The Best Football Video Games in History: Sports Games that Always Score
Put on your helmet and get ready to run for the end zone!
Check out our list below of world-class football video games, including top titles like Madden and ESPN NFL 2K5!
Football video games are big business. However, before we run some plays and list which games we believe are the best ones of all time, we need to make an important distinction.
Just to make sure that we're not excluding anyone that’s reading this from outside of the US — this is not a post about soccer. This means big names like FIFA or street football video games like Urban Freestyle are not on our list.
The football we’re actually talking about is what's also sometimes referred to as American football.
We have assessed all the big hits from the last few decades, taking into consideration the tactical nuances of these games, running some plays, and gazing in wonder at their aesthetics.
Those that passed our tests are, in our opinion, some of the top football games ever made. So, without further ado, let’s suit up and head for the end zone!
ESPN NFL 2K5
A lot goes into a top-class game, but characters are extremely important in football. Because it’s such an iconic sport, an American football offering without any recognizable players is almost destined to fail. We saw this as ESPN’s football franchise evolved.
The company’s standout offering, NFL 2K5 was developed by Visual Concepts for PlayStation and Xbox.
When it was released in 2004, it was the latest in a long line of 2K Sports games, and, more importantly, it was an officially licensed NFL product. That meant it had authentic video game characters, including rostered NFL characters and ESPN presenters.
The game itself was presented as a live ESPN broadcast. That gave it a unique feel and the ability to offer innovations such as in-game presentations.
Overall, ESPN NFL 2K5 created a unique big-game experience, but all that dropped away when the NFL gave sole licensing rights to EA. ESPN’s subsequent attempts the remain competitive in the football video games market fell by the wayside.
The inability to offer official video game characters from the NFL hurt the franchise and, with that, Madden was able to dominate.
Madden NFL is not only one of the best football video games of all time, it’s one of the most popular video games in any genre. Part of the reason Madden has become the best-selling sports game franchise in history is the fact it became the NFL’s sole partner in 2013.
That move shut out ESPN and every other company trying to make it in the football video games market.
The benefit of being licensed by the NFL is that Madden can use real players as video game characters. That adds an authenticity that no other company can match. However, this game doesn’t survive on big-name players alone.
The visuals are truly impressive, and the gameplay is smooth. The developers at EA are also hot on innovations. Features such as the hit stick, which allows you to unleash powerful tackles, have made the game popular with casual players.
Madden NFL also benefits from having an intelligent engine that changes the game’s dynamics from season to season.
Add to this an ability to customize characters and recruit members of staff, and there’s no doubt Madden provides a comprehensive gaming experience. Some criticize its monopoly over the NFL brand and the speed at which new features are released.
However, in terms of mainstream popularity, it’s still one of the best games for football fans. This point is even more salient thanks to the introduction of Madden NFL Mobile in 2014.
Now, fans can enjoy one of the best console gaming experiences, as well as impressive iPad games, from the Madden franchise.
The NFL Street series was first developed by EA in 2004. The beauty of this game was its high-octane nature. Games are played as seven vs seven showdowns and you can compete across a variety of formats, including pickup games and challenges.
Some people don’t like street football video games because they don’t offer as much scope to implement plays and tactics.
However, for the average sports fan or casual gamer, NFL Street is perfect. Indeed, the focus is a lot more on aggression and flair because there aren’t any fouls and stylish moves earn you extra points.
As such, street football video games like this one don’t have to be as time-consuming as Madden NFL. Again, this makes NFL Street ideal for casual video gamers.
College football video games don’t always have the mainstream appeal as products that focus on the pro leagues simply because the players aren’t as well known. However, EA struck the right balance between authenticity and gameplay with its NCAA Football series.
The original was released in 1993 and was called Bill Walsh College Football. The NCAA eventually saw the rising popularity of EA’s college football video games and agreed to a licensing deal in 1998.
That spawned a series of NCAA Football video games until 2013 when a legal dispute put the franchise on hold. The good news for fans of college football video games is that EA announced in 2021 that the series would return in 2023.
It’s good news because NCAA Football has long been lauded for its smooth gameplay and innovative features. Things such as Turn the Tide created a frenetic dynamic, while Teambuilder made it possible to nurture an all-star line-up.
Best of the Rest: More All-Star Football Video Games
Those are four of the top football video games ever made, but here are three more that deserve an honorable mention:
This retro arcade game was a huge hit back in the 1980s.
This was the football video game equivalent to NBA Jam.
NFL GameDay 98
When EA didn’t have a monopoly on the NFL football video game market, Sony created one of the first products with 3D players.
Between these three football video games and our top four, there are plenty of entertaining ways to run, tackle, and score via your console, PC, or mobile.