California Games NES Review

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Think of California, and what do you think of? Perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger running the state flexing his ridiculously large biceps, perhaps the sun-kissed beaches and ridiculously attractive tanned women roller blading around. Maybe it’s the word-of-the-day toilet roll made in California in which today’s word is “ridiculously” that filters through subconsciously into day-to-day speaking… But whatever your perceptions, to a middle-class British boy who had to stay indoors due to rain and not getting dirty in the mud, thoughts of sunnier climbs of California never strayed far from the minds of the gaming youth. Those perceptions must have played on the mind of Epyx, the gaming company that brought multi-sports event games Summer and Winter Games for Atari 2600 and other home consoles, as in 1987 they brought out California Games for the NES as well as other consoles. So how does the game stack up, is it ridiculously good or ridiculously bad?

Not even the Bear's would feed on this game

Not even the Bear’s would feed on this game

California Games like other titles released by Epyx at the time is a sports game which rather than have one sport to focus upon such as soccer or golf, is split into 6 events that was deemed to be popular in California at the time – Half Pipe, Foot Bag, Surfing, Skating, BMX and Flying Disk (or Frisbee in laymans terms). The idea of the game is to score more points than your competitors by doing tricks and stunts depending on the vent your competing in, and taking the crown and a rather spiffing trophy. You can choose to play with up to 8 people, so if there was a group of you, then you can all play albeit one at a time on one controller but it’s better than having to pay for two NES Four Score and plugging in 8 controllers. You can choose to compete in all 6 events sequentially, to compete in certain events of your choosing or to practice the events, and boy will you need to practice the events in order to get anywhere with the games. If you choose to compete in events, you can enter your name on a screen that looks exactly the same as the name entry screen on Marble Madness (seeing as both are licenced by Milton Bradley that would make sense) and also be sponsored by 9 different companies such as Casio and Milton Bradley themselves.

Jaws is less fussy than the Bear's and would eat anything on this game

Jaws is less fussy than the Bear’s and would eat anything on this game

Starting with the Half Pipe, your character goes up and down on a half pipe in order to perform tricks for points however try as you may and no matter what button you press it always ends up the same way – your character falling flat on his derriere and the skateboard hitting you on the way back down. In Foot Bag your character is kicking a hackey sack up and down and you have to perform tricks whilst the bag is in the air, this is one of the better events although your character turns and moves like he’s in warm treacle. Surfing is pretty explanatory although how you score points is anything but simple, even though your running away from the big wave and occasionally meeting Jaws at the bottom of the screen, it’s just a question of how long you can survive from the wave and nothing else. Skating takes the form of roller blading on a pavement alongside the beach which does look pretty but the gameplay is not. You tap the A button to move and B makes your character jump whilst your dodging flying beach balls and rubbish strewn on the ground. You can spin round whilst your skating which is as useful as a glass hammer and you will be falling down a lot here so get used to having stumpy fingers repeatedly tapping A. BMX is your character on a BMX bike repeatedly tapping the A button to move, and B makes you jump which is similar to the skating event however when you jump if you press the d-pad it makes you do tricks which gets you extra points. Again, similar to skating event, there is rocks and debris on the course in the hope of knocking you off your bike so here you’ll need the reflexes of a ant scurrying away from jam splodges and caramel. Finally, the flying disk event (i.e. Frisbee) is where using the left and right d-pad you throw the frisbee to your friend halfway down a park, where you then control the character and pressing the A button to catch the Frisbee, however catching the frisbee is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s easier to find a needle in a rather large haystack whilst your blindfolded and spun around a hundred times so although you can perfect the first part of the event, the second more important part of the event lets you down.

These guys have a lot to answer to

These guys have a lot to answer to

So where the gameplay lets the game down, the graphics do not. In each event, the colours and surroundings are well defined and feels like you are completing in California, be this under the famous Hollywood sign in half pipe or skating along the beach through to throwing frisbees in the park under the mountains, it all looks really good and diverse with bold colours and detailed backgrounds. Each event has it’s own music as well that is upbeat and gets you in the mood well, and although there are no sound effects, the music makes up for this and surely it’s better to have no sound effects than ruin the ambiance of the song with effects that come direct from an Atari or worse?

If anyone was curious, this character was based on me - it's my double

If anyone was curious, this character was based on me – it’s my double

In the life of video games, there will be times where the gameplay is absolutely fantastic and the controls are responsive whilst it may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye and damaging your hearing with it’s atrocious music. Sometimes you get the complete opposite, and this is the category that California Games falls into. The graphics and the music are on par with the triple A titles on the console which is a pleasure to behold when looking at the backgrounds and listening to the music, however what lets the gameplay down spectacularly is the controls and gameplay. Although which events you prefer is entirely subjective, personally the BMX and the Foot Bag events shine above the other events due to being able to perform tricks and stunts without rocking the d-pad all over making your thumbs hurt by pressing any buttons in a random order. It’s good that you can have upto 8 players playing on the one game however do yourself a favour and go out get some BMX bikes or a frisbee, put on some headphones with the music from this game and get some fresh air and compete in the events in real life, your body will thank me for it but please, don’t send me proof of this…

Rating – 2 out of 5

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10-Yard Fight NES Review

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As you may recall from the Ski Or Die review, growing up in a suburban town there’s only so much sports you’re exposed to, the regular culprits being Football (Soccer for the readers across the pond), Rugby and at times the quintessentially middle-class Golf and Rugby. So imagine the surprise and excitement when suddenly as if being blindsided, American Football was introduced to our screens. Reminiscent of rugby, but with a lot more crash bang wallop and rules that were much more complex to fathom with play being stopped every few seconds, as per all good sports there was a glut of video games to tie in with this – the most common games being John Madden. But way back before then, Nintendo unleashed their own American Football game onto the NES to unsuspecting British gamers in the form of 10-Yard Fight, so how does this game fare up now – is it more of a crash, a bang or just want to wallop with gusto and might?

10-Yard Fight is an American Football game which was the first semi-realistic game to be made especially after the Atari era of gaming. It started life as an arcade in 1983, but was ported over to the NES in 1985 and was released as a black box game in December of 1985. The game is viewed form above, a sort of eye-in-the-sky viewpoint that oversees the action rather than a horizontal viewpoint such as other black box sporting games such as Excitebike and Soccer. Although the rules of American Football are long and require further reading that what this review can muster (as always Wikipedia would be a good start) the general idea of the game is to run with the oval-shaped ball from one side of the pitch to the other, scoring a touchdown to amass points, whilst all the while being thwarted by the opposition who will do anything to stop you scoring a touchdown. So yes, it is similar to rugby and although what has been described is distilled to its simplest form, the purist’s will vouch it’s two completely different played sports. Hmm….

The readings of Sun Tzu's Art of War came in handy for the blue team's attack

The readings of Sun Tzu’s Art of War came in handy for the blue team’s attack

So turning on the cartridge as with the other black box games your straight at the menu, no messing around however with a distinct lack of sound, nothing jovial to welcome you to the game. You can choose between 1 or 2 players, so you can slug it out alone or grab a buddy and pretend you’re having your own Superbowl. If you choose 1 player, you then choose your difficulty of the CPU, starting with High School Team working up in difficulty to the most hardest being Super Bowl Team. Should you win your match the next game you play is at the next difficulty, unless your hardcore enough to start on playing on the hardest difficulty – then your just epic. However you don’t select a team like in later American Football games such as the Miami Dolphins or the Pittsburgh Steelers, when you pick your difficulty you then go straight into the game. The opposition kicks off and away we go.

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest...

The bright colours excite like a firefly dancing in a wooded forest…

The graphics of the game do their job without getting into the difficulties of trying to create crowds and make it overly complicated. It looks like a typical American Football field pitch with the green grass and the markings in the ground at every 10 yard intervals. What is also a nice tough is that on the right hand side of the screen you have a mini map which shows not only relevant markings and the touchdown points in red and green (depending on which colour side you are) but also where on the map you are and where the action is. It sound’s silly to include that as a feature but the number of games that have an intelligible map which hinders the player is quite refreshing, especially based on the fact this game was released early in the console’s library. The controls are very simplistic with the d-pad moving your guy and the A/B buttons being used to either throw the ball to one of your teammates should you be attacking, or if defending you control which set of guys you want to move to help defend the opposition from getting past you. It’s touches like this that was enhanced upon for future games but it is nice it was introduced in 10-yard fight which makes you think tactically about what the opposition may be planning up their sleeves. In terms of music there really isn’t any aside from when the game kicks off and at intervals, it’s solid enough but won;t win any Grammy’s for it, however it does it’s job. The sound effects do sound something from an Atari as in when the balls fly through the air and when your tackled, it reminds you of white noise from a TV that doesn’t have the channel tuned in properly so you might want the radio on when your playing.

It was a rescue mission that Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn't turn down

It was a rescue mission that the Willy Wonka dressed parachutist couldn’t turn down

So all in all, 10-Yard fight sets the scene well for future American Football games, it sets a precedent for future American Football games to build upon, with the features such as picking different strategies and tactics by playing the different buttons on the controller. There are times when playing that do start to get jarring, for instance when your on the offence and the guy runs across the line of guys before play starts which takes an absolute eternity for him to run past – you can press button to play early but then it tactically is not as astute as it could be. All this time, it drains the time, with every footstep taking a second off the 30 minute accelerated timer that your given per half. It isn’t easy to score touchdowns either even on the easiest setting as when you tackle or when the opposition tackles it is not always guaranteed they will tackle properly and so your man skips right past. It’s pedantic and nit-picking yes however if it was a perfect game it wouldn’t have these faults but then wouldn’t be the grounding to improve on for future releases. Copies are not too expensive, so if you want to see how American football all began on consoles then this is a good start as any and worthy of being in your collection. But maybe your patriotic enough to prefer a good game of Rugby instead – me, I’m off to California see what Games are out there…

Rating – 3 out of 5