One thing that the Atari Lynx got incredibly right from the beginning was the porting of sheer classic games, whether they were arcade coin-ops or titles that are widely considered benchmark releases. KLAX, Ms Pacman, Raiden...the list goes on and on.
But one particularly interesting title which graced many a system was 'California Games'. There was a lot of variation on how this game looked and played across different consoles, but the main point of the game was simply to play virtual sports and have a TON of fun, while Californian theme songs pumped out of the speaker system. Party on, dude!
The Atari Lynx version of California Games has four events; BMX, Surfing, Halfpipe and Footbag. BMX involves controlling a bike rider down steep mountain tracks, filled with tripping hazards and huge jumps, whilst you try to get to the finish line in the quickest time. Surfing involves pulling off as many tricks as you can on your board before the timer runs out. Halfpipe invites you to complete skateboard stunts in quick succession before a small crowd of onlookers. And finally, Footbag is about controlling a kid juggling a small ball in the air...and it's a lot cooler than it sounds!
The four events which make up California Games are really like four separate games. Therefore, I'm going to review them that way and total up the score at the end. Let's get to it!BMX
The BMX event is clearly a favourite for many players. You control a mountain bike rider in a green, hilly zone full of tripping hazards, trying to get the fastest time possible. Your first few plays will likely be full of laughs (due to the sheer volume of accidents) but you'll soon be finding the right paths through the course, dodging the hurdles and making the BIG jump (you'll know when you face it!)
There are some really complex tricks to pull off in this event, with the d-pad used to adjust your position and the buttons to execute either a basic jump or a backwards flip. The graphics are bright and colourful, and the soundtrack is set just right. Control-wise, the bike handles really well, and you will find yourself propelling forward at literally breakneck speed in no time. Endlessly fun, entertaining, humorous, and difficult to truly master. Awesome. 9/10SURFING
As a tanned surfer dude riding the waves, you're treated to some truly impressive graphics as you attempt to pull off tricks and avoid falling off your board. Most points are earned through making 360 degree turns in the air, or riding dangerously close to the crashing waves. Unlike BMX, you don't get unlimited lives; three strikes and you're out (and a pelican will casually fly past and ask if you're having fun yet!)
Surfing is arguably not as fun as BMX, but visually it is more impressive, and it is a chance to once again rack up points to see how you improve each time. Gravity does seem to take somewhat a back seat in this event, as you can pull off some truly ridiculous jumps in this event; but if anything, this adds to the quirky and fun style of the game. Great fun. 8/10HALF-PIPE
If there is any point where California Games falls down, I would have to argue it is the Half-Pipe event. Some may see this as unnecessarily harsh, but it's the event I always avoid.
You are given a nice looking outdoor skating half-pipe (great visual scaling) and you must pull off tricks and hand-plants on it, racking up stunt points whilst not falling off your skateboard. Looking and sounding great, this could have been one of the most fun events of them all; but it's let down by incredibly frustrating controls, where a slightly wrong tap of a button will see you flying off your board, and criticised by the game commentator. One could say that this is still a game about skill; but the mechanics of it just reduces the enjoyment. More stunts, less fiddle controls and the same kind of humour infecting the other events would have helped here. Bummer dude! 6/10FOOTBAG
California Games truly ends with a bang when it comes to events. Let's see: how do you even define THIS one? It's basically hackysack and it's a LOT of fun.
There's only one objective: keep that ball in the air. Using the Lynx controls you can turn your player around, execute shin kicks, headbutt the ball, knee it, and even scone the hapless seagull as it flies overhead and tries to spoil your fun. Even better, the entertaining music actually changes as you perform better and better tricks, a great effect copied and used in many future games across different consoles. Again, points are scored and accrued through pulling off the classiest tricks and, in the case of Footbag, not letting the ball hit the ground. It's a terrific game and one that could have even stood alone, like BMX, if other touches were added. Excellent. 9/10SUMMARY
California Games is a title that largely looks great, sounds great, and produces a real 'California' vibe across each of its events. You don't have to enjoy sports sims to get into this game: it's a pick-up-and-play marvel, which is even more fun with a friend.
Final score? As an overall gaming experience, it scores highly, but it could have got an even higher score if it weren't for a few factors. As already mentioned, the missteps of Half-Pipe do tend to detract from the package as a whole. Also, the inability for the game to retain your past scores is also a let-down; there could have possibly been a ranking or password system that allowed some kind of skill level comparison each time you played (the in-game comments on your performance are more humorous than informative). But as an overall experience, California Games is rightly considered a high point in the Lynx gaming canon. It's fun, it's great for gaming on the fly, and it's doubtful that you'll ever get tired of it.
Most excellent, dude!Score Card
This review was submitted by Jon Mc from JMac Productions