Does anyone here know what day is today? Yes, I know it’s Thursday, November 16th and also Tolerance Day in the US, but it’s also Retro Freak Reviews’ 1st ANNIVERSARY, BABY! Cue the balloons and the confetti! Well, this is a written article in a blog, but imagine me writing this surrounded by balloons and confetti, wearing a party hat. Perhaps. Likely.
Anyway, to celebrate this magnanimous occasion, I decided to honour my first review, but then I couldn’t find any game similar to Alley Cat, so then I decided to honour my second review, California Games by reviewing its sequel, California Games II.
California Games II is a sports games made by Epyx and originally released in 1990 for DOS. It was ported in 1992 to the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and the Super Nintendo/SNES. In 1993, it was ported to the Sega Master System.
After the enormous success of California Games, Epyx decided to capitalise on that success by making a sequel. But does it manage to live up to it? Let’s find out. But first, let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?
This is the original cover and it’s in the same vein as the previous game’s cover, with a photo of some beach-goers standing in front of a beach, representing some of the events featured in the game. And just like the previous game’s cover, it also features a bikini-clad blond girl. But, this time it makes sense because you can actually find a blonde bikini-clad girl on the main menu screen.
This is the Master System cover and for some reason, it features (or at least, it looks like) a realistic drawing of the previous photo cover. Why a drawing (if it’s really a drawing) instead of an actual photo, I have no idea.
This is the Super Nintendo/SNES cover and again, I have no idea why it features a similar photo with different models, but at least it looks better than the original cover, albeit with the same poses and clothes. If you’re going to do something slightly different, why not go all the way and make it totally different?
Anyway, time to boot this grommet (whatever that is):
As you can see, the intro is very similar to the original with the return of the car license plate but the title theme isn’t as memorable. However, I have to give Epyx props for the main menu, which is entirely original and different from the traditional menu screens. How different it is, you ask? Why, instead of a row of options, it features our beach-goers on the beach surrounded by extreme sports equipment and a convertible VW Beetle (which isn’t featured in any event because this isn’t a driving game). You then control a seagull which hops around each person or equipment (to access the event it represents in practice mode), the Beetle’s license plate (to access the technical options, like sound and graphics) or 2 signs on each side of the lower screen (left to access the competition mode and right to exit back to DOS).
So, you use the seagull to choose which event you want to practice and right here, you can see the 1st problem this game has in comparison with the previous one: it only features 5 events, while the previous featured 6. And none of the previous events returns. In this sequel, you compete in all-new events, which I’ll proceed to analyze one by one:
Hang-gliding: here you control a girl using a hang-glider and you have to first launch it, then try to stay on the air as much as possible while performing stunts and hit the targets available with water balloons, within the 2 minutes limit. The more stunts you make and the more targets you hit, the more points you get. This is the hardest event for me because the hang-glider is very hard to control and you have to find the right thermal currents to stay in the air (which you can’t see, obviously).
Jet Ski: This is perhaps the easiest event. You control another girl riding a jet ski through several courses. First, you choose which jet ski to ride, then your time limit and finally which course to compete in. The objective is to ride your jet ski as fast as possible while staying inside the course until you reach the time limit. The faster you go, the more points you get, but only if you stay within the courses’ limits (the red and yellow buoys). The final course even has some ramps to jump and floating bottles to grab for extra points. I haven’t found any difference between the several jet skis available, except aesthetically. After trying all courses (and the ramp jumps), this event becomes quickly boring. It should have been made into a race instead of a time trial event.
Snowboarding: This is perhaps the most complete event in the game. 1st you control a helicopter and have to get to the mountain (and can even land on top of it) and drop our snowboarder on the slope, who then proceeds to slide down the mountain slope avoiding obstacles and doing stunts. The mountain slope is divided into 3 sections: the snowy top called the Black Diamond, which is full of obstacles and cliffs to jump and avoid, a U-shaped rink called the Snowbowl, where you can perform all types of stunts (similar to the skateboard event from the previous game) and a grassy slope called the Obstacle Course, where there are even more obstacles than the Black Diamond. After finishing the last section, you arrive at the starting beach and all the points will be added. That is if you don’t fall more than 4 times in the 1st and last sections (there’s no penalty in the Snowbowl). The most interesting part is that you can launch the snowboarder at whatever section you want to start, but you won’t get as many points if you skip any section.
Bodyboarding: Another fun event, somewhat similar to the Surfing event from the 1st game. In this, you start on top of a pier and then fall to the water. Then you have to catch a wave and do all sort of stunts without wiping out. But the event continues after the wave breaks because then you have to ride the wave all the way to the beach by avoiding swimmers and other obstacles. And you can’t fail one single time because if you do, only your board arrives at the beach.
Skateboarding: Unlike in the previous game, this time you skateboard inside an empty aqueduct which you have to complete by going inside the pipes and do all types of stunts. You can only fall on your face 4 times but if you hit face-first into a pipe wall or fall out of the aqueduct, it’s an automatic game-over (and quite a dramatic one, since you end up pushing up daisies).
The problem with reviewing a sequel is that, as much as you try, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons with the previous titles, but a sequel is supposed to, at least, have the same level of quality as the 1st game, especially if it was very popular. And California Games II pales in comparison with the 1st game.
The 1st mistake was, as I said before, reducing the number of events available. And the 2nd mistake was not bringing back the popular events from the previous game and improve them. Instead, Epyx decided to use all-new events. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the snowboarding, the bodyboarding and the new skateboarding events, but the other 2 felt incomplete and boring.
The competition mode is just like in the previous game, which features a tournament up to 8 players in the hot-seat (one player at a time), in which you can choose to compete in one to all the events. But this time there aren’t any teams or sponsors. Each player competes on his/her own. And there is also a top score table in which only the best players’ names are shown.
The graphics and animation were definitely improved and I do like some of the screens (especially the menu screen). The music and the sound effects were also good, but not as memorable. But the controls, this time around, weren’t as tight, either it was playing with a gamepad or the keyboard. The humour is still present, including the “radical” speech, but not as often. There is, however, more dark humour moments (especially in the death scenes) that some sensitive players might not enjoy (and since I have a twisted sense of humour, I did enjoy).
In general, California Games II gameplay and appeal isn’t as good as in the 1st game and even on their own, it’s a pretty mediocre game. If you enjoyed California Games, you’ll be quite disappointed by this sequel. This game had so little success that it killed any prospects of continuing the series. However, if you enjoy extreme sports in general, you might want to give it a shot but I can’t really recommend it.
So, do you like video games depicting extreme sports? If so, what are your favourites (apart from the Tony Hawk series)? Tell me below in the comments, on our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, we’ll take a look at a genre most common on consoles and in the arcade and how only recently has fared well on the PC. Until then, keep on shredding, dudes and dudettes!