Ok, so with Retro Mondays, it's all about nostalgia. Talking about the games and TV shows from the past that we love. And especially with games, the strongest part about any retro games is anecdotal evidence, and talking about them. I know that Streets of Rage is a fantastic brawler, and I only played it once. I know this from the kid who lived near my Grandma, who would lavish tales of the game after school. I never even used Axel's special move, but I know those Police Cars were serious shit.
When I think about mysterious, talked-about games, California Games is right up there...
This little blighter was on EVERY console at the time. I'm pretty sure that some Microwaves came with it installed. That's how widespread this shit was. Multiple iterations, multiple different skins. One simple aim: to be like the Olympics, but cool.
It's basically sunshine in a cartridge. For a kid coming from the North West of England, this game was a slice of America. Just look at the box art, look at that hot pink and blue title text. It looks cool already. At the time, this was the coolest, most foreign-looking thing I'd seen since my Chicago Bulls vest given to me by my American Cousins.
The game consisted of 6 'sports'. I use the term sports loosely, because I'm not sure if many people consider Frisbee a sport. Obviously, nobody liked the BMX, so we don't have to talk about that. Roller Skating was pretty cool but pointless. Any minigame where the excitement comes in seeing the ice cream cone on the floor isn't exactly a winner. There was a satisfying rhythm to achieve with the skating though, which was a reason to give it a shot.
The two sports we really need to look at to get to the meat and gravy of this games are Footbag and Skateboarding. The games in which the mystery was cultivated. Anyone who remembers this game, and had it circulating in their group of friends will remember these events over all others.
You know someone who claimed they did a 900 in Skateboarding on California Games. Back then, I didn't know what a 900 was. I could only just get off the pipe and turn around. A game with no tutorial, in a time of no internet, and a control system and moves list that needed both these things the most. In these spoon-fed times, we should count ourselves extremely lucky. Imagine if Skate never taught you how to Ollie, and you had to figure it out. It seems such a bizarre concept, but one that created such a mystery about the game. When you did a trick, it was a complete journey of discovery.
And the discovery was made even better by the fact this was a party game. I can't remember a time I played California games alone. There was always someone there, fighting for the control pad, chatting about how they could throw that Frisbee much further than your feeble attempt.
And then we get onto the most mythical, pointless, romantically fantastic game to grace any machine, Footbag. The most baffling thing on earth. To know absolutely nothing about what you're even supposed to do is such a rare occurence, this really was a journey of discovery. To get that blasted bag up in the air was difficult enough, but WHEN YOU HIT THE SEAGULL, OH MY LORD. Hitting that winged bitch was up there with completing God of War 3 for me. A game with such depth, and such mystery, that I reckon that in all the time I sunk into it, I only discovered about 25% of the tricks.
This was California Games' strength; The mystery. If this kind of game was released in today's environment, it would be distinctively average. It would be drowned in tutorials, spoilt by YouTube tips videos. It would have had all the suspense and clandestine secrecy removed from it. As a product of it's time, it remains fantastic, a true curio of gaming, and a fantastically off-the-wall take on sports games.
It doesn't matter that my cousin Melissa was able to use the shoulders on Footbag, or that my friend down the street used to swear he could do a Method Grab on Skateboarding but couldn't do it in front of me, what matters is that I still remember these tales today, and that's what I'll remember about California Games; the mystery.