Review by Celtic Forest
"Don't give this game to your son on Christmas, or he will ask you for a new one the day after"
California Games is one of many ports of old computer games to the NES console. While even lovers of the traditional game sometimes admit that their once loved gem now has got some spots of dust, people will always remember the special Californian beach life atmosphere that crowds the game, which is still undeniably fresh. The shoreline and cities of California are perfectly illustrated, and the funky music as well as sampled wind breeze and water sounds add their share of beach dreams.
Trustworthy to its name, California Games is simply about a bunch of people enjoying classical extreme sports games in the Californian beach environments. We get boys and girls who ride skateboards, rollerskates, surf, ride a BMX, kick a small ball in hacky-sack style and toss a frizbee. Most of the events are performed in open public areas rather than in enclosed contest areas, and more than often, people or objects belonging to the people will come in your way. All the environments have a great design, and range from dirt race tracks to asphalt roads on beaches and from giant ocean waves to parks a short distance from the Golden Gate bridge. The game relies heavily on the classic high-score model, which means that the aim of the game is to get as high scores as possible rather than reaching the end of the stages.
The six events have a decent amount of variation in themes and gameplay that makes them stand out from eachother. First up is the half pipe skateboarding event. You skate around in a classic half pipe with the classic Hollywood hills as a backdrop, doing as many tricks as you can before the time limit runs out. Next one is the surfing, which takes place in a very aquatic region, namely a giant wave. The task is to ride the wave to the right, while doing several tricks, and at the same time avoid the wave break that slowly approaches you from the left. The third one is the hacky-sack event (amusingly titled "footbag" here), in which you control a dude who kicks a small ball and does various tricks. The backdrop for this is the famous Golden Gate bridge. Fourth event is the BMX ride, in which you ride your bicycle through a dirt track and avoid obstacles and perform various stunts such as flips and 360:s. Then comes the rollerskating, which takes place on a beach walkway, and where you have to skate as fast as possible while watching out for beach balls, ice cream cones, cracks in the street, weed growing in the cracks, sand piles and water. Finally, we have the frizbee event in which the aim is to toss a disc to your partner in the local city park.
However, despite the good idea for a concept, the NES port isn't handled with care. While the original version, as well as some of the better ports such as the Lynx version, had their wonderful sunny feeling left intact, the NES version comes out of the beach area with a painful sunburn rather than a nice tan. First of all, the graphics have been severely cut down and now look very scarce. The pixels are big and bulky, and the characters as well as the environments lack a lot of detail. It mostly looks like someone imported a picture in Paint and then resized it with the double. Same goes for the sound. While the tunes were somewhat fresh originally, the NES sound chip makes them sound like drunken bar songs. I am a big fan of the NES chip normally, but this time it wasn't up to pair.
Another big problem is the controls. While even the better versions weren't top notch with this, this version makes it all feel like a wheelchair system. Often you have no clue on how to even perform the tasks you are supposed to, and when you do, it is still awfully difficult to do it. The surfing and halfpipe events are almost impossible to score well in. The other four ones are easier to grasp. Out of all the six events, I found the rollerskating and the frizbee throwing the most pleasant. The BMX and rollerskate events are mostly based upon jumping and accelerating properly and after some practice you will get better. The frizbee event requires calculations of strength and angles rather than reflexes, and is the only event that goes without any harm in the controls. The hacky-sack event requires timing and precision. The surfing and skateboarding events are supposed to be trick based events that require combination skills and timing, but they fail miserably due to the poor controls. These events aren't developed either, and the half pipe looks rather inferior compared to the one in the classic game Skate Or Die.
As if this wasn't bad enough, California Games doesn't live on for very long. You only have the six events to mess around with, and that's it. You can choose whether you want to practice in one event, compete in one event, compete in some events or compete in all events, but that's not enough for development. You will most likely grow tired of it after just a day. If California Games had had a great gameplay and design, then I could have accepted it. After all, other games succeeded with this (a good example is Skate Or Die). But with all these flaws, it's difficult to find any joy with California Games. This is not a good game. The only thing that saves it from a total failure is its freshness and style, and even that isn't too powerful in this version. Play another port instead.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Originally Posted: 08/01/06
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