I wish they all could be California – California Games review6 minute read

An early sports-party game hybrid was released by Epyx in 1987. Does it have the skills to take on the Vintage Vault?

Each Vintage Vault review looks at the games of our past and decides whether they stand the test of time. If they do they become Vaulted and gain eternal protection from The Great Eye – Loganius. If they fail they get thrown in The Pixel Pit and receive eternal damnation. Let the trials begin.

In the modern age of gaming one thing is safe to say – there are not many sports games that have enough originality to warrant a review. Most sports games have seen annual releases and are produced to such high quantities that they become shelf-fillers or placemats for mugs rather fast. But there are a few that make the mark as they tend to go against the grain of what have become industry standard replications (FIFA, NFL, NBA and more). Games like Sonic & Mario at the Olympics, Mario Tennis, Wii Bowling, Trials HD, International Track & Field and others tend to become rather popular as they are not over-saturated and have unique game designs. Back in the early days of gaming there were also similar titles that had what it took to make you want to play them. California Games is one of those titles.

Teletubbies and Xbox

California Games was first released on the Apple II and the Commodore 64 in 1987. The game was both developed and published by Epyx and followed on from the popularity of the games Summer Games and Winter Games. My first chance of playing th game was in the early 1990’s when I borrowed a copy to play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That version was a port which was developed by Rare and in Europe it was also published under U.S. Gold.

Before we discuss gameplay it is important to mention the people who were involved in the games development. Firstly the sound design was created by Chris Grigg, a member of the band named Negativland. If you have never heard of them then please take a while to read up. They have some humorous links to U2, Chumbawamba and Teletubbies (yes you read that correctly). The development team consisted of Chuck Sommerville who developed the game Chip’s Challenge and also Ken Nicholson who invented the technology that Microsoft used in their DirectX – the reason the Xbox exists today.

The father of party games

The game starts up with Louie Louie by The Kingsmen being played on the title screen (at least for the NES variant of the game). The options of play are either a single player mode or a multiplayer mode. Choosing the single player path however does not match you with a CPU opponent, which makes the game slightly lacking. However, the best element of this game is that it is ultimately an early party-sports hybrid. Multiplayer takes you and your opponents into a realm of six chosen games (which slightly differ depending on the port).

The general line up of games consists of half-pipe, roller skating, surfing (USA), BMX, footbag and flying disc. Each games comes with a unique set of controls and its own difficulty curve. Half-pipe is a skating simulator whereby you have to perform tricks to better your score. The game was quite challenging at first but as soon as you understand the timing and the controls it is quite a blast. Surfing is fantastic, and again – it is about you learning how to make your timings and where to place the surfer. The first few attempts will leave you dead in the water (not literally), but soon you get the hang of it and you surf like a pro. There is also a cameo by Jaws himself (or herself). Roller skating allows you to show off your skills along the sea-front whereas BMX is an early attempt at Trials HD – with similar difficulty.

Two treats in this title are footbag and flying disc. Footbag is a simple designed game – “keepie uppey” with a bean bag. Again, at first the challenge is learning timing and how to perform skills, but soon you will be spinning round, performing tricks and even hitting overhead seagulls with your bag. Flying disc was one game that challenged me as a child. Learning the timing to get enough distance on the damned thing was one thing, but catching it the other end with the second character…that was a challenge. I still remember to this day when I managed to catch the disc on my finger, spinning it with an arrogant style. However I was never able to replicate this since.

“Don’t have a cow man”

The game has some flaws, and one of those could be considered as the difficulty of the mini games. They can be challenging to start with and with minimal instructions you could be left scratching your head or reaching for the Google browser to find out what you are supposed to be doing. but the other side of this argument is that there is a very rewarding feeling about finally making the cut. Add this to the premise that you will more than likely be playing against your friends and there is a competitive nature to the game immediately.

The music can become slightly repetitive and there are only six games to go round, but personally it did keep me very entertained back in the 1990’s. Today there are many more games like this that have so much more content, but this has to be considered one of the early adopters of the format and the genre.

The West coast is the best coast

California Games is a classic title that can lead to a very competitive feud between friendly rivals. The small selection of games can make it repetitive but it can also mean you are assured to master at least one of them. Overall it is a simplistic arcade-styled game that should be part of anyones collection, no matter what platform you choose to play it on.


Overall 7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.