Sports gaming continues to be at a weird inflection point this year. We’re getting deep into the current generation of consoles and we’re starting to see a lot of the big innovations cool as the limits to current console power are being realized in some ways.
In that way, this article is a bit tougher to write because the whole genre has a lot to prove in the next couple years.
But, I think there are three major league titles that have more to prove than the rest this upcoming fall. Each of these titles appears on this list for different reasons, but each one seems to have a fair bit of skepticism attached to it as we move into the nutty release season of August to October.
What It Has To Prove: EA Sports’ NHL series has had a string of solid but not spectacular releases. It wasn’t that long ago that this series was innovating ahead of the genre and defining some aspects to it. With the NHL itself slowly gaining steam, EA Sports’ NHL needs to recapture some of that glory it has attained in the past.
The usual tweaks on the ice are needed, but the modes themselves need a shot of adrenaline put into them. Compared to its peers in the genre, NHL is beginning to feel rather thin when it comes to game modes. As the series itself continues to sell within a narrow but meaningful margin, it feels like we are going to need to see the series start taking some advantage of the league getting its foundation back and moving upwards.
Outlook: We don’t know much about the series yet. With a slated mid-September release, it seems likely we are going to start hearing a lot about NHL 20 soon enough. It may be asking too much to revamp several major modes while refining the gameplay all in one season, especially with the smaller team working on the game. It’s a full wait and see in terms of whether or not the series takes a big leap forward and establishes itself as a powerful player in the genre again.
What It Has To Prove: Konami’s console game lineup is, ahem, rather thin these days. Quite honestly, PES has to fight for survival. The company itself seems pretty determined to continue moving into mobile markets versus the traditional console experiences. I personally think any company doing this is making a grave mistake long term, but you can’t stop short-term momentum.
With that said, PES has to justify its continued existence. Sales are down, and to me, the gap between PES and FIFA continues to widen. We need to see a better career mode, a better multiplayer experience and perhaps a reworking of the game on the pitch.
Outlook: I think PES is in deep trouble as a console title. It’s telling that Konami didn’t just scuttle the series right away — there’s definitely interest in keeping it alive. However, the game has to do big things to turn around sales or I’m afraid we could be looking at another major sports game series gone far too soon.
What It Has To Prove: Madden is probably a perennial name on this list because the expectations for this series are sky high. The NFL is the nation’s most popular sport and Madden is the only title carrying that banner on video game consoles. That’s enough to put Madden on this list most years.
That being said, franchise mode has been stale, and the gameplay needs a jolt of unpredictability and excitement to thrill fans of the game. On top of that, the series needs to show single-player users and online-oriented users that it is serious about both camps. At least, I hope that’s how the folks at Tiburon feel.
Outlook: Madden NFL 20‘s early returns are looking good. The series looks to finally be focusing on the core franchise experiences and redefining aspects of them. There are the usual set of gameplay tweaks that will likely be a mixed bag. Overall, Madden is in good shape but the series needs to prove it can offer something new to longtime fans.