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California Games

California Games is an exceptionally original game that is filled with humor and style. The attitude and atmosphere reeks of early-90's California beach life, and the valley girls and surfer dudes don't disappoint. But they are kind of jerks until you get to know them.

The game consists of a collection of very unique mini-games that are hard to master, and at times you may wonder if you'll even figure some out at all. Half of the games you can pick up and start playing. The other half are so obtuse, you’ll be scratching your head for quite some time to simply not “die” the moment you touch the joystick. But the music and games - and to some extent the graphics - are so awesome (dude) there’s plenty of fun to be had whenever you get too frustrated with some of the more difficult sports.

From a game design standpoint, they probably should have moved the skateboard half-pipe to the middle of the game rather than the first thing you play. The good news is there is a “practice mode” for each event, and you’ll be using this mode for a long, long time. When you finally do figure out the controls, the game is an absolute joy to play. You’ll find yourself getting so excited, you’ll get sloppy and die repeatedly. At this level, the game is brutal. But you’ll keep coming back for more.

At the time, the graphics must have been considered very impressive on the Amiga. The Amiga version is based off of the very popular Commodore 64 version, which was the original, and the C64 version was a sexy sight to behold in its own right. I guess that makes the Amiga version totally rad. The colors are different of course and the pixels are denser (the intro title screen on the Amiga version is fantastic), but the game and its mechanics are essentially the same. That’s not a bad thing. And for an action/arcade sports game, California Games delivers a lot.

By today’s standards, the game mechanics are about as addicting and frustrating as Flappy Bird. Die quickly and die often, that's the basic premise. If that’s your scene, then you’ll totally be into this classic from Epyx. Personally, however, I find the game tedious and unnecessarily difficult to learn and master, to the point of it not feeling fun for much of the time. Many publications at the time loved the game. Me, not as much. I respect it, and love its creativity, but I find it a chore - except for a handful of the events. Regardless, there's a reason this game is a fondly remembered classic next to its sibling Winter Games.

Below is the original review from Dragon magazine from January, 1988. It's for the C64 version, but the Amiga version is so similar it's worth of a quick read. Spoiler alert: they loved it.

Review from Dragon Magazine #129
January 1988

Epyx, Inc. 600 Galveston Drive Redwood City CA 94063 (415) 366-0606

Mini-Review California Games (C64)
* * * * ½

California Games is a new, action-packed offering that is totally awesome, like from Epyx, you know. Like, you can pick from eight radical events, from skating to tubular skateboarding, from BMX racing to some totally radical moves in the foot bag event. This game has some of the best graphics for the Commodore [64] ever seen. The games are original, challenging, and will have you coming back for more.

After the opening screen (that includes a California license plate and the song Louie, Louie), you are allowed to select from the menu whatever sport in which you wish to participate. You can compete in all of the games or in just one event. You can also practice one event, look at the saved high scores, or view the opening screen over again. When you compete in an event, you can even select a corporate sponsor, selecting from: Ocean Pacific, Auzzie, Kawasaki, Casio, and others.

The events of California Games are exciting and graphically appealing. The skateboarding, or Half Pipe event, is one of the hardest to master, as this sport requires you to keep momentum or fall off the board, leaving you to start all over again. Tricks can be achieved through hours of practice, and we do mean hours! You can do hand plants, aerial turns, and kick turns for a variety of points. The event ends after 1 minute and 15 seconds of blistering fun, or three falls, whichever comes first.

The second event is foot bag, the game played by preppies worldwide. In this event, you control your athletic representative in keeping a hackysack off the ground and performing tricks for extra points. Your computer partner can turn and jump, and do such tricks as the headbanger, half and full axles, axel foley, doda, jester, and horseshoe to name a few. After 1 minute, 15 seconds have elapsed, you are awarded a variety of points for the number of different tricks that you successfully completed.

The scene is Santa Cruz; the event, surfing; the challenge, the wave. In this event, you control a surfer who does cutbacks, 360s, catches air (jumps), rides the crest of the wave, and goes into the tube. But not all is well on the waterfront; you have to maintain your board’s speed, make almost perfect landings for jumps, and stay above the bottom of the screen (otherwise, you wipe out and become the geek of the week). Controlling the surfer is the easy part it’s using the wave that’s the hard part. After 1 minute and 30 seconds of riding, or four wipeouts, you are evaluated on the length of your ride and on how you used the wave on a 10-point rating system.

After you get the sand out of your hair, you have a date in Malibu for rollerskating. You must avoid cracks in the sidewalk, grass, sand, puddles of water, missing sidewalk pieces, runaway beach balls, and more. All these hazards must be avoided while performing jumps and finishing the track in the shortest amount of time possible. You control the skater’s speed and the jumping that takes place (which is hard to master at first). While in the air, you can do 360s for additional points and also earn some respect for yourself. After completing the track, the scores are tallied to find who is King/Queen of skating. Want something more on two wheels? How about BMX racing? Not only do you have to avoid obstacles and complete the course in the best time possible, but you can also do tricks for bonus points. Using the joystick, you must learn to gain speed, do wheelies, tabletops, 360s, and other tricks of the trade. This event is extremely difficult to compete in, and practice is essential to perform the tricks. After three minor and one major crash, the event ends.

The last event is frisbee throwing, wherein you throw a frisbee to a catcher and have that catcher move left or right, dive, jump, or run to catch the frisbee. At the beginning, you must use the joystick to send the frisbee on its voyage. A radar-type screen shows where the catcher is and the location of the frisbee. Using the joystick, you maneuver the catcher so he can catch the frisbee without letting the disc touch the ground. You get points for how well you catch the frisbee, and for which way you moved (left or right). California Games is a must for every sports enthusiast. The graphics are superb, and the music and sound are terrific. This game will have you returning to the computer for more and more contests, and developing different tech.
4
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