If your kids love playing sports outside, chances are they love playing sports video games as well—maybe even more so! Today’s expansive, polished sports simulations pack in all of the superstar players kids love with plenty of ways to play, including online against other real opponents. And they make it easy for you to feel like a pro, even if you can’t hit a three-pointer or throw a perfect spiral in real life.

Most of the big sports games launch in the later months of the year as major professional leagues begin their new seasons, which makes them popular picks for holiday wish lists. Got a sports fan or two in the house? Here’s what you need to know about the season’s top options.

Madden NFL 15

ESRB Rating: E
Content Descriptor(s): None
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3

The legendary football series returns to its proper naming scheme a year removed from the 25th anniversary edition (Madden NFL 25), and the latest version makes larger strides on the newest consoles. It’s a much more realistic-looking game, for sure, with better-looking player models and animations, as well as improved broadcast-style presentation that mimics watching a game on TV.

By and large, Madden builds upon the same core experience that recent entries have offered, as well, with the biggest gameplay enhancement coming from a new way to play defense. You can now view the action from behind a defender, which gives you a better chance to nail a quarterback with a crushing sack, or take down a runner. The series’ familiar play modes return, including the Connected Franchise that lets you take the role of an owner, coach, or player, as well as Ultimate Team, which tasks you with building a custom squad by collecting virtual cards.

Madden NFL 15 is another enjoyable entry for the series—not a dramatic shift on any front, but it feels more polished than last year’s game. And beyond some rough-looking tackles, there’s nothing objectionable found within.

NBA 2K15

ESRB Rating: E
Content Descriptor(s): Mild Lyrics
Publisher: 2K Sports
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

2K Sports’ well-reviewed basketball series has been on fire over the last few years, and NBA 2K15 only continues that trend, delivering an immensely refined and fun take on the sport. And for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners, it’s easily the best-looking sports game thus far, if not one of the top overall games on that front. The star players look, move, and even sound just like the real thing, and that only helps sell the on-court action.

Luckily, the actual basketball gameplay is on point, as well, finding the ideal balance between being rich and complex enough for die-hards, yet solidly accessible for newer and less-skilled players. Extensive play modes let you dig deep into a season however you choose, whether you want to create a custom player and guide him to stardom, command the future of a team as a general manager, or collect digital player cards to construct your own unique squad.

However you choose to play, NBA 2K15 provides an excellent experience, and the series remains at the top of the genre. One of the songs that plays on the menus and during games has the word “damn” in the lyrics; otherwise it’s very much a kid-friendly affair.


ESRB Rating: E
Content Descriptor(s): None
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Vita, 3DS

This summer’s rousing World Cup in Brazil probably courted a few new soccer fans, and if any of them happen to be in your family, they’re in luck: EA Sports’ long-running series is in its prime right now. The excellent FIFA 15 isn’t a dramatic move away from what made its predecessors so strong, but it brings a litany of small and meaningful improvements that arguably make it the best soccer simulation to date.

FIFA 15 delivers an impressive recreation of the action on the pitch, packing in an insane number of players and clubs from all around the world—whether they’re U.S. stars from Major League Soccer or international sensations from the English Premier League. The enhancements made to this year’s game aim to create a more realistic-looking and realistic-playing simulation, including having players that react in different ways to on-field events, smarter goalkeepers, and more physical interactions. Like other EA games, it has several play modes to choose from, including the hugely popular Ultimate Team digital card mode.

While perhaps not a huge upgrade over last year’s game, FIFA 15 is another great pick for serious soccer fans, and it’s loaded with content from all around the sport. Players will clutch their limbs in pain at times, but the game is squeaky clean overall.

NHL 15

ESRB Rating: E10+
Content Descriptor(s): Mild Violence
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

No doubt, some new console buyers were disappointed that the NHL series decided to stick to last-gen platforms in 2013, but NHL 15 brings the action to both active Xbox and PlayStation consoles this time around. Luckily, it was well worth the wait for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners, at least in terms of presentation. NHL 15 takes full advantage of the recent hardware to deliver dazzling on-ice graphics, with realistic players and hits, as well as impressive NBC Sports broadcast presentation.

Where the Xbox One and PS4 versions have faltered with fans is in the depth of modes and features, as they offer less content than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. Fewer game modes are included (like a basic season mode), and the player-centric and general manager-focused options are less robust than you’ll find elsewhere. The core gameplay is great, but serious fans aren’t pleased about the cut content. Luckily, downloadable updates have steadily enhanced the included modes.

Fighting is a core element of professional hockey, and here, if you get into a brawl, you can press buttons to trade punches until one player falls. The scuffle is broken up and bruises and black eyes are visible on players, but no blood is shown, and the action isn’t hugely sensationalized (the ESRB gives it a “Mild Violence” note).

NBA Live 15

ESRB Rating: E
Content Descriptor(s): None
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Last year’s NBA Live 14 was the first entry in a few years for the long-running hoops series, which had taken time off to retool and rebuild for the new generation of consoles. Unfortunately, what launched was a total mess, full of broken gameplay, bad graphics, and difficult-to-understand mechanics, which the game didn’t really bother to teach. Updates improved the situation to very minor extent, but thankfully, NBA Live 15 puts up a more serious offering.

The latest entry delivers a mostly solid professional basketball simulation—and very notably, makes a good effort to teach its on-the-court interactions right from the start with an easy-to-understand tutorial. And once you get into the games, you’ll notice that the flow of the action is smoother, the players look quite a bit more realistic, and it’s a little easier to have success. Still, shooting can be difficult to nail, and some of the interactions prove awkward in both look and feel. Some of the play modes are a bit dull, as well, aside from the daily challenges based on real games.

It’s just not as polished, refined, or enjoyable an experience as NBA 2K15, and with the games priced the same, there’s little reason to pass over 2K’s game. But at least NBA Live 15 isn’t a bad game, unlike last year’s terrible reboot, and the future seems brighter for the series.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015

ESRB Rating: E (very likely)
Content Descriptor(s): TBD
Publisher: Konami
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

As of this writing, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 has just been released—November 13 for all platforms—so we haven’t had a chance to dig into the game. However, there is a playable demo released, not to mention a whole host of facts and more than a dozen prior entries, so we have a good idea of what to expect.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 will be the first edition to appear on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, bringing with it overhauled graphics and presentation. It doesn’t seem quite as sharp as FIFA 15, but the players are individually animated to match their real-life counterparts, and it looks pretty good overall. Frustratingly, the demo doesn’t try to teach its controls or mechanics, so we wonder if that’s a cue that the full game will be geared more toward advanced players than FIFA.

All versions of the game should have several play modes and online competition, including a robust myClub function for building a personalized squad, and if the earlier games are any indication, we doubt there will be any objectionable content held within this simulation.

This article was written by

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based freelance writer and editor, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications around the world. He’s also a work-at-home dad to a wild toddler.