The COVID-19 pandemic has practically shut down all sports except for World Wrestling Entertainment, which has continued staging matches without an audience, leaving us sports fans with nothing much to cheer for. While they can't replace live games, smartphone games provide an alternate reality to live out our competitive entertainment in the absence of the real thing.
Not all of you will love every single sport out there, so we've included something for everyone in our list of favorite sports game apps for Android and iOS below. we've narrowed down the options to three candidates for each of the big three professional sports — baseball, football, and basketball — with realistic and casual options for each.
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Also, we've identified your best bets for other sports, namely soccer, boxing, golf, and hockey. And for all of you fantasy sports fans, the quarantine is a great time to practice some mock drafts for when sports resume. For that purpose, we have three prospects for you.
App 1: RBI Baseball — [Baseball]
While it shares the same name, the modern "RBI Baseball" franchise, now under the auspices of Major League Baseball, looks nothing like the original 8-bit game. And since the leading console franchise for the sport, "MLB The Show," isn't available on mobile, RBI Baseball fits the bill for those who yearn for peanuts and Cracker Jack.
The game has an Exhibition Mode if you want to play a quick game with your favorite team, complete with updated rosters and detailed renditions of the real ballparks. For more in-depth play, Franchise Mode lets you manage your team and play through a full season while Postseason Mode is for competing for the World Series trophy. It also has a Home Run Derby if you want to mash dingers all day.
App 2: MLB 9 Innings — [Baseball]
If you want a realistic baseball facsimile without ponying up $6.99 for the game above, MLB 9 Innings is a reasonable substitute. Like RBI Baseball, it has current rosters and accurately rendered ballparks.
However, MLB 9 Innings does not have Franchise Mode or Home Run Derby. But you can play through a full season with your favorite team in League Mode. And unlike RBI Baseball, you can play against others online.
App 3: MLB Home Run Derby — [Baseball]
For a more casual and simplified baseball experience, MLB also has the MLB Home Run Derby app. As the name implies, the game revolves solely around home run contests. But that's not all. You can play against competitors online, earn rewards to upgrade your rosters, acquire Hall of Famers, and unlock unique uniforms.
App 4: Madden NFL Mobile Football — [Football]
It's hard to ignore the king. When it comes to football games, that would be the Madden franchise. And for NFL fans, Madden is still the best avenue for simulating games.
The mobile edition has many of the same features as the console version, except for Franchise Mode. You can play against the computer or versus friends and foes online. In Solo mode, you can play your chosen team's full 2019 season or a randomized schedule. In addition, you can build your own Ultimate Edition team by earning player cards in events or buying them with in-app purchases.
App 5: Retro Bowl — [Football]
Take the 8-bit look and simplicity of the classic Tecmo Bowl games and mix it with the Franchise Mode from the Madden series, and you've got Retro Bowl. Starting as a rookie coach for a cellar-dwelling team, the challenge of Retro Bowl is to rebuild a roster through the draft, free-agent signings, and trades. Throughout the season, you manage every aspect, from player discipline, facilities upgrades, and fan morale.
During the game, you control the offense with streamlined controls for running and passing, with the app simulating the plays for you on defense. The games get tougher as the season progresses, but should you make it to the playoffs and win the Retro Bowl, you may find job offers to take over another team for the next season or continue to build your outfit into a dynasty.
Moreover, the developers have lifted the paywall on the game amid the COVID-19 pandemic (it's usually $0.99), but you may be tempted to drop $0.99 to sign a talented free agent. Also, you can play the game online for free and without in-app purchases via Kongregate.
- Install Retro Bowl: Android (free) | iOS (free) | Kongregate (free)
App 6: Ted Ginn Kick Return Football — [Football]
For a more casual take on football, Ted Ginn Kick Return Football filters the sport down to the titular element. However, when a kick returner takes one all the way, it can be one of the more exciting parts of the sport.
The game mechanics are simple: trace your returner's path to catch the kickoff and then weave your way through traffic towards the end zone. Also, if you're a fan of Kiss, you can take it upon yourself to start each kickoff with an ad-lib on "Cold Gin." It's Ted Ginn time again! You know he'll always win!
App 7: NBA Jam — [Basketball]
Much like Tecmo Bowl, NBA Jam holds a place in my retro gaming heart. The mobile remake of the arcade classic keeps many of the same hallmarks of the original, including quick-paced two-on-two action, acrobatic dunks, and the announcer belting out phrases like "Boomshakalaka." Plus, it adds modern amenities, such as improved graphics, a touchscreen UI, and players from the contemporary era.
On the downside, Electronic Arts hasn't updated the rosters in a while, so the price tag is a bit much to ask for a game where Lebron James is still on the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, it's a plus for fans who miss Kobe Bryant, who is still a Los Angeles Laker in NBA Jam. And the game is mostly broken on my Pixel 4XL, though it still loads on the older LG V20.
(Note: the App Store also has a version of NBA Jam that costs $7.99, but it appears to be identical to the $4.99 version except that all in-app purchases are cheaper. For example, if you purchase all in-app upgrades in each version, the $4.99 app would charge you $16 more than the $7.99 app.)
App 8: NBA 2K20 — [Basketball]
Here's another entry where the mobile version of the top console game for the sport is the top option if you want to play along with the top athletes in the game. And with the resumption of the NBA season up in the air at the moment and even pick-up games at public parks mostly prohibited, NBA 2K20 can help basketball fans get their fix with five-on-five matches with NBA rosters as well as streetball matches available to play against others online.
But that's not all. Like the console edition, you can use the MyPLAYER mode to build your own player with your chosen attributes. There's also Story Mode, where you can recreate famous seasons of NBA legends. The game's soundtrack includes tracks from Drake, T-Pain, and others.
App 9: Bouncy Hoops — [Basketball]
If the makers of Crossy Road or Flappy Bird decided to make a basketball game instead, they might end up making something similar to Bouncy Hoops. Like the aforementioned mobile games, Bouncy Hoops deploys retro-style graphics with a basic control scheme — just tap the screen repeatedly to push the ball towards the hoop.
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Despite its simplicity, Bouncy Hoops can be just as addictive as its forebearers. Players also get bonuses for a higher degree of difficulty feats, such as buzzer-beaters and high shots. The reward system, including unlocking different balls and the opportunity to watch ads to extend a game, is similar to the implementation in Crossy Road. Fortunately, it is not nearly as frustrating as Flappy Bird.
App 10: FIFA Mobile — [Soccer]
Just like Madden and NBA 2K, FIFA is the dominant title on consoles as well as mobile devices for its sport. And in my experience, FIFA isn't too complex to play; just pass, shoot, and defend.
Like modern sports games, FIFA challenges players to build a team by collecting player cards and upgrading them with points as they progress through the season. The game is really heavy on loot boxes, which makes the process of getting to an actual match very tedious, but the gameplay makes up for it.
App 11: Hockey All-Stars — [Hockey]
I'm not much of a hockey fan, but, like FIFA, Hockey All-Stars makes it easy to get into playing the game on your smartphone — just pass, shoot, poke, and block while skating around the ice in six-on-six action.
Hockey All-Stars emphasizes building the franchise as well, as you'll acquire players through loot boxes and train them along the way and upgrading your arena as you play your way to the top.
App 12: Golden Tee — [Golf]
Another callback to the arcade era, Golden Tee might not make up for missing the postponement of the Masters, but it is a reasonable facsimile of the same game sitting at your neighborhood sports bar.
You can square off head-to-head with others online, enter contests to earn in-game currency, participate in contests, or play nine-hole rounds at various fictional courses. While the game is a bit sweaty in terms of in-app purchases, you can simply upgrade your equipment by playing through the game.
App 13: Prizefighters — [Boxing]
If it isn't clear yet, I favor games that remind me of my childhood. Ironically, I never did play Mike Tyson's Punchout, either on NES or via emulators. Nonetheless, I've watched enough rounds of the game to know that Prizefighters is a dead ringer for the original.
The game employs a simplified system of taps, long-presses, and swipes on regions of the screen for jabs, right crosses, body shots, power punches, blocks, and dodges. As you fight your way up the rankings from #30 in this virtual boxing world, you can level up your boxer as well. In a modern twist on the NES original, you can share GIFs of your victories with friends as well.
App 14: ESPN Fantasy Sports — [Fantasy]
Because its one of the more recognizable media brands in sports, ESPN also has one of the most popular apps for fantasy sports. While the MLB season and NFL offseason programs are on pause, for now, you can still conduct as many mock drafts as you'd like.
However, while mock football drafts are live, ESPN has not added incoming rookies. That's understandable since the actual NFL Draft has not begun, and we don't know which teams Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, etc. will end up on just yet.
App 15: Yahoo Fantasy Sports — [Fantasy]
As a tech brand, Yahoo is a shell of its former self. But it's still one of the more popular platforms for fantasy sports. And compared to ESPN, Yahoo has some distinct advantages, including mock drafts for basketball and hockey and support for both standard and auction draft formats.
Unfortunately, like ESPN, its mock football drafts also do not include incoming rookies, so, for now, the experience comes up short as far as preparation for the upcoming season. However, also like ESPN, it's likely that Yahoo is one of the apps you'll need if the NFL season proceeds as scheduled in September, so you might as well work with what you've got.
App 16: Sleeper — [Fantasy]
I've only just recently discovered Sleeper. It's a fully-featured platform for running customized fantasy football leagues (with support for basketball coming in the fall of 2020). For anyone running leagues beyond your general casual setups, you should seriously consider ditching ESPN or Yahoo for Sleeper.
In the meantime, Sleeper is also a better option for mock drafts to prepare for the 2020 NFL season. Instead of drafting online with strangers, you can simulate a draft against AI for any league setting you can imagine. You can also invite friends to participate. Finally, Sleeper's draft board includes incoming rookies, even if we don't know which teams will select them.
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