Whether it’s football, golf, hockey, or motorsports, DOS has a rich and diverse library of sports games for everyone. There are 2D sports games, 3D sports games, and text-based sports games. Some are simulation-oriented, while others don’t take themselves too seriously and just try to have fun.
Today, I shall take a look at the 15 best DOS sports games that you must check out. Of course, there’s a lot more than just 15 in the DOS library but I’m only including the most popular and revolutionary titles here. There was plenty of cheap shovelware back then, and trust me- you don’t want to play that stuff.
John Madden Football
Initially, Trip Hawkins (the designer) approached Joe Montana and Joe Kapp to endorse his football game which would be created in the same vein as Strat-O-Matic. However, Montana already had a deal with Atari, and Kapp was charging too much. So two years go by, and guess who agreed to put his name on the box- John Madden himself.
John Madden Football was received favorably by critics who appreciated the combination of simulation elements with arcade-like features. If you wanted a simple practice run, you could hop into Quick Mode. And for those who wished to go all-in on stats and team building, there was the Standard Game mode.
Made by Konami and released for arcades in 1986, Double Dribble eventually got a PC port one year later. With a massive side-scrolling court, smooth animations, cinematics, and accurate player models, Double Dribble was considered the most realistic basketball game of its time. When a player performed a slam dunk, you’d get an animated cinematic sequence that was stylish and impactful.
The single most obscure sports game on DOS, 3D CyberPuck is what happens when you combine hockey with spaceships. After all, the only thing more exciting than hockey is hockey with rocket boosters and sci-fi gadgets. You get many exciting powerups, such as the Gravity Well which can be dropped in the middle of the play area to attract the ball.
You can also deploy a portable wall that bounces the hockey ball once before breaking. Everyone is driving a rocket ship, and you get shields that prevent your opponent from stealing your ball. Sometimes, you can even drop mines that send the ball flying in a random direction with great speed.
4D Sports Boxing
Despite the name, this isn’t a 4D game. However, it’s 3D which I feel is more than enough for most people- we aren’t quite ready for the metaphysical plane yet. This is one of the earliest games to feature 3D opponents in the ring, and they are made of polygons.
Boxers in this game are loosely based on real-world fighters and have varied stats. Some punch hard, others punch fast. If you play as the champ, you have extremely high attributes in all aspects of boxing.
The PC version of Hardball III contains more complex game mechanics compared to the SNES and Sega Genesis versions. For starters, logging your seasonal stats is a much more seamless process on a PC because you have a hard disk drive. Consoles had to go through an elaborate password-based process to do the same thing.
Upon release in 1992, Hardball III was praised for its wonderful integration with VGA graphics and modern soundcards of the era. Its animations, stat system, and team mechanics were also revolutionary for being hyper-realistic compared to the more arcade-themed baseball games prevalent during the 1990s.
Back when EA Sports wasn’t universally, NHL ’94 was one of its premier products. It’s one of the earliest multiplatform ice hockey games and is licensed by both the NHL and NHL Player’s Association. Unlike other hockey games of its era, NHL ’94 used an isometric camera angle that offered you a bird’s eye view of all the action.
While characters were still represented via 2D sprites, their animations were significantly upgraded. New mechanics like the “one-timer” were added, along with the ability to save records. All of this, combined with the 4 new game modes made NHL ’94 one of the best sports games of all time.
R.B.I. Baseball 2
The second game in the R.B.I Baseball series, it’s fully licensed and features all major league teams along with every player from the 1990 roster. If you want, you can even choose to play as one of the 1989 All-Star squads. You can play solo, 1 v 1, or a full season against every team in the division.
If you just want to have some good old-fashioned fun without getting realistic, Action Soccer is perfect for you. Its cartoonish theme is further accentuated by the comedic timing and sarcastic commentary of Jonathan Pearce. You can play solo against the computer, or against another person in 2-player mode.
The isometric 3D camera is perfect for fast-paced action, and you can choose from a wide range of unique player characters while building your team. Each character has attributes such as speed, skill, strength, etc. The weather changes during the game and adds a new layer of complexity to what’s already a very intense experience.
Grand Prix 2
It’s from 1996 and still manages to be more realistic than some modern racing games. Every aspect of the cockpit in an F1 car is rendered with great attention to detail, and you get to choose between 16 different circuits- all from the 1994 F1 season. Since this game is officially licensed, you also get all 28 drivers and 14 teams.
You can do practice, qualifying laps, and the actual race just like in the real world. Cars can be customized, and mechanical failures in the engine, electronics, frame, etc. are modeled accurately. If you want, you can turn on or turn off driving aids like auto shifting, traction control, and power steering.
Skate or Die
Long before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, there was Skate or Die- the first game to be developed internally by EA. The game has five unique skating events that you can compete in individually or as part of a sequential tournament format. You can sign up to 8 players for the tournament, and compete with your real-life friends to see who can pull off the sickest tricks.
Unlike wrestling games you’re familiar with in the current era, this isn’t a 3D-action game. Instead, it’s a text-based professional wrestling simulator that’s licensed by the WWF. It features superstars like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, Ted Dibiase, etc. in turn-based strategy matches where you select wrestling moves from a list of text options.
In the middle of the screen, there’s a window that shows an image of your wrestler performing whichever move you selected (taken from actual matches). Moves are divided into basic and major types, performing a finisher helps you recover HP by rallying the crowd. Before each match, Mean Gene interviews the wrestlers.
Sharkey’s 3D Pool
Most pool games from this era have a 2D table with a pool stick that you can only angle in two dimensions- left and right. However, Sharkey’s 3D Pool lets you rotate the table along all 3 axes and vary the viewpoint on your cue stick for the perfect shot. You can even set the pace, spin, and strike angle depending on where you want your ball to go.
Lakers vs. Celtics and the NBA Playoffs
The first-ever basketball video game to be endorsed by the NBA, Lakers vs. Celtics features many top stars and teams from the 1980s. Its story is rudimentary but centers around the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. What makes the DOS version special is the fact that Kareem Abdul Jabbar is exclusive to this version of the game.
While Action Soccer is a cartoonish depiction of the sport that doesn’t take itself too seriously, MicroProse Soccer turns the dial all the way in the opposite direction. It’s a full-on simulation game in which you can recreate a game of football featuring 11 players on both sides. You can play the Indoor League (6-player-team), or go for a World Cup season (11-player-team).
The Games: Winter Challenge
With a name like this, it’s obvious that the developers couldn’t get an official license from the International Olympic Committee. Still, it’s based on the Winter Olympics and contains all the relevant events. You’ve got luge, downhill skiing, bobsled, ski jump, biathlon, etc.
You’ll be surprised to find that a lot of these games can still put you on the edge of your seat in excitement, with their engaging mechanics and level design. Sure, the graphics have aged very poorly and none of the control makes any sense in the modern era. But once you iron out the kinks, I’m sure you’ll find yourself immersed thoroughly in a virtual world of sports for hours on end.
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