Sunday, May 19, 2013

California Games (NES) Review

Written: May 18th-19th, 2013
Year: 1987, 1988 | Developed by: Epyx and Rare | Published by: Milton Bradley

Half Pipe
Sports are a pretty big deal in many parts of the world, regardless of shape and form, so it's no surprise that they're the subject of many video games for decades.  In the mid-80's a certain video game company called Epyx (you know, the Impossible Mission guys) crafted many sports-themed titles that would earn a cult following since their inception, such as Summer Games, Summer Games II, Winter Sports, and World Sports.  One of their very best known out of the line-up is California Games, which focused on events that were considered to be popular in the U.S. state of California.  When it was released for the Apple II computer it became so popular and successful that it spawned numerous ports and adaptations, especially the 8-bit Nintendo version which was done by household Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie developers Rare and released by one of Hasbro's subsidiaries Milton Bradley.

I first played this game several years ago after having bought it from the late Game Crazy retro store, and the NES version was my introduction to this collection of events.  California Games is consisted of six games: they are Half Pipe, Footbag, Surfing, Skating, BMX, and Flying Disc.  Each of them play differently and require the simple usage of the Control Pad and the A button.  There are a few game modes here: you have the choice to compete in all the events, compete in some of the events, and (this is highly recommended if you're playing it for the first time) practice the events so you'll get a proper feel for them once you take on the real thing.  You can decide to either play by yourself or with other people (it supports up to six players), and when it comes to the competitions you're given the option to choose one of nine sponsors (i.e. Casio, Ocean Pacific, Milton Bradley).  But it all begs the question: has it aged well?

The Half Pipe event involves you riding a skateboard back and forth in a half pipe as you do various skate tricks in the allotted time.  If you fumble a few times or if time runs out it's all over.  By holding up you can increase your speed and momentum, allowing you to do hang tricks; it's also possible to do tricks in the air and spin to the opposite direction as you ride.  If you let you go early or hold the button too long for certain tricks you'll be crashing down.  The second event, Footbag, will have your character play with a Hacky Sack (or footbag for some) and perform enough tricks as time runs down; the more tricks you pull off the higher you will score.  Depending on which direction you face (you could turn around whenever you wish) a certain trick will be performed.  Some tricks can be done several times in a row, and it is possible to hit the seagull that comes from time to time with the footbag if you launch it high enough.  These tricks can be experimented, so there'll be some trial and error.

Once that's over you move on to the Surfing event, where the participant from the Half Pipe event rides on a surfboard as you ride down the waves in the open blue sea.  Here you can pull off some neat surfboarding stunts, or you can keep riding on the water and bounce from the tip from time to time (depending on the angle you shoot for, make sure you land on the wave in the mirrored direction or you'll fall off your board).  The wave will keep following you all throughout, so it's best to steer clear from it if you can.  A good way of maintaining speed is by alternating angles while on the water; the more you do the higher the judges' average score will be.  Then you'll be partaking in the Skating event as you ride down the sidewalk near the beach on your roller skates as you avoid any incoming obstacles.  If you fall down three times the event will automatically be over.  Some obstacles might require that you jump over them and some might be dodged by careful maneuvering.

The next event is BMX riding, as you ride a mountain bike down on a dirt course as you make sure to avert obstacles, carefully move your contestant, and be able to perform some tricks while in mid-air.  Like in Skating you can adjust your position on the playing field, however this time around you'll be climbing up and descending curves and there are obstacles that must be avoided or you'll fall off.  Fall off three times and it's done in a flash.  Depending on which direction you press while in mid-air as you simultaneously push the A button you'll perform a different trick.  The sixth and final game is Flying Disc where the goal is to throw a frisbee disc as far as you can and then ensuring that the partner catches it once it flies her way.  The first thing you do is determine what your speed and angle are; once you press the button button at the start a pointer will swiftly be moving to the left, and once you've pressed a direction it will shift over to the right.  The key is to land both pointers on the green bar, that will ensure  that you'll throw it at a greater distance.  After that the disc will be flying the distance and be ready for the partner to catch.  The partner can move to make sure that she catches it, and if you time it right you can catch it as you jump.

Flying Disc
So how does California Games fare after all these years?  To be honest, it's pretty good, and I really like it.  I don't think it's groundbreaking, but it's certainly fun to play every once in awhile.  The events are well-chosen, and the soundtrack is quite decent in short bursts (I especially like that title rendition of "Louie Louie").  Like a lot of NES games it's very colorful with some charm in the mix; most events even have line and parallax scrolling, which gives it a sense of depth.  The animations are good, and the events are good fun in their own right (the Half Pipe event would eventually be recycled in the Game Boy Color version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skateboarding).  What's pretty nice is how certain events have easter eggs in them, which are fairly entertaining, I have to admit.  California Games is good, though it would've been nice to have diverse difficulty settings and variations to add more replay value, but as it stands it's not the case here.  Overall, it's still a pretty solid game that's nice to play every once in awhile, and while it's not perfect by a long shot, it's still a noteworthy classic.  Much better than Track & Field II on the NES, that's for sure (but that's my opinion on the subject).  Having played it, it's easy why it's gotten as popular as it has and why it's gotten a lot of console adaptations throughout the years, including the MegaDrive/Genesis console.

In the end, it's a very good standalone ga--  *abruptly turns to the side*  Wait, there's a sequel?  (=|  And it's available on the SNES??  <=O  *turns to the audience*  I've got to check this out!  *walks ahead*

P.S.: While we're on the subject of Hasbro, I'm so glad they introduced us to the world of Transformers and My Little Pony: Magic is Friendship.  =)  ...  The fourth generation animated show of the latter is the only one worth watching as far as I'm concerned; the first three we're better off without.  =|
P.S. 2: On a totally irrelevant note: does anyone remember a time when Chuck E. Cheese wasn't CG animated?  =(  Those were the days!
P.S. 3: By the way, I really love that Jaws cameo in the Surfing event for when you fall off certain times!  =)  Right down to the infamous tune!
P.S. 4: In the Skating event you may notice these on the sidewalk from time to time:
Now in real life there are various reasons for names and initials to be placed anywhere, but I doubt that you'd put these in video games unless you were referencing certain people or were doing so for easter egg purposes.  I'm not quite certain who these initials and names are alluding to, however, but I sense they must be significant somehow.
P.S. 5: It's almost summer!  YAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!  =D
Thank you for reading this review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day!  Take care!  =)

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