There are two kinds of sports games: very serious simulations that try to realistically model the sport in question, and the other kind—the ones that live up to the arcade heritage of video games with power-ups and giant-headed characters and other wackiness.
Here are 10 of them: the most gloriously silly sports games ever.
10. ‘MARIO & SONIC AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES’
The Mario & Sonic Olympics series occasionally produces weirdness like villains from the Mario and Sonic games doing synchronized swimming routines to “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy,” but that’s nothing compared to the Dream Events.
Dream diving has you leap from a flying pirate ship, racing to the ocean while steering through hoops and collecting stars. Dream fencing is straight-up sword battles. In the dream equestrian event you steer a wagon full of eggs through waterfalls and off cliffs while a wizard on a broomstick hurls burning bales of hay at you. That would certainly liven up curling.
9. ‘BLOOD BOWL’
There are lots of games where American football gets reimagined as an ultraviolent futuresport with chainsaws, robots, and lasers. Blood Bowl goes in the other direction, turning gridiron into a fantasy game played by Goblins, Dwarfs, and Halflings, though one that’s just as bloody.
Designed by Europeans, it’s a satire of the armor-wearing American version of the sport as seen by people who murder each other over soccer matches. Since J. R. R. Tolkien wrote Orcs with football hooligan dialogue it makes a kind of sense, but only just.
8. ‘BLITZ: THE LEAGUE’
Blitz: The League takes the aesthetics of those game show deathmatch versions of football and applies it to the present day. It’s fictional League football with no referees and players free to brutalize each other, every broken bone shown in x-ray slow-motion.
Fun fact: Blitz: The League was refused a rating (effectively banning it) in Australia not for violence—though it opens on a player getting his thumb ripped off—but because of its portrayal of steroids as a handy way to increase stamina.
7. ‘DEAD OR ALIVE XTREME BEACH VOLLEYBALL’
A character voiced by Dennis Rodman invites women to his private island for a fighting competition but, shocking twist, there isn’t one. So they take a holiday and play beach volleyball in bikinis instead.
Dead Or Alive Xtreme is a volleyball game only in the loosest sense of those words. Between matches there are other activities, and you can buy sexy outfits for the ladies who then pose in them. “I only play it for the volleyball!” some fans say. Sure, and you only read Playboy.com for the listicles.
6. ‘OUTLAW GOLF’
Perhaps because of how boring it is to play regular golf, there are plenty of weird golf games. Vertiginous Golf is minigolf on floating islands and Ribbit King replaces golf balls with frogs. Outlaw Golf takes the cake by letting its cast of wacky golfers refill their “composure” bar by beating up their caddies.
It was popular enough to not only get a sequel but two spin-offs with celebrity commentators. Outlaw Tennis features Stephen Colbert, and Outlaw Volleyball has Steve Carell.
5. ‘JAPAN WORLD CUP’
In Japan World Cup you bet on horse races and watch the results. That’s it. But as you hear the serious commentators present today’s riders, you realize something’s off. One of the horses is wearing a domino mask, another has two riders. One is actually a bull, or two people in a pantomime horse costume. And then the races begin.
Each time something more bizarre happens. Some competitors launch into space, or use a drill to ram the lead horse’s butt. By the third game in the series you’re watching a yeti leap onto the back of a Trojan horse and steal its rider to use as a whip. The word “Japan” has become a lazy synonym for “weird” on the internet, but in the case of Japan World Cup it’s totally accurate.
4. ‘DIABOLICAL PITCH’
In Diabolical Pitch you are a baseball player who loses an arm and has it replaced with a cybernetic super-limb. That’s not the weird bit.
Next, you are trapped in a carnival fever-dream hellscape and must use that cyber-arm to hurl balls at evil clowns and threadbare mascots and occasionally a panda who is also a cannon or an elephant in a flying saucer. That right there is the weird bit.
3. ‘POKER NIGHT AT THE INVENTORY’
In a bar called The Inventory characters from different media mingle and play poker. Ash from Evil Dead, Brock Samson from Venture Bros., and Strong Bad, the guy with boxing glove hands who reads emails from the Homestar Runner webcartoon, are all here. So are characters from games like Team Fortress 2, Portal, and Sam & Max. The Poker Night series lets you play with all of them—but only the most insane characters from each.
If poker is a game about reading the tells of people to play the player and not the game, Poker Night destroys that by making every one of your opponents a bundle of psychotic tics and threatening one-liners who barely knows their own mind. Are they bluffing? Half the time they don’t even know.
2. ‘BASKETBALL NIGHTMARE’
A kind of opposite land Teen Wolf, in Basketball Nightmare you control a team of human players who are pitted against werewolves as well as entire teams of vampires, skeletons, cyclopes, samurai, and Japanese water demons who look like turtles.
And yet even with all that going on Basketball Nightmare is only the second-strangest video game about basketball. (No, the strangest isn’t NBA Jam, though it is pretty odd.)
1. ‘BARKLEY, SHUT UP & JAM: GAIDEN’
Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden is the strangest basketball game. It casts you as Charles Barkley in a dystopian future where basketball is banned because you performed a move so powerful it killed millions: a Chaos Dunk. As Barkley you must avoid the secret police led by your enemy Michael Jordan, defeat villains who plan to conquer the world using the basketball from Space Jam, fight a tedious number of Final Fantasy-style battles, and do it all with your amazing b-ball combat skills. It climaxes with a battle against the evil “Shadow Barkley” on a spaceship.
Crazy as it sounds, Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden is popular enough that its creators managed to crowdfund a sequel, raising $120,335 for it. That’s enough money to make something even more twisted.
Jody Macgregor lives in Melbourne, Australia. He writes about games for PC Gamer, ZAM, and Rock, Paper Shotgun, and writes about music for The Big Issue, FasterLouder, and inthemix. He’s on Twitter at @jodymacgregor.
RELATED: What’s harder: Dark Souls or Tinder Dating?