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Best Alternative Sports Game in 2021: Legend Bowl

Legend Bowl Best Alternative Sports Game of 2021

Legend Bowl

Best Alternative Sports Game in 2021: Legend Bowl

In the world of sports video games, choice reduction has been a very unpopular trend for the last two decades. During this time, the importance of “alternative” sports choices has become crucial to the genre. This is how we think of this category. It’s not alt-rock or skateboarding, it’s just a game that’s an “alternative” to the accepted norm for various sports (where applicable).

Beyond that, yes, this is a good catch-all category for any sports games that may not come up elsewhere. While there are many games that strive for excellence, few alternative sports options garner enough attention to make it to the mainstream.

Best Alternative Sports Game In 2021: Legend Bowl

Legend Bowl

Success stories such as Metalhead’s Super Mega Baseball franchise are the exception, not the rule. Throughout history we have also had various EA Big titles (NBA Street), Midway’s NFL Blitz series, and The Bigs from 2K. These are all great series that had that elusive staying power during their time.

There are more to mention, but the game that stands out the most in this department for 2021 and wins the editorial side of our Best Alternative Sports Game of the Year Award is Super Pixel Games’ Legend Bowl.

If you have not heard of Legend Bowl, it is a football title that incorporates a bit of Tecmo Football, a sprinkle of Joe Montana Football, and then just a hint of Madden and NFL 2K for good measure.

Alternative Sports Game of Year in 2021

At first glance, it would visually come across as a pure arcade experience. However, once you play the game, that arcade experience turns into a full-fledged sim-cade experience. It’s both arcade and simulation, and for me, it is a perfect blend and recipe I wish many other independent developers would follow.

The game has the perfect balance of fun, action, strategy, and to makes things even sweeter for the consumer, the ability to modify it on the PC side with complete NFL, NCAA, XFL, and CFL leagues (plus multiple rosters to choose from).

What I absolutely love the most about Legend Bowl is the simple fact that the development team is continuously updating the game with new modes, gear, and “quality of life” additions.

The game now offers exhibition mode, season mode, full stat tracking, and day and night games. Even more is in the works as the developers are extremely active on social media and are implementing community feedback as much as possible.

Legend Bowl

For those who are curious, while the game does not have a franchise option just yet, the developers have it on their radar but are not sure if it’s going to be implemented into this version or its sequel.

Either way, once a full-blown franchise mode is in place, I have a feeling that this title will pick up even more steam and settle in nicely right alongside the Super Mega Baseball franchise as one of the best “alternative” sports series to ever exist.

Game modes aside, the gameplay takes a backseat to nothing, and the on-field experience is, simply put, fun and addictive. For me, the game play is about everything I could ask for in a sports title, especially when I have one of the mods implemented.

Legend Bowl

Hitting the edge with a running back only to have him crushed by an imposing linebacker before his helmet pops off and a small splatter of blood emerges is amazing. And, yes, you can call me bloodthirsty for loving this cartoon violence.

The passing feature is a touch and feel type of system that really rewards nailing the timing, and the same goes for the kicking game, which is more of a challenge than I have ever been privy to in the Madden series. Legend Bowl just feels like football when playing it, and while that feeling is subjective, the amount of extremely positive reviews on Steam tends to agree with my sentiment.

If you are looking for either an alternative to Madden or even a replacement, I cannot suggest Legend Bowl enough. For those worried about it being PC-only, release those worries as Legend Bowl will finally be coming to more major platforms in 2022 as well.

Legend Bowl lives up to its namesake, and this is why it’s the Best Alternative Sports Game in 2021.

Community Vote – Best Alternative Sports Game In 2021

1. Mario Golf: Super Rush

2. Riders Republic

3. Legend Bowl

4. RetroMania Wrestling

The community went a different route here with its vote, but it was a relatively close vote between 2-4 on the list. Still, Mario Golf: Super Rush ran away with the community’s vote and it’s understandable why. Mario Golf has a lot of history at this point, and we did think the newest version was a very good game. Beyond that, spoiler, Nintendo knows how to make good games.

We also do want to mention Riders Republic here because Ubisoft did a great job refining ideas from Steep to make one of the more underrated sports games of the year. All in all, this was a very good year for “alternative” sports games to us.


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  1. Stop saying this is available on console, it is NOT AVAILABLE ON CONSOLE DESPITE WHAT IT SAYS ON GOOGLE. Please, someone that has this for the ps4/5 or Switch, let me know. I've been dying to play this. 
    It also mentions CFL and XFL mods which I can't find anywhere. The NFL and NCAA are on discord but no luck with the others mentioned as far as I could find from a Google search.
    Stop saying this is available on console, it is NOT AVAILABLE ON CONSOLE DESPITE WHAT IT SAYS ON GOOGLE. Please, someone that has this for the ps4/5 or Switch, let me know. I've been dying to play this.*

    We didn'ttttttttt (okay we did). We meant to say it's coming in 2022 (it's been updated to say as much).
    It also mentions CFL and XFL mods which I can't find anywhere. The NFL and NCAA are on discord but no luck with the others mentioned as far as I could find from a Google search.

    You'll have to take that one up with Bob, he's more invested in that scene than me. Maybe he can hook you up.
    Curmudgeonly pedant warning: I am not on board with how this website is covering specifically independent football games.
    I get the impression that either the writer of this article either A - wanted to specifically talk about Legend Bowl in an end-of-year sports gaming piece, worked backwards from that idea, and square-pegged the game into the award circle that he thought best fit; or B - isn't actually writing about the best alternative sports game and instead is just writing thinly-veiled criticism about the lay of the rather dull team sports video game landscape.
    Let me be clear; this is not a criticism of Legend Bowl. I'm not in a position to shine a sharp critical eye on it yet, as I don't own a gaming PC so I haven't played it. I am actually quite looking forward to it coming out on consoles or Mac! Having followed its development and watched a fair number of YouTube videos it features in, I will say Legend Bowl likely deserves Independent Sports Game of the Year recognition; everything I've seen shows that it captures the spirit of the best 16-bit team sports games of yesteryear to a tee, the customization suite and modding support on offer is quite impressive, and the consistent delivery of meaningful post-launch updates has been impressive. Honestly, one might even make a reasonable argument that it is the most competently-executed football video game released in 2021, given the incompleteness, shoddy technical state, and poorly-delivered live service promises offered by Madden NFL 22.
    That out of the way, I do not think the pick of Legend Bowl as alternative sports game of the year over some other games on offer is justifiable. A comparison between its ambition and scope (limited by being developed by one person) and that of the content-rich Riders Republic developed by a full-blown AAA studio is simply is not a fair fight. Riders Republic is basically the Forza Horizon of extreme sports; that's the only reasonable touchpoint speaking to the breadth of gameplay modes, depth of content, and many means of user expression and user content generation. That's lofty company given that Forza Horizon 5 has been widely celebrated as the best sports game released in 2021. Legend Bowl can't begin to match either of these games' ambitions, it understandably does not even attempt to do so, and it's entirely unreasonable to put these two games side by side in the same category.
    Additionally, this website considered Hot Wheels Unleashed for the racing game of the year award and not in this category, but in my opinion it also deserved consideration in the alternative sports game category as well. It could easily be justified as "alternative", it is every bit as customizable and offers just as many opportunities for user-generated content as either Forza Horizon or Riders Republic, and it is arguably just as polished as Playground Games' offering. Customization is Legend Bowl's best punch, but it's simply outclassed by all three of these other games I have mentioned on this front (again, as should be expected, the other three games have huge teams behind them).
    Finally, this is not the first time I've taken issue with how Operation Sports covers specifically independent football games. A few years ago (and admittedly an entire review paradigm ago), Axis Football 16 was met with a rather generous scored review by this website, seemingly getting bonus credit by virtue of of merely existing. This site jumped all over the eventual vaporware and likely scam that was Gridiron Champions. The rock-solid Mutant League Football was almost entirely ignored; I honestly did not know about it at all until I saw a video of it on Not The Expert's YouTube channel and it looks absolutely hilarious. Established front office game series such as Draft Day Sports and Bowl Bound don't get much coverage at all beyond annual review pieces. Continously updating mobile games such as Retro Bowl (which is still under active development and surged in popularity in 2021 thanks to TikTok) are almost entirely ignored. I don’t think OS has covered the browser-based football GM game Progression Football literally at all.
    I get that we're all desperate for alternatives in the team sports games, especially with specific regard to 11-on-11 gridiron football. I agree that quality and successfully executed efforts such as Legend Bowl are absolutely worth highlighting. But let's also not overstate what it actually is at the expense of more ambitious and impressive games, and let's actually frame it in a way where it shines believably. Such comparisons as the ones made by this award piece are not fair to either game involved.
    In short, I think this site could do a much better job covering the independent team sports games space in a way that appropriately showcases quality offerings.
    Thanks for the feedback mate. I was not working here for some of this stuff so can't speak to all of it (Axis Football etc.), but I'll get someone to get on the beat for some of these other titles in the future.
    The issue with something like Draft Day (and we generally love Wolverine games) or some management sims is we just don't have someone on staff who is going to focus on them a bunch (we like them, but they're not the top sports game we play), nor do they do much traffic. So it's sort of both factors for why those usually end with reviews and not much post-release talk. If someone within the community is writing about them etc. I'm always happy to bump that stuff to the front page if someone nudges me, but internally there's not as much drive beyond OOTP and Football Manager to stay with those games.
    However, when it comes to more "normal" titles like Retro Bowl think it's fair the post-release coverage could be better, especially when they garner a second life from elsewhere.
    Also to give a little look behind the curtain for the vote on this one. Think it's fair Hot Wheels could have been in here, but I don't think it would have won or even contended as much as a couple peeps enjoy it on staff so it's more an organization thing there. The vote was split between Riders and Legend Bowl. I was on the side of Riders Republic, Mario had third place locked down but was always third (it was 2 for Riders, 2 for Legend, 1 for Mario). So basically when it's a tie, I ask if someone is especially passionate about X game getting the award (basically fight for your game, do you really want it here). Since Bob did reviews for both Riders and Legend, we felt it was fair to let Legend win out since Bob really believed in it.
    The only pushback I would make -- and I get what you're saying about scope -- but a good game is a good game. If Rocket League comes out this year against everything else, I don't think I end up having much issue giving it like all the awards still. If something clicks, then it shouldn't really matter how big or small the game is in most regards.

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