A Look at All of the Sports Games Available on Vita - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 10 February 2019 / 602 Views
This is the sixth entry in a series of articles I’m writing that will look at all of the games available in a particular genre on the Vita. The articles will highlight all Vita-native games, as well as any backwards-compatible PSP and PS1 titles that can be downloaded in English (i.e. from the EU or NA stores), and will include some commentary on how well those games run on Vita and whether they fill any missing gaps in the library.
Sports games have always been an integral part of gaming as developers attempt to re-create the excitement of watching by allowing you to take part in the action. As consoles have grown more powerful, the genre has been able to reach even greater levels of realism thanks to gorgeous graphics and believable physics, alongside an ever increasing focus on licencing of official sports & players to create a fantastic level of immersion.
This has left handhelds somewhat in the dust thanks to their naturally weaker specs, although the PSP was the first instance where developers could pretty much fully realise their visions without significant compromises, which meant it got a full spread of sports games. Out of the gate, it seemed like the Vita would follow the same trajectory, with strong support from EA, alongside promises from other publishers like Konami. Things didn’t quite pan out like that, but Sony’s handheld still received better support than its direct competitor and ended up with a pretty decent library overall.
Despite western publishers quickly abandoning the Vita the system still managed to land some impressive sports game representation, including some best-in-the-genre franchises, but there were some glaring omissions and sports totally left out, most notably 2K Sport’s NBA 2K series and EA’s NHL titles.
Still, EA did show up with its most important series – FIFA, which was there every year from 2012 to 2014 (starting with FIFA Football at launch). This first release was based on the previous year’s console FIFA ’11 and offered the best portable take on the sport yet, including some neat bells and whistles such as aiming using the rear touch pad. The problem is that things never evolved beyond this – FIFA ’13, FIFA ’14 and FIFA ’15 were all reskins of the initial release which simply added updated rosters, in some cases removing features (’15 has no online play and no PSTV support). If you’re looking for a different take on football, you could also try Active Soccer 2 DX or Dino Dini’s Kick Off Revival, which revive the 90s top-down design, although neither reviewed particularly well.
EA also brought its other big sports franchise to the handheld in Madden NFL ’13. Again based on the previous year’s console release, it received a somewhat unfair critical reception that focused on its performance issues during cutaways and replays, but the actual core American football experience it delivered was impressive and remains the best you can get on dedicated gaming handhelds, even if the roster is a bit outdated (it’s a shame this one didn’t receive roster updates like FIFA did).
Perhaps the sport that received the best representation on Vita was baseball, largely thanks to Sony’s own MLB: The Show series, which received four entries from MLB ’12 to MLB ’15. Largely feature-complete compared to the home console versions (save for the exclusion of Diamond Dynasty mode), each entry made minor improvements on the last too, although the final one oddly removed player walk-on stats, arguably making MLB ’14 the best if you’re looking to just buy one.
Interestingly, baseball is one of the few sports on Vita that multiple publishers took a stab at, although if you want to play the others you’re going to have to import. Konami’s Pro Baseball Spirits is the Japanese equivalent (seen by some fans as better than MLB), offering real-world J-League players and realistic graphics across four entries from ’12 to ’15 (amusingly, a brand new version for 2019 is landing this year, the first for four years). If you prefer things a bit more light-hearted and arcadey, you could also try out the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball titles, of which 2012 was the first and 2018 the most recent (the latter is still being updated for free with current rosters, something more sports games should do!)
Rugby is another sport which multiple developers had a go at on Vita, although with decidedly more mixed results. The first was from Sidhe and landed in the middle of 2012 as Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, offering a (nearly) fully licenced take on rugby union that received a somewhat mixed critical reception. Yet it was still better than the alternatives, both of which were developed by HB Studios (the company that also handled the Madden ’13 Vita port). Rugby ’15 and Rugby World Cup 2015 were both slated for their simplified mechanics and lack of content, making them not worth checking out unless you’re desperate for another portable rugby fix.
Elsewhere in terms of realistic sports sims you can grab a copy of Real Boxing, which offers a solid take on portable boxing. For many years it was the only boxing title available on Vita, although the just-released Pato Box and upcoming Glass: A Boxing Story might give it a run for its money. If you’re interested in combat sports there’s also the poorly-received Supremacy MMA. Interestingly, the Vita is one of the only consoles out there to receive a licenced handball game, in the form of Handball ’16, but this was another cheaply-made cash-in similar to Rugby ’15 that has little in the way of redeeming features.
Of course, sports games don’t have to be realistic (ask any Nintendo console owner about that) and Vita does have its fair share of arcadey, more lighthearted titles. For example, Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition features real-world players and realistic physics, but also has a distinctly classic SEGA-style arcade feel, filled with trick shots and unique modes. It’s still arguably the best portable tennis title made to this day, too. Also trying to capture that classic SEGA magic was Let’s Fish! Hooked On (which apes SEGA Bass Fishing), but doesn’t manage to hit anything like the same highs (you’d be better off trying Reel Fishing: Master’s Challenge instead).
In the absence of a licenced PGA Tour game, Sony brought its long-running Hot Shots Golf franchise to Vita as Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (Everybody’s Golf in Europe), a cutesy yet deceptively deep and challenging golf title that somewhat flew under the radar among the launch lineup (although it went on to become one of the best-selling Vita games in Japan). If you’re interested in golf games, you could also import the quirky Japanese title @Field which mixes the sport with pinball in a particularly unique way.
Speaking of quirky Japanese titles, it’s worth mentioning that Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Venus is available. It dropped the ‘volleyball’ portion from the title, but you can still get a portable volleyball fix from it that’s somewhat fun to play, alongside other sports like rock climbing. While Dead or Alive received an English release (only in Asia), another Japanese series wasn’t so lucky – Winning Post, a long-running Koei-Tecmo franchise offering you the chance to manage a prize-winning horse, saw multiple versions but only in Japan (it made for a particularly difficult import due to multiple text-heavy menus).
If you’re more into the management side of things rather than actually playing, you’re well served by some of the titles already listed (things like FIFA and Pro Baseball Spirits include dedicated modes). Still, you can get an even more in-depth experience from Football Manager Classic 2014, a custom-built handheld port that includes cross-save with the PC version of the game. SEGA also offered a Japanese football management game entitled Soccer Tsuku! Pro Soccer Club but sadly it never found its way west.
There’s a handful of other stuff available too, including a glitchy and disappointing extreme sports game named Bodycheck; a bizarre Looney Tunes tie-in entitled Looney Tunes: Galactic Sports; some enjoyable pool and snooker games called Hustle Kings and International Snooker; a darts title (Top Darts); and a collection of pub games in Indoor Sports World. The best of the bunch that I’ve yet to mention is OlliOlli and its sequel – two really enjoyable 2D highscore-chasing skateboard titles that launched first on Vita to a large amount of critical acclaim.
Backwards-Compatible PSP Games
Compared to Vita, the PSP has a fuller selection of sports titles thanks to the efforts of numerous publishers throughout its life. Not all of these are available on PlayStation Network as backwards-compatible games (I’m still smarting about the lack of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 Remix) and sadly quite a few have been de-listed due to licences expiring, but the ones that are still there do a good job of filling the gaps in the library of Sony’s newest handheld.
Most notably, the PSP was a hotbed for basketball titles between Sony’s own NBA: The Inside series, EA’s NBA Live franchise, and 2K Sports’ NBA 2K games. Of these, only the latter ever made it to PSN (although NBA ’10: The Inside was available in North America for a short time before being delisted), with NBA 2K12 and 2K13 being up on the NA store while NBA 2K10 and 2K11 are up on the European one. I understand the North American versions are now gone too, but if you grabbed them while they were up (or have a European Vita account) you can play some alley oop on the go.
Another sport which received no representation on the Vita but did on the PSP was wrestling, specifically a number of licenced WWE titles. Every annualized release from WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 to 2011 was up on PSN at some point, although they’re now delisted, meaning you had to grab them while you could. If you didn't, then the arcade-inspired WWE All Stars is still available, which removes the famous career mode but offers a fascinating retrospective through the history of the sport. If you’re after a detailed career mode, you could always pick up UFC Undisputed 2010 as an alternative, but only if you live in Europe.
Golf games were also a lot more common on PSP, with multiple PGA Tour titles, of which Tiger Wood’s PGA Tour ’10 was briefly available on the North American store before being removed. Sadly that was the only sim golf available on the Vita, but if you don’t mind things being a bit more arcadey you can instead pick up Everybody’s Golf and Everybody’s Golf 2 (Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee in North America), two really enjoyable PSP entries in Sony’s long-running series. There’s also Neo Turf Masters, which comes as part of the SNK Arcade Classics package. The development team at Clap Hanz took its golf formula and applied it to a different sport, in Everybody’s Tennis, which is widely regarded as one of the best entries in the sub-genre out there, and much more enjoyable than alternatives such as Super Pocket Tennis or VT Tennis.
Football management games also showed up in much larger volumes on PSP. For example, there were annualized Football Manager titles, but also available was Eidos’ rival series Championship Manager. Three of these are available on Vita – two as full PSP games (Championship Manager 2006 and 2007) and one as a PS Mini in Championship Manager Express. All three are available on the European PSN and are compatible with Vita. Finally, if you fancy managing a different sport, you could give Pro Cycling Manager 2010 a go!
Speaking of games only available on the European store, you can grab Major League Baseball 2K9 in the region, which is 2K's take on the baseball formula, but it isn’t really worth checking out in the wake of the Vita MLB: The Show. 2K's other series, The Bigs 2, offers something a bit different though, with a more arcadey focus. For the sake of completion in this article, games including FIFA Soccer ’11, Madden NFL ’12, and NCAA Football ’10 were previously up on the NA store, but have since been removed (they're still compatible if you own them).
The North American store does have its own titles which aren’t available in Europe, most notably Fight Night Round 3, one of the few portable boxing sims out there that still holds up despite a wonky control scheme (here’s hoping Glass on Vita delivers better on this front). You can also grab Def Jam Fight for NY: The Takeover, which isn’t strictly a sports game, but does offer gameplay which is heavily descended from wrestling titles (developer Aki Corporation was known for its WWF releases on N64).
There are a handful of other things available that I haven’t covered above. For example, there’s more lewd volleyball available in Dead or Alive Paradise; some turn-based-tactics mixed with sport in Blood Bowl; some extreme sports action in SSX: On Tour (if you grabbed it before it was de-listed) and Skate Park City (if you live in Europe); as well as two more rugby titles in AFL Challenge and Rugby League Challenge (neither of which offer anything worth checking out unless you’re desperate for Aussie rules/rugby league).
Backwards-Compatible PS1 Games
Licencing is more of an issue with PS1 titles, which are even older than their PSP counterparts, and tends to mean anything with real-world people (like the brilliant WWF Smackdown titles) are unavailable. Thankfully, there are still a few classics up that play great on Vita and should definitely be a part of any owner’s library.
Notably, you can grab the first three entries in Sony’s long-forgotten extreme sports franchise Cool Boarders from the store, which bring some enjoyable (if slightly dated) snowboarding racing action to the Vita. If you prefer racing using a variety of different methods from inline skating to biking, you could give 2Xtreme a go instead, but this one is only available in North America.
Also up on the NA Store are two more Reel Fishing titles, an International Track & Field game (that could absolutely destroy your Vita and thumbs thanks to its button-mashing gameplay), and numerous XS Junior League releases, including dodgeball, football, and soccer.
Good sports games might not be the anchor of any successful console’s line-up, but their ability to offer everything from realistic simulation gameplay with deep career modes to more light-hearted, arcade-focused thrills ensure that they help to fill out a varied library. While the current gaming landscape has pushed up budgets and drawn the focus away from more mid-tier and non-licenced offerings, there’s still a healthy market out there for the genre.
Vita’s selection of sports games is pretty impressive given the console’s overall success levels – you can get the best handheld baseball titles ever made, plus some incredibly solid American football, boxing, football, golf and rugby games. Others like Handball ’16 and Reel Fishing might not be the best in their class, but at least they provide some varied representation for some more niche sports.
When you throw in the backwards-compatible selection of games from the PlayStation Store – including gems like Everybody’s Tennis, Fight Night Round 3 and WWE All-Stars, then you can turn the Vita into quite the portable sporting machine (albeit not with the most up-to-date rosters though). The final thing I would note here is that if you are interested in any of these titles, particularly the digital versions, you should buy them now while you can – I’ve already noted dozen of sports titles that have been de-listed from the store due to licences expiring and that problem is only going to get worse with time.