A Look Back at the Most Dominant Video Game Athletes

To honor Bo Jackson's birthday, we’re looking back at those athletes who are unstoppable in the video game world.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Growing up, every kid wants to become the next great sports hero and for almost all of us we simply don’t have the talent, so we turn to video games to live out our fantasy.  We waste countless hours of our childhood setting up the perfect one timer or learning how to master the stiff arm and we always manage to find the one guy who is unstoppable and gives either ourselves or our opposition an unfair advantage.  Since November 30 is the birthday of Bo Jackson – arguably the greatest athlete in the video game sports world – we figured we would take a look back at some of the most dominant athletes to ever become pixilated.

As we said, when mentioning the most dominant athletes the conversation begins and ends with Jackson.  Before Madden, before the NFL 2k series there was the 1991 hit Tecmo Super Bowl.  It was the first game that had licensing privileges with both the NFL and the NFL Players Association which allowed the game to use both the names and attributes of real NFL teams and players.  Jackson emerged as the cream of the crop and when the secret of just how good he was got out, it created countless arguments of who would get to play as the Oakland Raiders – or the banning of the team between friends.  Jackson was so good it was possible to score a touchdown on every play.  You could even be on your opponents one yard line, run all the way back 99 yards to your endzone and still run all the way back for the score. 

Don’t believe he was the best?  Search Bo Jackson on YouTube and watch one of the countless videos, it pretty much drives the point home.

The only other athlete in the same realm as Jackson would be Mike Tyson.  Tyson was the name sake for the 1987 classic Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and just like real life at the time; he was a pain in the ass to beat.  There was even a code that would allow a player to bypass all the dregs and get right to Tyson but it still took quick hands and plenty of tries before you had any chance of knocking out Iron Mike.

In 2003 gamers saw a revival of Jackson-like skills that came in the form of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick –who was also the featured cover athlete – in Madden 2004.  No matter what your defensive scheme, Vick was not fair.  He had the ability to run for a bazillion yards but if that didn’t work he had a cannon for an arm that could pass for a bazillion yards.  All it would take was a quick tuck of the ball and he was easily the fastest player on the field.  All the gamer had to do was run to buy time and if there was no running lane, bomb it out to any of the Falcons’ wide receivers who bag groceries these days.

Take away Vick’s jail time that caused him to miss almost two seasons and there is no telling how many controllers would have been broken in fits-of-rage.

In the early 1990s, there was no better player in the NHL than Wayne Gretzky.  He was breaking records, polishing his championship rings and trying to win the Los Angeles Kings their first ever Stanley Cup.  Though he was a forced to be reckoned with in NHL ’94, it was Chicago Balckhawks forward Jeremy Roenick who was unstoppable.  Roenick was so good his video game character even made a cameo in the cult-classic Swingers, which proved that his slapshot couldn’t be stopped by any goaltender and that he could make Gretzky bleed with ease.  It wasn’t uncommon to score five, six or even seven goals in a game with Roenick and it seemed like the only team that could compete with Chicago was the Kings.  If we had a dollar for every Chicago-Los Angeles matchup we sat through in 1993 we’d own the NHL video game franchise.

But at least you know who Roenick was.

Everyone knows Ken Griffey Jr. and how easily he could cause fits with his dominance but it was 2004’s MVP Baseball ’05 that proved to have the most dominant player to ever compete on the cyber diamond.  Shortly after its release it was apparent who the best player in the game was, it was Barry Bonds – or his alter ego Jon Dowd.  Bonds wasn’t allowed to be featured in the title due to complications with the Players Association but it wasn’t fooling San Francisco Giants fans, though such might not have been the case for casual fans across the country.  Dowd’s power allowed him to hit a home run at least once a game and led to many intentional walks amongst friends.  Dowd was built a bit better than his alter-ego, with more speed and a slightly better arm, which frustrated plenty of gamers.  What was even more impressive is that Dowd was that good without having to juice up!

Just over ten years earlier it was NBA Jam that had the same issue.

There have been plenty of NBA Jam titles over the years but the original is still the best and it came out in 1993, a year that was right smack-dab in the middle of the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty.  But much like Barry Bonds, Michael Jordan’s name and likeness was not secured for the title, so how did the creators solve that problem – two words Scottie Pippen.  Jordan’s sidekick was given all of his qualities and dominated any competition with the ability to catch fire seemingly immediately.  It simply was unfair to choose Pippen especially since key counter parts such as Gary Payton and Shaq were also left off the title.  People weren’t used to 2-on2 basketball but it sure lead to plenty of fights in basements all over America.

And there you have it.  Will there ever be another Bo Jackson in the world of virtual reality or are developers much more tame and fair when distributing talent?  We will just have to wait and see.