|Source // Moby Games|
At this point in our journey through video gaming history I've mixed reactions to any title that ends in 'Games'. Often maddening to control - let alone get used to and perfect - these Games games make for entertainment borne of frustration, especially with multiple players competing for the high score.
There aren't any medals here. Or sports, really. Unlike Summer and World Games before it, California Games is all about having fun and looking cool while you do it. Except it's a Games game, so you'll be falling flat on your face far more often than you'll be looking cool.
Let's find out how many Californian pastimes we're a natural at.
Any frustrations you had with previous Games games are here, and they're all in the form of the controls. We all know this like we know the Sun will appear to rise from beneath the horizon tomorrow morning.
Some events - like skateboarding on the half-pipe - will see you fall again and again, your score counting up slower than a child learning numbers for the first time. Some events - like the surfing - may have you controlling something well enough, but not doing anything of note, and therefore not scoring anything. Finally, some events - for me the BMX and roller skating - will be obvious enough to control that you can get some ways into them before failing.
It's a mixed bag and you'll have both favourite and dreaded events to look forward to.
There are two ways to play these games - practice and get good or just go with it. I just went with it, first on the NES port and then on the frankly great Sega Mega Drive port. The music and graphics are obviously a step up from the original Apple II version released 4 or 5 years earlier and it has dropped the Frisbee event in favour of simply not having a frisbee event, but it's already my go-to version of California Games. Not that I've tried them all of course.
If you go into a Games game with the mindset of 'I'm going to be quite appalling at this for a while', you simply won't care that you could only do five tricks in the Footbag event, all of which were Jesters. Why hacky-sack is called Footbag I don't know. What a Jester is in Hacky-sack I don't know. How I managed to pull off one of them, let alone five, I don't know.
Oh, Hacky Sack is trademarked? Okay, that's one question answered.
Each event has its own fun. You can knock seagulls out of the sky with your footbag, you can check out the beach goers while you skate past them (sliding past them on your face isn't advised), a shark may come after you when you wipe out while surfing... it's as though California Games is aware that it's not here for the gaming, but is still really trying hard to make a game of all the events regardless.
You probably won't stick around to play California Games for any great length of time, but with a bunch of mates I can imagine plenty of entertainment coming from it, or more accurately from players' interactions with it. Struggling to pick up the controls, learning new tricks step by step, either by yourself or by watching another player like a hawk... it's fun but it's a bit of work to get there.
California Games isn't as chilled as I'm lead to believe that California itself is. Perhaps it's actually a stunningly realistic portrayal of the hard work and dedication required to become a professional - or at least competent - athlete in these extreme sports. These somewhat extreme sports.
Alone, with friends, indoors on a Mega Drive, outdoors in a field, go relax (and exercise) with some California Games inspired Footbag.
Instead of representing a country, players were sponsored by companies including Kawasaki, Casio and Milton Bradley.
California Games, developed by Epyx, first released in 1987.
Versions played: NES, 1989, via emulation.
Sega Mega Drive, 1991, via emulation.