California Games Review

California Games cover art

Good sports game with six radical California based events.

Introduction

Okay, it’s time to put your skills to the test in the turfs of sunny California. Simply talking won’t get you far when it comes to extreme sports like half pipe skateboarding and BMX. Do you think that you can make it big? Got a fancy sponsor supporting you? Pull on those knee pads and show us what you got!

The Game

California Games is a sports compilation game containing six different events set in the ever sunny and hot California. The different sports events are Half Pipe Skateboarding, Foot Bag, Surfing, Roller Skating, BMX and Flying Disk.

The game builds on the successful formula of previous Epyx sports games such as World Games and Summer Games where you enter a name for your contender and then compete in the various events against other players in hotseat multiplayer.

Content

The game supports eight players, each representing a sponsor and there are nine different sponsors to choose from. The choice of sponsor is merely visual and does not affect any gameplay elements. All contenders will play one event at a time until everyone has set their scores in all the events. The one who won the most events will win the whole competition and walk away with the desirable trophy.

California Games does rely heavily on the multiplayer aspect. It’s pretty meaningless to compete alone because you won’t have any competition then. The game does not support CPU controlled contenders so if you want to play alone your time is best spent in the practice mode. That’s where you can replay a single event for as many times as you want.

The game does keep track of score boards for each of the events, but only until you turn the game off as there is no way to save the score tables.

Each of the events in the game is unique and have different control schemes, so in order to master the whole game you’d have to study each event thoroughly. They are almost equally complex and they’re all fun to play. There’s definitely variety to go around. We’ll go through each of the events below.california_games_1

Controls

As the game portrays different sports that are radically different from one another the controls are different in every event. A lot of the controls are context based, so depending on what you push and when will have a huge significance. Learning all these quirks will take time and practice.

Half Pipe Skateboard

This is an event where you must perform tricks on a skateboard in order to score points. If you fail a trick, you will fall off of your skateboard and once you’ve fallen three times your turn is over and your total scores are summed up. This is perhaps the hardest event in the whole game because the controls are very strict and doesn’t allow for any false moves. The thing about this event is that you must maintain a decent speed and simultaneously time moves depending on your exact location in the ramp. The risk and reward relationship is ever so clear here because taking risks will reward higher points. However the game is not very helpful when it comes to giving you the immediate feedback on what’s allowed and what’s not.

There are only three different tricks you can perform; kick turns, hand plants and aerial turns – so the skateboarding aspect isn’t very deep. It’s more about pushing the limits of the game; learning where in the ramp you can perform what trick. You really need to consult the game manual to figure it all out.

Foot Bag

In Foot bag you must keep a Hacky Sack ball in the air for one minute and fifteen seconds without using your hands – only feet, knees and your head is allowed. There are numerous ways you can kick the ball and what exact kick your contender does is depending on the timing of your button presses. You can perform various tricks such as spinning around and knee kicks which will result in more points at the end of the game. You must keep an eye on the ball and move with it at all times – if you drop it you can resume without further penalties but keep in mind that every second is valuable here.

Foot bag may be the least extreme sport of the bunch but ironic as it is it’s perhaps the most intense event considering the amount of button presses and joystick motions you need to perform to keep the ball in play. The controls are easy to grasp – it’s all about the timing and keeping your eyes on that Hacky Sack.

Surfing

In this event you must ride a huge wave on a surfing board and perform stunts without falling into the water. If you fall four times your ride is canceled. Otherwise you’re given one minute and 30 seconds to show off your moves.

The game isn’t very clear about how stunts are judged but the goal of the event is to do risky jumps and riding beneath the curl of the wave that’s chasing you.
The controls are easy to grasp but there is no audiovisual feedback on whether you score points or not – instead you’ll see a bunch of people at the end of your ride giving you the points they think that your ride deserved.

Roller Skating

In Roller Skating you’re skating on a beach boardwalk. The challenge lies in avoiding various hazards such as cracks, objects lying in your way and other hazards such as bouncing beach balls and missing pieces of the boardwalk. Points are earned simply by avoiding obstacles and you’re given double points if you jump over an obstacle rather than merely going around them.

Skating is done by rolling the joystick up and down in a half-circular motion. This of course also makes it somewhat difficult to steer, because steering is done by pulling the joystick either up or down.

There isn’t really much to this event other than trying to avoid hazards. Regardless of your skill there’s always that darn beach ball that tends to get in your face.

BMX

The BMX event takes place on an obstacle course where your goal is to reach the finish line and on the way perform stunts and avoid falling. The course has high jumps, steep slopes, dips and obstacles of various kinds. There’s a two minute time limit and the faster you can go the better your score. You can pedal faster or slower on the bike and you can make jumps and even spin in the air. The controls are very sensitive and if you take a bad fall you won’t be able to continue your race. Otherwise you can fall three times before your race is over.

This event is perhaps the most fun event in the game, but it is also very hard. Biking is very dangerous on the obstacle course and it will most likely take many practice sessions before you’ll be able to reach the end of the course. Falling can easily become nasty and put an abrupt end to your BMX career but then again it takes a dare-devil to score the big points.

Flying Disk

Flying Disk is a two man sport. One person throws the disk (or frisbee) and another person catches it before it lands. The challenge is to make the throw with appropriate power and angle and then catch it in a nice way. The score you get is dependent on how the catch happens. The catcher shouldn’t need to run far from her starting position and making an overhead catch is what gives the highest points.

When throwing the disk you’ll see a power gauge at the bottom of the screen. This gauge represents how much power lies behind the throw and when you release the disk, so there are two factors that you need to take into consideration if you want to make a nice throw.

Once the disk is traveling in the air, you immediately take control of the catcher. You need to foresee where the disk will land and be ready to catch it either by running or diving after it.
This is the most shallow event in the whole game and once you get the hang of how it works (which can take a few tries!) you’ll find that it’s quite dull in the long run.

Graphics

The graphics in California Games does capture the sunny feeling it tries to depict really well. The backgrounds are filled with nice details and each sports event in the game has its own setting with unique graphics.
Looking at the characters you play as in each event it should be noted that the game has huge well animated sprites, especially for a Commodore 64 game. Overall the graphics are very clear and colorful.california_games_6

Sound

Each event also has its own music and it’s all pretty solid. It has a rock ‘n roll feeling and goes perfectly with the theme of the game. Especially the theme song and the song in the surfing event stand out as extra catchy and they are sure to bring a smile to most people’s faces.
The sound effects aren’t as amusing because they’re kind of generic but they do get the job done.

Summary

California Games is a game that is sure to bring many laughs and create a longing for a sunny place. The events in the game are varied and they all add to the value of the game. The game has some quirks in its controls that aren’t very logic and those will take some time to get use to. But other than that it’s safe to say that anyone playing will have a good time and the replay value is pretty good, especially if you’re playing with friends.
Really; the only way this game could be better is if there were more events.

Developed By: Epyx
Published By: Epyx
Version Reviewed: Commodore 64
Genre: Sports / Extreme
Players: 1-8 Hotseat
Also Available On: Amiga 500, CPC, Apple II, 2600, Lynx, Atari ST, DOS, MSX, NES, Mega Drive, Master System, ZX Spectrum, Virtual Console
Released: 1987

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