The beginning of a new console generation can be a rough time for sports video game fans. Those who choose to buy shiny new machines right at launch are often treated to hasty ports of existing titles, which typically offer little more than slightly improved graphics and a whole slew of growing pains.
Those who remain loyal to their venerable old machines have to settle for games that don't offer much beyond new rosters, meaningless "exclusive features," and the cold reality that game developers are putting their A-list talent on next generation projects.
Yes, it's a cold stretch, for sure. But, fear not, friends. If history is any indicator, the sports game thaw is coming in 2014. Here are just a few of the sports titles that have us eager to get going on the next generation of gaming consoles.
10 NBA 2K15
One of the brightest spots of the recent series of launches was NBA 2K14, which bucked the trend and offered gamers a true next-generation experience -- one well above the current-gen offerings -- on its first attempt.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions were typically awesome sports sims, loaded to the gills with features, modes, and even replacement outfits. But, next-gen consoles got a streamlined, more focused, and frighteningly beautiful experience all their own -- one that cut the chaff and delivered one of the purest sports gaming experiences to date.
Now that the developers have a little more time tinkering under the hoods of these shiny new boxes, gamers can expect a return of the various modes and extracurricular activities the series is known for. But, the foundation for an amazing new generation of basketball games is already there, and it's bound to get even better in the years to come.
9 UFC 2014
Maybe EA Sports is struggling to re-learn digital basketball because its best talent is working on its upcoming UFC title. After years of overly difficult (and slightly ugly) fighting simulations from the now-defunct developer THQ, EA snapped up the vacated UFC license and implemented throughout its next slab of MMA goodness.
Though EA's initial MMA game was a relatively poor seller, it was arguably the better, more fluid title. Now that the company has the names, licenses and star power to drive sales, there's no reason to believe UFC 2014 won't be a world-beater.
Or a face-beater, at the very least.
8 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (title TBD)
Poor Tony Hawk. Once the face of the hottest "extreme sports" franchise in the land, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, the lure of more money and increasingly fantastical gameplay tarnished what was once a fun, intuitive experience. By the time its umpteenth iteration landed on shelves, the series was overexposed, watered-down, and altogether disappointing.
In 2012, rumblings of a new "back-to-basics" THPS started garnering some interest from die-hard fans of the original few games, who were relegated to reliving past glories on an accurate Xbox Live Arcade throwback game. Now, it appears the rumors are true, and that an all-new (but not gimmicky) THPS is in development for a possible 2014 release.
If the developers can recapture the "just one more game" addictiveness of the first three Tony Hawk titles, you can bet gamers old and new would line up today to be the first to reach that elusive million-point combo. We'd be among them.
7 WWE 2K15
Speaking of "extreme," did anyone manage to finish the endless amount of content from last year's WWE 2K14? Yeah, we didn't think so. Between WrestleMania mode, season mode, online matches, downloadable community content and more, it was nigh impossible for anyone to devote that kind of time to completing it.
But on a different note, many gamers never reached the end of WWE 2K14 because it was ultimately more of the same. Sure, each year we were greeted with new grappling systems, more accessible controls and the like, but each and every WWE game comes down to the same "get the first punch and dominate the match" pattern. Finishing moves often didn't do what was promised, reversals were performed out of sheer luck, rather than good timing, and the graphics made your favorite Superstars and Divas look like weathered feet.
But, now that 2K Sports is more familiar with its new license, and developers are more familiar with their dev kits, we are confident that the next generation of wrestling games will finally move the experience forward.
6 Mario Kart 8
Okay, okay. Perhaps we're taking some liberties with the term "sports game" when we include the upcoming Mario Kart title for the WiiU. But, if we can include sweaty guys in spandex and skateboarders who launch tricks onto roofs and fire escapes, there's certainly room for a plumber in a go-kart.
The truth is, despite not having one iota of realism, there are fewer gaming experiences more addictive, competitive and pure than a head-to-head round of Mario Kart. From living rooms, to dorm rooms, to boardrooms -- no one who has raced against Bowser and Luigi while dodging mushrooms is able to put the controller down after one session.
So yeah, while Mario Kart is hardly a real "sports" game, just spend a few minutes with NBA Live 14 and its magically sticky, floaty basketballs before you decide how you'd rather spend your time. With a hi-res sheen and online options, Mario Kart 8 is likely to start your childhood obsession all over again.
5 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
On most days, we would see a title like this and immediately think, "obvious cash grab." And, that may very well be the case with EA's latest speciality soccer title. But there's also a chance that the fun, but not really "next-gen," FIFA 14 for Xbox One and PS4 was just a warm-up for game developers. Maybe the first taste of true next generation soccer will -- coincidentally enough -- arrive at the same time as the world's biggest international football event.
Yes, we lament that these "half-step" titles feature limited options when compared to full FIFA releases. But we'd happily give up the ability to play matches in the vaunted Paraguay Primera División in exchange for a soccer title that shows off some new chops, and a much nicer look, to boot.
Our skepticism meters are at 11, EA Sports. Prove us wrong.
4 Kinect Sports Rivals
We have to be completely honest ... we'd be happy if the latest Kinect Sports game was an actual game at all. Because, despite a few memorable moments over the years, Kinect Sports has always been a tech demo first, game second, great way to get elbow cramps third.
But we're a positive bunch here at The Richest, and the latest round of previews for Kinect Sports Rivals shows a heavy emphasis on variety, interaction, and bona fide gameplay. The title is set to feature sports such as bowling, jet ski racing, rock climbing, soccer, target shooting, and tennis -- all optimized to take advantage of the Xbox One's laser-sharp new Kinect.
So, yes, you will still look like an idiot flailing your arms around the living room trying to nail a solid baseline shot. But this time you'll be doing it for a thorough sports experience, with a much more precise Kinect tracking your every movement.
In the end, Kinect Sports may not redefine the genre, but it might just set the table for some more serious sports game implementation in the years to come. That's more than enough to pique our interest.
3 Madden NFL 15 (title TBD)
Much like FIFA before it, the next-generation ports of Madden 25 were pretty and fun to play. But they weren't actually next-generation experiences, as much as they added some needed polish to already great games.
And, if EA wanted to milk that cow for a few years, who's to stop them? It wouldn't slow sales one iota. People would buy the next Madden title if they had to swim with feral jungle cats to do so.
However, if you remember back to 2007, you'll recall the massive leap in quality from Madden 06 to Madden 07. Not only were the graphics significantly improved, but the gameplay both harkened back to classic Madden, while also introducing a fine-tuned experience that hinted at next-gen perfection.
While Madden 25 was much better than Madden 06, there are still a boatload of things that need to be improved and enhanced. One can only hope that EA developers are having a similar epiphany to the one they enjoyed seven years ago. Our fingers are crossed, and our thumbs are ready.
2 MLB 14: The Show
For true baseball gamers, the previous console generation only offered one viable option -- Sony's MLB: The Show series. While various versions of MLB 2K had some fun moments, the series never really improved over its 2007 edition, and in many ways, regressed by the time its final entry -- the shameless, carbon-copied MLB 2K13 -- hit stores.
Now that Sony has established Madden-like dominance in console baseball, developers have had time to create a truly next-generation experience for the PS4, and based on what we've seen, it will deliver. It might even make it easier for you to hit the ball this time around.
Xbox gamers? Well, you're likely going to spend the summer staring longingly through the windows at your neighbors' PS4s. That is, unless a true challenger can step up to the proverbial plate...
1 RBI Baseball 14
... well, looky here... it looks like there may be a competition after all!
As of this writing, we know little (if anything) about the return of RBI Baseball to major consoles. We haven't seen any player models, gameplay demos or anything beyond a title card. Is this going to be a sim? More arcade-like? Full of squatty, round Playmobil guys? We don't know a thing.
But, if this all-new RBI Baseball somehow manages to capture the precise balance of realism and arcade playability its NES grandfather was known for, well, this might just be the dawn of a beautiful new era for gamers who don't own Sony's big angular box.
Until we see something resembling gameplay, we'll reserve comment and remain cautiously optimistic, while visions of steerable curveballs dance in our heads.