Guilty Party – Retro Redress
Crime – Assuming California Games is one of the best games on the Master System…despite the fact I haven’t played it for nearly ten years.
Redress -Replay California Games, event by event, to see if it is as good as I remember.
Ever hear the term ‘rose-tinted glasses?’ The game I think of when I hear that phrase is California Games. I loved it as a kid and have actually called it one of the Master System’s best games as an adult. However…I haven’t played it in years, back at the height of my retro game collecting in 2008/09. Since then, my game playing horizons have expanded…I’ve played great games that have made me re-evaluate what I want from gaming…GTA V, No More Heroes, Castlevania, Burnout Paradise, Fire Emblem Awakenings…the list goes on. Does California Games hold up after playing all these games? Was it ever that good to begin with?
The only way to find out is to play every event to see if they hold up to my memories. I will award a point for every event that I think is still fun. The first of the six events is…
1 – Half Pipe
Half Pipe is one of two events I don’t have fond memories of. One of the criticisms of California Games that I will accept is that the controls are not the most intuitive. I’ve never known what to do on Half Pipe – it usually involves me skating down the pipe, then coming to a slow and embarrassing stop right in the middle of the pipe. I then imagine all the confused looks on the faces of the sponsors, fans and families and die inside a little. I decide to look at an FAQ, to try and end 25 years of failure on Half Pipe. The FAQ suggests to use up and down to propel my skater up and down the ramp…which actually works. I then surprise myself by pressing 1 and 2 together and performing a trick…25 years of hurt, over! The novelty does wear off after five tricks though and pressing 1 and 2 together feels awkward. I have a better opinion of Half Pipe now then I did, but, as the French would say, nil pwa..time to move on to the next event…
2 – Foot bag
In contrast to Half Pipe, Foot Bag might be my favourite event on California Games. I’ve no idea if foot bag is still played in California, to me it looks like (soccer) keepy ups with a golf ball…which I reckon would be pretty painful. Still Foot Bag is addictive and the easiest event to control on California Games. 1 jumps so you can head the sack, while 2 flicks the sack into the air with your feet. Down lets your player (foot bagger?) spin around, opening up different combinations. I can happily play this event for hours, so it’s an easy point for me…
3 – Surfing
I hate surfing on California Games. Firstly, there is no explanation of how to play. If you try to surf up the sea, you end up flying off the wave and behind the water. If you try and surf up and down the sea, eventually the wave will hit you. If you just surf in a straight line then you basically surf forever, like a cursed surfer who beat Death at surfing and has to surf forever…no, wait that’s the plot of Chakken: Forever Man.
The FAQ suggests surfing along the top of the wave, using left and right to do tricks at the top of the wave. I can’t do it though and frankly it’s tedious. Nil pwa and onto the next event
4 – Skating
I reckon skating is the marmite of California Games’ events. Some people love it, some people hate it. I love it personally, but I will admit that it is very fiddly. You toggle up and down to skate and tap 2 to jump over the obstacles (cracks in the pavement, beach balls, ice cream cones). I can see why people might hate this event – your skater falls over very easily and the controls are not intuitive. I mean, why not just press forward to go forward? I guess that type of control method betrays California Games’ roots as a ‘Track and Field’ influenced sports game, based off mastering a particular control method. I’ll admit skating can be tricky, but I find it quite satisfying to see my skater progress, so I’ll give skating a point.
BMX feels similar to skating, except it has a more sensible control method. Forward is forward, 1 jumps and 2 pedals faster. Because of this, I’d put BMX as my second favourite event behind Foot Bag. Not much else to say really, 1 point awarded and we move on to the final event…
6 – Flying disk
Flying disk is a strange event. There is no explanation of how to play the event and I’ve only figured it out via trial and error. You press 2 to start the swingometer then left and right to dictate the amount of speed and the angle the disk is thrown at. Once the disk is thrown, you control the catcher, who can run after the disk and dive to catch it. Well, in theory…the disk seems to whizz past the catcher frequently and her dive always overshoots the disk. Indeed, her dive would be better suited to jumping out of a burning building, as she launches herself forward like her life depends on it.
I do like this event. It’s fiddly and frustrating, but it’s worth it. Like skating, the satisfaction you get once you start to improve is worth the effort you put in. I think Flying Disk is worth a point so this gives us a total of…
Verdict – With the final score of 4 good events out of 6, California Games has proven to me that it has aged well and still offers a lot of fun. I’ll admit it’s a fussy game and one that could do with some onscreen instructions. However, California Games is an 80’s sports game – mini games based on skill and repeated plays. The longer you stick with it, the more you will get out of it. The joy in California Games is the satisfaction that you get when you get better at it . If California Games was remade in 2017, it would probably have millions of onscreen prompts, dumbed down controls, or god forbid, use motion controls…
I feel I’ve established that California Games is as good as I remember it (even the Master System sound chip can’t ruin the music!) but is it one of the Master System’s best games? Right now, I’ll have to say no. Truthfully, the only way I can answer that correctly is to play and replay more Master System games. As fond as my memories are of California Games, what I want from a game has changed in the past ten years. Ten years ago, the sunny graphics, surf rock music and simple but addictive gameplay blew me away. Now, thanks to the (evergrowing) redress list, I know that games I’ve ignored previously (Phantasy Star, Wonderboy, Y’s, to name a few) offer more gameplay and depth. Until I play them, I can’t say California Games is better than them.
Still, at least it means I’ve got stuff to be getting on with…..