California Games is cut from the same cloth as the earlier Epyx/Milton Bradley team-up, World Games. Instead of Sumo wrestling and cliff diving you are presented with such typically Californian fare as hackey sack (foot bag), surfing, bmx, roller skating, skateboarding (halfpipe), and frisbee (flying disk). I guess they didn’t have enough memory to include the equally famous 500 meter coke snort or Greco-Roman looting (especially popular in South Central).
This is the first NES game I can think of that allows up to 8 players to compete. Unfortunately the play is not simultaneous, necessitating the passing of controller 1 amongst 8 sets of hands in succession. Chances are pretty good that if you have seven friends together you have something better in mind than determining who the reigning 8-bit hackey sack champion is. Input your names, choose your sponsors (including Santa Cruz skateboards and OP), and you’re going back to Cali, going back to Cali…yo, I don’t think so.
The only events that I found to be enjoyable were bmx and footbag. The controls are so crunchy and the “tricks” so few and far between that events like the halfpipe, skating, and surfing are downright unplayable. Even bmx only presents you with 4 legitimate trick options, but if you psyche yourself up by imagining it as a souped up version of Excitebike you may find yourself blowing half an afternoon doing backflips over rocks and tree stumps. Combined with the lack of any kind of user-defined difficulty levels, this dearth of stunt variety presents a questionable view of the programmers’ concept of “replay value.”
The graphics are just as rudimentary as World Games. You get one simple background for each event all composed of a fairly limited color palate. The player is generally blocky and uncharismatic; the footbag player is veritable clone of R.Crumb’s “Pro Junior” character—if you’re playing this game hopefully you have the requisite background of heavy substance abuse and ‘60s underground comics so you know what I’m talking about. The music is pretty cool at first, featuring MIDI retoolings of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Surfari’s “Wipe Out.” Play the same event a few times in a row and see how much you like it though—my girlfriend was cooking dinner in the kitchen two rooms over and she said she was hearing the bmx music in her sleep that night.
The complete lack of even a hint of pixilated bikinis in a game set in California compels me to give California Games a 5/10.