In the heyday of Tecmo Madison, the de facto championship of Tecmo Super Bowl, organizers deliberately scheduled it for the midpoint between the actual Super Bowl and the beginning of the NCAA’s basketball tournament. It was an acknowledgment of what sports fans in North America have known for years: There really ain’t much to look forward to in the month of February, when the slog toward spring seems to be in its longest mile.
And yet, for some reason, I’ve always found February to be a great month for sports video games. Not because of major titles regularly launch at this time; to the contrary, the lack of anything going on makes it a great time to revisit the lingering careers, the dormant saves, the ranked multiplayer of mainstays like FIFA 20 that got crowded out by the nonstop obligations and distractions of the holiday season. And one hour after the end of a significant, very entertaining Super Bowl LIV, I was home in front of my TV, picking up a Madden NFL 20 career that I last played in October.
If you, sports fan, are jonesing for the drama of athletic competition in a month that always seems starved for human contact, well, here are five timely suggestions to remind you that there’s always something worth rooting for on the TV, but sometimes you have to make your own fun.
The NBA All-Star Game is this coming weekend. As it usually does around this time of year, 2K Sports this past week updated NBA 2K20 with the rosters, court logo and both uniforms for the game. This is particularly poignant, as 2K Sports just updated the game to feature the Chicago all-star court and both teams’ uniforms. One side will be wearing all No. 24s in memory of Kobe Bryant, the other will have all No. 2s to honor his daughter Gigi. They and seven others died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles.
Casual fans’ interest in pro basketball may begin in April with the start of the NBA Playoffs. But NBA 2K has had a strong, year-round community for more than a decade. The NBA 2K League also stages its draft, beginning the official esports league’s third season of play, on Feb. 22.
FIGHT NIGHT CHAMPION
The last boxing video game on consoles is almost a decade old, but it’s been part of the EA Access vault since May 2018. Boxing is also one of the few sports video games that doesn’t lose anything by not having the most current roster, uniforms or licenses.
Plus, we’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of one of the all-time greatest moments in sports history, when James “Buster” Douglas, a 42-1 longshot, knocked out Mike Tyson in Tokyo to win the heavyweight championship of the world.
Douglas has not officially appeared in a Fight Night roster, but he can be found among the created boxers shared by Fight Night Champion’s online community. If recreating that fight doesn’t float your boat, there’s always Champion Mode, the first full story mode in sports video gaming. That involves bare-knuckle boxing in prison, one of the most novel inclusions for sports video game of the last console generation, or the current one.
Skiing and snowboarding have been a natural fit for video game enjoyment, even if winter sports are one of sports’ more overlooked segments. Ubisoft published Steep in 2016 and it has the skiing venues of the 2018 Winter Olympics, one of the few simulation-style titles with Olympic branding.
Players aren’t just limited to traditional alpine events. Its open world offers wingsuit flying, paragliding and even base jumping. Some reviewers dinged Steep’s non-linear design for lacking focus or direction, but the good news is it means none of the activities or challenges are gated behind a progression system.
SUPER MEGA BASEBALL 2
MLB The Show 20’s closed beta has already come and gone, and the game will next reappear on March 26 for PlayStation 4. But Metalhead Software’s Super Mega Baseball 2 is timelessly enjoyable and independent of the need for the latest uniforms, free agent signings and other updates Sony’s San Diego Studio is hard at work adding to the game.
Plus, Super Mega Baseball 2 is available on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It’s going to be 2021, at the earliest, before we might see a fully featured MLB title on a Microsoft or Nintendo platform.The series was a strong-playing game of baseball when it launched at the end of 2014, although the first game’s cartoony graphics threw off some people into expecting a more over-the-top caricature of the sport. Super Mega Baseball 2 focuses more on strong fundamentals and more lifelike players, although the familiar faces of the first game return and have the same strengths and weaknesses I remembered.
Why not? If there’s no championship in a major team sport to contest or for a whole month, isn’t this the perfect time to learn a new one? Rugby 20 launched two weeks ago, and is the latest effort in Bigben Interactive’s ongoing catalog of fully licensed, lesser-known but still intriguing sports.
Rugby 20 can be rough around the edges in its presentation and animations, and there’s not a lot of hand-holding for those who aren’t already familiar with the sport’s set pieces and strategy. Still, it’s refreshing sometimes to run headlong into a sport for the purpose of actually playing it, as opposed to recreating something familiar on the TV. I stall on my careers and/or abandon single-player games all the time because they just don’t seem quite right, or like I haven’t done something that would actually happen in real life. Having no idea of what I am doing for a change is actually liberating, and I find rugby’s wide-open action is also a good chaser to American football’s somewhat scripted nature.
Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.