Here’s a game many kids of the ’80s will have weirdly fond memories of. Developed by the now defunct Epyx, it launched on the Apple II and Commodore 64 in 1987. All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey…
The game was popular and met with good reviews back in its day, which led to a mass of ports onto other home games consoles.
That led us to it, as California Games launched on the Nintendo Entertainment System at some point. So around 1989 or so we remember playing it a lot.
Interestingly, Rare was responsible for the port over to the NES. You know, Rare—the company that went on to land a stream of classics on the Nintendo 64.
Anyway, regardless of that we were bloody confused by California Games. The events were half-pipe, roller skating, surfing, BMX, footbag/hacky sack, and flying disc.
For some of those events, primarily half-pipe for us, we couldn’t work out what the hell to do. It was as confusing as anything.
Even pouring through the instruction manual did little to help. It seems to be an event about button combinations. Whatever.
Others you could get to grips with easily enough. Hacky sack remains the most accessible. You can even hit a seagull with the ball when it flies overhead.
Clearly, people in California spend their days kicking footbags around and frightening seagulls.
Animals are elsewhere, too, as in the surfing sections a great white makes an appearance from time to time.
Flying disc also features a ridiculous individual performing a threatrical dive to get at the disc. What you playing at, fool?!
Ultimately, this is what retro gaming is all about. By modern standards it makes little sense and will appear poorly put together—at least for younger gamers.
For us, this is a trip down memory lane. The hours spent as kids trying to figure out what the hell to do in this thing.
Becoming confused about why, in the skating event, the woman trips over a patch of grass for no reason.
The worrying insinuation your character is eaten alive by a shark if you fall when surfing.
Being thoroughly confused by all the American images and iconography and how alien it all seemed compared to England.
California Games has aged poorly and is almost unplayable due to advances in the industry. But for us, returning to it is like becoming a stupid seven year old again. And that is somewhat priceless, eh?
California Games II
In 1990, Epyx launched a sequel on the Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Master System, and SNES.
The DOS version apparently has a bit of gore in it and treats death in comical fashion, with a weird game over screen should you cop it.
It introduced the likes of hang gliding, which Nintendo would also try out with Pilotwings on the SNES.
We never did play California Games II, but judging from the reviews of the time that’s likely a very good thing. Scores remain terrible—32% from Sega Master Force magazine.
Epyx actually went bankrupt in 1989, despite the success of the first game, and disappeared for good in 1993.
British publisher System 3 picked up the rights to Epyx’s games in 2006, so since then they’ve come out on the likes of PlayStation portable and Nintendo’s virtual console.
Thusly, California Dreams lives on!