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Retro Review: California Games (SMS)

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California Games was developed by Epyx and released to almost all platforms that where available back in 1987. Two years later, it arrived on the Master System, ported by Sega itself. For those who never played the game, California Games is a compilation of 6 unconventional sport games: half-pipe (skateboarding), footbag, surfing, skating, BMX (dirt) and flying disc (frisbee).

Before highlighting the gameplay details of each one of the sports (or as the game refers to them, “events”), the elements of the game that are common to whatever sport the player selects, will be discussed.

Right from the start, at the main menu, the game let’s you practice one sport, compete in all sports, or compete on only on the selected ones. This means it allows the player jump straight into the action. Playing this game alone means that whatever your score on a given event is, you will always get a first place trophy for that:

1st place image

In the single player mode, you will always receive one of these.

This leads to the next aspect of the game: multiplayer. California Games allows up to 8 players to compete at the same time. Since the Master System has ‘only’ two controller ports, the players must take turns when competing on each one of the sport events.

Number of players image

Up to 8 players can compete on all of the events.

Add that to the option to input name and select one of the nine sponsors for each player, and you can understand why California Games was a popular party game.

Enough of the game options, lets talk about graphics. While not the best looking version of California Games it surely looks very good for a Master System game. It is colorful, with excellent animations and with a bunch of different effects. The user interface and the menus doesn’t hide its age, as bright neon colors and patterns mixed with geometrical shapes is what visually the 80’s were all about.

The sound is excellent, with a song for each event and each menu, they really add to the overall 80’s feeling of the game. Sound effects are nothing special, and they all sound like they should. There are also some times before each event that a announcer says a sentence or a word, but the quality is so bad that it is only possible to understand what is being said because it appears written on the screen:

Easter Egg Screenshot

This is one of the random Easter eggs.

About Easter eggs, this game has a ton of them, such as this sound, which appears randomly. Some other Easter eggs are not based on the player’s luck and are revealed when some requirements are met. They are not going to be listed and explained as it would spoil the fun.

The game has precise and responsive controls and each and every sport is easy to learn and difficult to master, although some of them have more depth then others, they are just about the same when it comes to the fun factor. Since each event has its own rules and objectives and there are 6 of them, let’s break this post down into 6 subsections and describe briefly each sport.

Half-pipe (Skateboarding)

The objective of this part of the game is to make tricks to get the greatest amount of points. There are 3 tricks to master: kick turn, aerial turn and hand plant. If the skater gets some air out of the ramp, the aerial must be executed, or he will bail. The event finishes when the time runs out, or if the skater bails or stops on the flat portion of the ramp 3 times.

Half-Pipe Image

This is the skateboarding event.

Foot bag

Also a trick event. The player controls a boy that has to juggle the ball using only his feet and torso to get points. While juggling, performed tricks add extra points to the score. There are a total of 11 tricks to be learned such as the horseshoe, where the ball is transferred from one ankle to the other without touching the ground. This sport event is over when the time runs out.

Footbag Image

This is an epic spot for a footbag session.


The controls are simple: just turn left and right to carve the wave and gain speed. The surfer can be precisely positioned to tube ride the wave, which is worth a lot of points. He can also make full round carves and even aerials! As usual, tricks executed near the portion of the wave that is breaking adds more points to the score. The event is over when time runs out, or the surfer bails 4 times. After that, the next screen shows some judges with your score.

Surfing Screenshot

It is possible to tube ride the wave.


In this event, the player has to control a girl that needs to skate to the other side of the boardwalk without falling. The problem is that this boardwalk is filled with irregular concrete blocks, cracks, dents and sand. There are also objects littering the place, such as sandals, ice cream cones, banana peels and beach balls just to name a few. The event is over when the girl falls 3 times or if she reaches the end of the boardwalk.

Skating Screenshot

This must be one of the most chaotic beachside boardwalks to ever appear on a game.

BMX (dirt)

Here, the objective is to get to the end of the dirt track, that has obstacles like ramps, rocks, hills, logs tires and holes. While the rider is at it, he can also execute 5 tricks: wheelie, tabletop, 360°, backflip and even a frontflip, a trick that was not even landed by the time the game was released.

BMX Screenshot

Watch out for the end of the dirt course. You might miss it.

Flying Disc (frisbee)

The player controls two characters: one throws the frisbee and the other has to catch them. After the disc leaves the hand of the first girl, the player automatically controls the second one that has to catch it. There are only 3 chances to throw and catch the disc, so the player has to make each one count. The technique used to catch the disk and the distance it traveled before it landed is what defines the score.

Flying Disc Screenshot

Catching the frisbee.


This is a great game to own. It featured some elements that where pretty innovative for its time, like in game ads (sponsors), 8 player competition and a never landed before BMX trick. It is a game that everyone can enjoy, since the controls are simple, which is good for the beginners, and all sports offer some kind depth for the experienced players. For all that, this game is a must have for anyone looking for a great multiplayer experience on the Master System.

Here’s a playthrough of the game:

2 Comments to “Retro Review: California Games (SMS)”

  1. Critical Hit says:

    It made me remember my memories in Family Computer I can’t recall the exact name of it since it was way back in 1990’s. But really it’s a good game though the graphics is old..

  2. ceri says:

    wow – a blast from the past! thanks for this!

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