Time for something completely different. California Games is one of the most iconic games from the 1980s. Fire up a Commodore, Nintendo or Sega Master system and that classic Midi rendition of Louie Louie immediately takes us back.
It was a groundbreaking game in many ways. It allowed up to eight players to participate in several different sports like Half Pipe Skateboarding, Footbag, Roller Skating, Surfing, and of course, BMX. Each player got to enter their own name and pick a sponsor. I usually chose Kawasaki because I was eight years old, had no idea what the company was about, but did indeed want the good times to roll. My backups were Santa Cruz and Auzzie because I had been told skateboarding and surfing were cool.
But back to the topic at hand; the BMX event. While it may not have been a car game, it was still a type of racing game. The concept was simple enough, begin at the start line and pedal through the side-scrolling course, arriving at the finish line with the largest score possible. Points were awarded for doing simple tricks like jumps, wheelies and tabletops. But for those who wanted to go big, there were 360 turns, backward flips and even the hard to pull off forward flip.
But it wasn’t a straightforward ride. There were obstacles on course to avoid like logs and large, random holes. At times, the track split in two forcing players to choose either the high or low route. And the jumps themselves were of differing heights, which meant only certain tricks could be performed on the smaller jumps.
A player only had three attempts to make it to the end. Crash three times and the round was over. Or, if attempting a backward or forward flip on far too small of a jump, the rider would land on their head, accompanied by the message they’d just broken their neck. It wasn’t just game over, please try again; your player was dead. We played for high stakes in the ‘80s.
Virtual BMX Master
Out of all the sports in California Games, I was by far the best at BMX. As mentioned, I was kid when we got the game. But it was an endearing, party game that we continued at for years. By the time I was 11 or so, my sister and I had a piece of paper where we recorded the highest scores anyone was able to achieve in each sport. Her being a teenager with teenage friends, they were far more adapt at playing and schooled me in every sport – except one.
I was still the BMX master. I had memorized every inch of that track and knew which tricks were capable on each jump. I’d spend hours trying to complete the perfect run for the highest score. And the odd time when one of her friends did beat my score, it just meant I’d spend even longer trying to figure out how to maximize an even higher tally.
And then there was the super bike. For each event, California Games had a built-in high score. Since this was original Sega Master System, the game wasn’t capable of saving new high scores. So that meant every time the game was turned off, the scores reset (hence why we wrote down our own high scores on a piece of paper). The built-in high scores were easy to beat and would be surpassed every time we played the game.
Once a high score was beat, players entered a bonus screen where three cards were flipping quickly and began to slowdown. Each card had a picture of a footbag, surfboard and BMX bike. If all three cards stopped flipping on the same sport, it meant the player got a super version of that sport.
For BMW, it meant a bike that jumped twice as high. The scores achieved with this bike crushed anything possible with that piddly little regular bike. Since it was about 30 years ago, my memory is a bit foggy, but I do seem to recall it was possible to perform double backflips with this super bike.
I still do own both a Sega Master System and California Games, so maybe I should fire it up and see if this middle-aged man still has it.