Surf, sand, and some wicked beach sports – all packaged in one game, ripe for your enjoyment. Or so the designers of this game would like you to believe, and what they’re hoping will draw you to the game, but how “extreme” can you really get by playing a video game? Thus the point of this one is rather lost.
California Games is simply a collection of six minigames based on anything you’d see on ESPN2 that’s in California and not the logging championship. These are games like rollerblading, surfing, biking and hacky sack. All fun, and fun to watch in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but playing them in a Nintendo game comes off as a bit pathetic. Especially the frisbee and hacky sack games – you would almost certainly have much more fun by actually going outside and playing these games. Unlike the Tony Hawk series, nothing in this game is awesome looking and near impossible to do – ergo, there’s no benefit to playing the video game version. None of us will ever be in the NBA, so a simulation of pro basketball makes sense. But a simulation of hackey sack? Get real. You don’t need a beach for hackey sack, hell, you don’t even need California. Unless you’re SO stoned that you really wanna hack, but you can’t muster the energy to move off the couch, then maybe this game has an audience. But I digress…
The intent of the game is play through competition in all of the six events. You have the ability to practice all six individually, and to compete against a second player. Unfortunately, there is no option to play against the computer, so right away you’re limited in what you can do. If you choose to compete in all events without that second player, you will indeed play all the games, and you’ll also win first place in every event no matter how poorly you do. Seriously, it wouldn’t have been too much effort to create some computer AI for you to play against, or at the very least have other players that the computer simulates random scores for. Without someone, anyone, to play against, the most fun California Games can offer is a beat-the-high-score challenge. This is asinine, as again, the game doesn’t offer you anything that makes it worth playing more than the actual sports themselves.
The events are pretty standard fare for games like this, and most have been done better elsewhere (most specifically, Skate or Die waxes the floor with this game’s pitiful half-pipe attempt). You’d better find a manual if you want to play at all, as you’re expected to come in as a pro to the concepts in the events as well as the controls. The game never clues you in on the most basic of actions. Trying every button on the half pipe results in you falling or slowing to a stop. Kicking the hacky sack usually results in it being knocked too far away for you to kick again and keep in the air. The game announces tricks you’ve pulled off but gives only their name and no idea of what you’ve actually done. This is where you would expect the practice mode to come in, but it’s a joke, and is simply the regular event with a dialogue asking you if you want to continue “practice” when you fail. It offers absolutely nothing more than choosing to compete in a single event (especially since you never even compete against anyone there).
So with bad controls and an unexplained trick system, this leaves the only fun in California Games to one simple joy that almost makes the whole thing worth it: causing your digital sportsmen to fall painfully on their faces. The look of the game is extremely simple and colorful, about what you’d expect, so there’s nothing particularly noteworthy there. But the spastic acrobatics that occur when the characters trip and stumble are drawn with loving detail. Well, actually they’re not that detailed, but completely exaggerated. When the frisbee is coming toward the woman expected to catch it, you can press A to launch her into the air for an easy ten yard leap, completely missing the disc, to land face-first in the grass. When playing the BMX or rollerblading courses, you’re expected to do tricks as well as dodge ridiculous amounts of garbage strewn across the track (what professional bike course has tires and cans laying all over it?) And of course, when bike inevitably meets trash, your character is launched into the air and shortly onto the dirt or pavement. Even the surfer dude gets eaten by a shark if the wave gets the better of him.
Past this comedy, which really isn’t much itself, the game so void of substance that it feels like it was shipped incomplete. Even gamers who would be all about this subject will get bored and return to Tony Hawk pretty quickly, and rightfully so. At least it’s easier to skate in that game.
Uh-oh! Watch out for that tire, mister biker… CRASH
No competition, manual required for tricks and controls, just not very fun.