply intuitive controls were both realistic and playful, and the game’s multiplayer functionality allowed for some really fun birthday parties. Not to mention, it was the first game to introduce Waluigi as a character in the Mario universe, for better or for worse.
NFL Blitz (Nintendo 64)
Ryan Houlihan — NFL Blitz, perhaps the most '90s game to ever exist, is not so much a football simulation as it is an action game with a football theme. Released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64, it is a glorious celebration of physical violence that the developers should have felt was in bad taste, as it did come on the heels of the O.J. Simpson murder case. The game is blazingly fast, unforgivably brutal, instantly accessible, and full of color — perfectly designed to appeal to the Power Rangers generation. Thanks to the developing science on CTE, do not expect anything like this to ever be released again.
Splatoon (Nintendo Wii U)
Ryan Houlihan — Splatoon is a paintball game designed by Nintendo and starring a cast of skater culture-inspired squid characters with the ability to morph into goo. The goal of the game is to cover as much of the level and other teams' characters in your team's paint as possible. Yes, it sounds incredibly cringey on paper, but if you’ve ever played the game, you know that this word salad somehow comes together to create one of the most addicting and mind-bending shooter experiences the art form of video games has unleashed on the public yet.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation 1)
Cheyenne MacDonald —THPS2 should go down as one of the most influential games of its generation, not just for the way it managed to capture that sense of anarchic freedom (and straight-up silliness) unique to skateboarding, but for a soundtrack that hits hard even to this day. It is unparalleled; Bad Religions’ “You,” The High & Mighty ft. Mos Def & Mad Skillz’ “B-Boy Document 99,” Dub Pistols’ “Cyclone,” Millencolin’s “No Cigar,” Antrax ft. Public Enemy’s “Bring tha Noize,” Powerman 5000’s “When Worlds Collide” — that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The game took stigmatized subcultures — skating, graffiti, punk, rap — and pushed them into the mainstream in a way that didn’t feel like selling out. You’ll spend hours on a single level trying to complete each of the challenges and scream in frustration when you lose an amazing combo to a wobbly manual. There’s nothing like it now, so please don’t turn to more recent releases expecting to find its essence. Either blow the dust off your old copy or pop on the soundtrack for instant nostalgia.
NBA Live (PlayStation 1)
Joshua Topolsky — The grandfather of all the latest and greatest games holds a special place in my heart. I remember when I first saw this title on the original PlayStation. I was like, “Damn, these graphics look completely realistic.” Needless to say, they do not look completely realistic, but they were fantastic for their time (and the gameplay was top notch, too, if you’re into that sort of thing). If you want to take a trip back in time while also dunking on a fool, this is your title.
Ski Or Die (PC)
Craig Wilson — Back in 1990, Electronic Arts released Ski Or Die, a winter sports game that supported CGA or EGA displays, ran on DOS, and started in a ski shop run by a pixelated Rodney Dangerfield. Players could choose from five activities: downhill skiing, inflatable tube racing, ski jumping, snowball fighting, or the hippest and most difficult of the lot, halfpipe snowboarding, which included a coach who’d shout '90s-style encouragement, like “Truely(sic) Bizotic Behavior!” or sick burns like, “I’ve seen faster glaciers!” Like so many of the best games, it was easy to play but impossibly hard to master. So beloved was Ski Or Die, it’s been preserved for posterity by a fan site.