In 2022, sports video games got really, really weird

Sports games are one of the most ubiquitous genres in gaming with NBA 2K, Madden and FIFA all hitting the top sales charts every year. These franchises are also among the most stagnant, as their developers and publishers tend to focus on minor tweaks and year-over-year changes rather than major innovations. The disappointment of games like Madden NFL 23 gives the genre a bad name, but 2022 was actually one of the best years for sports games in a long time. That’s thanks to the games, which were willing to get weird.

Of course, the multi-million dollar mainstays of sports franchises aren’t going anywhere. That is, games like OlliOlli World, Rollerdrome Cursed to Golf, windjammer 2, Scooter Champions, What the hell? and even Nintendo Switch Sports pushing the boundaries of what the genre can accomplish. Sports, by their very nature, become solid video games, but this year has highlighted how these games can go a step further and get crazier than is possible in reality. That helped breathe some life into an otherwise stale genre.

Sports games get weird

As we look back at 2022, there are plenty of sports games worth mentioning outside of the usual suspects. Nintendo Switch Sports is this year’s signature casual sports game, offering people an accessible and motion-controlled way to play golf, badminton, tennis, bowling, chambara, soccer and volleyball with Nintendo’s signature visual flair. Despite being one of the more well-known twists on the genre, indie developers led the charge and made the sports genre shine this year.

Players can ride on the wall in OlliOlli World.

Roll7 OlliOlli world, for example, is one of my favorite games of the year. Skateboard games have been a mainstay of sports gaming since the ’90s, however OlliOlli world implements this formula in a way that is every bit as fulfilling to play as the best Sonic the Hedgehog games. at his best, OlliOlli world is a colorful, fast-paced 2D platformer where each level has multiple paths that cater to the different skills of the players.

It doesn’t attempt to have accurate physics or recreate iconic real-world locations. Instead, it creates its own vibrant fantasy world where everything is based around skateboarding, and the gameplay gives players enough scope to experiment and possibly fail with flashy tricks. Roll7 didn’t stop there and delivered too rollerdroma game that combines score-based rollerblading with shooting to create an action-sports game mix players didn’t know they needed.

Playing sports can give you an ultra-focused adrenaline rush and a game like OlliOlli world and rollerdrom can achieve the same flow state through gameplay. Other games, on the other hand, interpret sport in a completely new way.

The golfer hitting a long distance drive

Chuhai Laboratories Cursed to golf turns golfing into a 2D roguelike with card-based abilities. Clubs of different strengths, cards with various helpful abilities, and unique gimmicks keep the experience fresh. It’s technically a golf game, but it appeals to and delights a very different audience than a normalized simulation golf game PGA Tour 2K23.

Ubisoft’s Scooter Champions is out there turning inline skating into a competitive team based game where the goal is to score points in a small goal. Windjammer 2 Reimagines Ultimate Frisbee as an extremely intense 1v1 battle where reflexes and predicting how your opponent will do are critical to success. And then there’s What the hell? A VR game that replaces your arms with baseball bats.

What exactly is a sports game?

Do all those games I mentioned really count as sports games? I think so.

They might not exactly simulate a traditional sport, but they’re willing to go crazy and explore how the video game medium can distort traditional sports. Every game genre needs developers willing to push the boundaries of what that type of game can be; It’s good to know that sports games are no different.

A character prepares to fight in What the Bat?  brushing your teeth with a baseball bat.

These unique games make 2022 one of the healthiest years for the genre in a long time. Although the “sports game” moniker immediately makes you think of Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K, they’re far from the only ones out there, and certainly not the ones pushing the envelope.

There are also some novel sports games heading into 2023. Nacon’s Blood Bowl III aims to feature a football-themed fantasy strategy game, Devolver Digital’s skate history will bring a striking aesthetic to skateboarding, even THQ Nordic’s AEW fights forever tries to return to the glory N64 days of wrestling games.

While the more quirky sports games may not be bestsellers like these simulation titles, some developers are pushing the limits of what a sports game can be. A focus on reimagining classic pastimes and finding new ways to engage gamers in a sport-induced flow state is beneficial to the entire esports genre, even if EA and 2K aren’t innovating as quickly.

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