California Games II review

Does anyone here knows 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’ one-year anniversary! 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 the occasion, I decided to honor my first review, but then I couldn’t find any game similar to Alley Cat, so then I decided to honor 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 capitalize 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?

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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 find a bikini-clad girl on the main menu screen.

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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 the actual photo, I have no idea.

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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 remotely different, why not go all the way and make it totally different?

Anyway, time to boot this gromet (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 sport 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 two signs in 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 see the first problem this game has in comparison with the previous one: it only features five events, while the previous featured six! And none of the previous events return. In this sequel, you compete in all new events, which I’ll proceed to analyze one by one:

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Hang-gliding: here you control a girl using a hang-glider and you have to launch it, try to stay on the air as much as possible while performing stunts and try to hit the targets available with water balloons, within the two 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 thermal currents to stay in the air (which you can’t see, obviously).

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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. 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 (but then again, we would have ended with a game all on it’s own).

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Snowboarding: This is perhaps the most complete event in the game. First you control an helicopter and have to get to the mountain (and 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 in three sections: the snowy top, called the Black Diamond, 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 (snowboarding on grass? REALLY?!) called the Obstacle Course, where there’s even more obstacles then 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 four times in the first 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.

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Bodyboarding: Another fun event, somewhat similar to the Surfing event from the first 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.

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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 four 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 suppose to, at least, have the same level of quality as the first game, especially if said first game was very popular. And California Games II pales in comparison with the first game, which was great. The first mistake was, as I said before, having one less event than the first game. And the second mistake was not bring back 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 two felt incomplete and boring.

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Aren’t these people cold?

The competition mode is just like in the previous game, which features a tournament up to eight players in hot-seat (one player at a time), in which you can choose to compete from 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 with the keyboard. The humor is still present, including the “radical” speech, but not as often. There is, however, more dark humor moments (especially in the death scenes) that some sensitive players might not enjoy (and since I have a twisted sense of humor, I did enjoy them).

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Major bummer, dude.

In general, California Games II’s gameplay and appeal isn’t as good as the first game and even on it’s own, it’s a pretty mediocre game. If you enjoyed the first 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 by clicking here and enjoy it in your own browser.

So, do you like videogames depicting extreme sports? If so, what are your favorites (apart from the Tony Hawk series)? Tell me below in the comments, in our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, we’ll take a look at a genre most common on consoles and arcade and how only recently has fared well on the PC. Until then, keep on shredding, dudes and dudettes!

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