Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars
In 1987, Milton Bradley published a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System programmed by Epyx called California Games, a title that was released on several other platforms as well. The NES version is among the weaker of the variants, as the multi-sport cart attempts to portray six different extreme sports in one game.
The box boasts that this video game supports up to eight players, which is somewhat misleading considering that it is not simultaneous play, just a turn-based tournament format for events. The player can either compete in all events, compete in some events, or practice one event. Fans of Marble Madness will recognize the Milton Bradley holdover similarities in the menu screens and the name entry screens (sans marble, of course).
There are a half-dozen California-style (apparently?) sporting events: Half pipe, foot bag, surfing, skating, bmx, and flying disk. Each has their own distinctive control scheme, appearance, and gameplay per different contest, but all have the goal of trying to achieve the most points through use of tricks and skilled maneuvers.
For example, in the half pipe skateboarding event, the player has three tricks to choose from and, if he or she can perform them consecutively within the time limit without falling off, there is a chance to earn the top spot on the high score leaderboard. In foot bag (aka hackey sack), there are many different combinations that the player can hit the bag with, including using the feet and head while turned one way or another. In surfing, you try to perform spins in midair before the wave inevitably catches up with your board. In skating, you are a girl skating down a grimy boardwalk jumping over obstacles, or dodging them, and possibly spinning in midair for bonus points. In bmx, you try to avoid or jump over obstacles while twisting and flipping, etc., for points, though performing a backflip is absurdly difficult because the animation for it is screwy. Finally, in flying disk, you control a basic spectrum-orientation meter to determine distance and accuracy to throw a Frisbee from one end of the screen to a watching person who catches, and is awarded points based on how much flair in shown in the catch. Whoopty-doo.
Oh, and if you play in the events rather than just practice, you can choose a “team” logo like MAXX OUT to play for. This does not exactly enhance the replay value.
This game is an early 8-bit title, and it shows:
The animation is choppy, the backgrounds are lazy, the characters are dull and ugly, and the entire experience generally looks sub-standard.
The same background music (which, at some point, the instruction manual claims is the popular song Louie Louie, but good luck getting that interpretation) is repeated over and over. There are little to no sound effects, the most prominent of which is probably the flight of the disk. When a Frisbee is providing your strongest sound effect, you should know that your game has issues.
This video game tries to be humorous in portions, like sometimes a shark will appear when you wipe out in the surfing event and a Jaws-like theme will play. Or, whenever you spill on the BMX course, there is a quip at the bottom of a screen that may insult you. Otherwise, although this is a very early title for the NES, the idea of a multi-sport cartridge was hardly cutting-edge, yet this game does very little to make the experience enjoyable at all, beyond some short-term just-for-kicks fun with a few friends before shrugging it off and never playing ever again.
Though it tries to support six different events, and has the slight potential for multi-player fun, California Games is clearly a below-average NES cartridge and wins nothing but one and a half stars out of five. If you wanted multi-sport fun on the Nintendo Entertainment System, check out Caveman Games, Track & Field, World Games, or the other superior options.