California Games on Commodore 64

california_gamesWe started off this week by having a look across Epyx broad span of “Games”- Winter Games, Summer Games and California Games. After some deliberation we decided on California Games because it had that cooler vibe that Sam seemed to find hilarious. I mean, half pipe alone is hilarious if you’re 8. Slightly less so if you have to load each individual event in though…

California Games is a bodacious spin on the multi sports games that were popular in the mid to late 80’s. Starting with Daley Thompson’s Decathalon on the Speccy, a game that’s focus on excessive waggle broke many a Quickshot Pro joystick, 1987’s California Games was really the pinicle of the format. It focuses around some more gnarly sports. Well, some of them are gnarly- half pipe band surfing certainly are- but others like foot bag (hacky sack) and roller-skating are a bit comedy. And in now way should you ever call the flying disc Frisbee because that’s a trademark!

In many ways Nintendo have bought this genre back to life with various Wii Sports games but really the proper heir to the throne are games like Mario and Sonic at the Olympics. If Sam thought the load times between events on the Wii U were long, he’s in the for shock of his life when it comes to multi load games from the tape based era.

Back in 1987 in my short sojourn as a Commodore 64 owner, games were pretty brilliant on the system. I played a lot of older games, like the Jeff Minter classics Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Hover Bovver, and that a school chum had lent me, but considering the platform had been out a number of years, programmers were really wringing every last ounce of oompf out of the beige beauty. California Games looked great. And yes, the adverts with girls in the bikinis caused some odd stirrings in a prepubescent me!

I’m hoping that this one will be right up Sam’s street as he has the ability to fixate on short tasks obsessively until he gets them right- as long as they’re video game related or have no practical impact on real life issues anyway.

Me: Right Sam, California Games is loading up. What do you think.

Sam: [looking at the box] Is Frisbee really a sport? Me and Eddie throw one around in the garden.

Me: Good question but the right question is “Is flying disc really a sport?” because they can’t use the word Frisbee as it’s a brand name and they’d get in to trouble for using it without paying lots of money.

Sam: [pauses] Can I make the word bottom a brand name? So nobody could say bottom, sit down or do a poo without paying me money?

Me: No. For reasons that I can’t be bothered to explain, that’s not going to happen. But going back to the original question, yes flying disc is a sport. I mean  you and Eddie also kick a football around the garden and occasionally terrify me by taking a swing at one of those golf balls that have somehow found their way in to the garden. Just because you do it in the garden, doesn’t mean it isn’t a sport.

Sam: Is drinking beer by the barbecue a sport?

Me: It should be Sam, it should be.

WorldGames_MenuThe array of sports in California Games is nothing if not eclectic. There’s Half Pipe Skate-Boarding, keepy uppies in Footbag, Roller-Skating, Surfing, Flying Disc and BMX. With hindsight I’ve found that all of these multi sports games have some fillers and some greats, California Games is considered to have the most greats (unless you’re Crash magazine, they absolutely hated it on the Speccy and gave it 37%). 

Me: Shall we do the lot or practice one event?

Sam: Lets do the practice one event thingy for all of them.

Half Pipe


Sam: You go first Daddy.

Me: Okay.

Me: Ouch. Shall we look at the manual?

The instructions actually appear to be quite helpful, which is nice. Given we’re still in the era of 8 directions and one button (and will be for some time as we’re moving on the the Atari ST after we’ve finished with the C64), it’s more about the timing and direction rather than any prodigious feat of manual dexterity.

Me: One minute and fifteen seconds. I can live with that, especially as I got just over 2,000 points!

Sam: My go!

Me: You can try young man.

Sam: Oh.

Me: Tricky eh? It’s just my awesome skills that make it look easy.

Sam: Again.

Sam: Again.

Sam: Again.

Sam: Finally.

Sam: No, again.

Sam: Yes! IN YOUR FACE! Literally, in your face [Sam at this point, as good as his word, is literally in my face].

Me: Is that how it’s going to be is it? I’m going to have a go, get an okay score and you’re going to keep on at it until you beat me?

Sam: In. Your. Face.

I like Half Pipe, whether it’s in my face on not. The graphics are pretty good for such an old machine, helped by the fact the only really moving part is the skater. The rest of it is static. Nevertheless it’s good fun. Good fun that’s about to be undone with…

Foot Bag


Me: Well this is a bit… boring? No, that’s not quite the word I’m looking for. Crap? Yes, that’s better. This is a bit crap. All I’m doing is moving left and right and hitting fire to kick the bag. Snore!

Sam: I don’t even want to beat you on this one Daddy.


Surfing is better, as is roller-skating (in fact there are plenty of games based on just the mechanic of the roller-skating) but the fun of BMX is spoiled by finishing off on Not Frisbee. I could go in to (a lot) more detail but we’re over 1,000 words already and I might just tire of typing In Your Face. A lot. Sam enjoyed the roller-skating the most of the remaining games, perhaps because the mechanic was closer to a lot of the games he plays now.

Me: What’s your pick of the games then Sam?

Sam: Well, I liked the Half-Pipe as I really beat you on that. But I also liked the roller-skating, even though your character is a girl, it was still fun. It’s not much of a sport because even Sophie [his sister] can do it but it’s much better than Frisbee and kicking that bean bag. I couldn’t even be bothered to In Your Face you on it.

Me: Does it remind you of anything you play today?

Sam: Not really?

Me: How about Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics?

Sam: But it’s in California and everyone is wearing shorts!

Me: Yes, but that’s a lot of mini games isn’t it?

Sam: Oooooh! I see, yes. I think I prefer Sonic and Mario as it’s got cooler graphics and I’m really really good at the ski jump. Shall we play some of that now?

Still, with the exception of Bubble Bobble, I don’t think we’ve spent as long playing any of the other games so far. This one has some staying power, especially when each exciting event has to end with In Your Face. In fact I don’t think I’ll be able to think of this as California Games ever again, it’s basically been rechristened In Your Face Games.

I still have a soft spot for Epyx games, their Championship Wrestling was one of the first games I got on the Atari ST and it was a good laugh. Sam made his way through this challenge undaunted, will he manage the same next week?!

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