California Games Anthology Chapter 1: Review

California Games Anthology Chapter 1: Review

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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part anthology chronicling my lifetime of adventures with California Games and the Atari Lynx. It’s being published in four chapters over the course of the summer. I hope you will enjoy this first chapter, a review of the game:


HomeBlog ▸ California Games Anthology Chapter 1: Review

California Anthology: Why We Absolutely Love California Games For Atari Lynx
By Justin on May 26, 2015

Justin Atari

Chapter 1: A Review of the Game

I have to be honest. I’m completely biased. I absolutely love California Games for Atari Lynx. It may honestly be my favorite video game of all time. There are so many reasons to love this game, and reasons why it’s one of the best games available on Atari Lynx.


Atari Lynx California Games

California Games for the Atari Lynx


California Games was released with the Lynx as its pack-in title in September, 1989. It features four different “extreme games” that can be selected from the title screen – BMX, Surfing, Halfpipe and Footbag – each with a fast-paced arcade feel, allowing just 1 minute and 30 seconds to swing tricks and successfully finish with a new high score.

At the end of the round, scores from all four events are displayed at once, giving you the freedom compete at your own pace, in any order, while tying everything together at the end to compare scores from across the board.

Video: California Games for the Atari Lynx


For a 1989 handheld, the game looks great and does a spectacular job of placing you in the experience. The Surfing event is exceptionally well done. The waves look wet, and the bright crystal blue sea drenches you in vibrant graphics. California Games is typical of early Lynx releases from EPYX (Electrocop, Blue Lightning) in that it demonstrates the system’s ability to deliver bright colorful 16-bit graphics and sound in a handheld, at a time when the Sega Genesis was just being released in the United States. 5/5

SOUND: 5.0
Sound effects are about what you’d expect from the Lynx, but what really shines through is the soundtrack that adds another layer to the experience, with songs including awesome midi renditions of Louie-Louie and Wipeout by electronic music geniuses Bob Vieira and Lx Rudis. Sincerely my favorite soundtrack of any 16-Bit console. 5/5


Atari Lynx California Games BMX Bike

Backflip, jump, and spin your way through the BMX Track


Control feels nimble and crisp. There’s something very kinetic about this game, as if the entire thing revolves around manipulating momentum. Gameplay is responsive, particularly with the BMX and Surfing events. With little effort you’re able to flip your bike over mounds or spring your surfboard off the crest of the wave, in the same sense that flicking a tiny piece of paper across the room with your finger gives a great effect with little effort. 5/5

California Games is a lot of fun to play if you’re in the mood for something quick and have a short attention span. Just as soon as you get tired of Surfing you move onto BMX. When you tire of the game in total, you’ll find yourself coming back to it a couple of hours later. It’s very addictive. I haven’t been able to put the game down in 25 years. 5/5


Atari Lynx California Games Surfing Epyx

Surfing waves of crystal blue pixels is surprisingly fun


California Games adheres to Nolan’s Law – that a game should be “easy to learn and difficult to master”. In all fairness, it took me a while to get the hang of some events, but once you get the controls down it becomes intuitive and challenge increases accordingly. 5/5

Editor’s Note: The above scores are subjective and judged against other titles on the same platform. It’s neither possible nor appropriate to judge handheld games from 1989 against games from modern consoles.


Atari Lynx Ad Advertisement

California Games was featured prominently in ads for Atari Lynx


As a pack-in title, California Games was an excellent choice. It was simple enough to pick up and play right out of the box. The four different “mini-games” were all relatively different from each other and there was enough going on that if you became bored with one aspect of the game you could always switch over to another. Playing for the first time, it gives the impression that there’s something here for everyone, and as a pack-in title that was a smart move by Atari.


Atari Joe

“California Games has everything you’d want in a great Lynx game! Bright sunny graphics, great music, and always a good time! It’s a game with something for everybody to enjoy! Graphics and music are much better than on the NES or Sega Master System, and the four different events are all great. Launching your Surfer-dude off of the ocean wave to flip around and do an “Unreal 360” is so much fun! The game looks really good on Atari Lynx. California Games has excellent retro-themed music, especially the version of “Louie Louie” that plays when the license plate does flips during the start-up screen. California Games is just totally bad to the bone on Atari Lynx…”
– Atari Joe


To be fair, the Footbag event feels pretty straight forward (just as you’d imagine it’s a dude bouncing a little ball in the air, but I guess that’s all Hacky Sack is) and the Halfpipe can be frustrating until you get the hang of it. In all I spent the majority of time playing the BMX and Surfing events, but that’s more than enough to launch the game into stratospheric levels of enjoyment.


Atari Lynx California Games Footbag Hacky Sack

Did you know that “Hacky Sack” is a trademarked product name? Because of this, California Games refers to the sport as “Footbag” on Atari Lynx.


Hacky Sack Footbag


California Games was available for other systems, but there’s something radically special about the Lynx version that makes others seem dull by comparison. They lack the portability to play these games anywhere at any time, and the bright crisp graphics and music that give the Lynx version its charm.

The game takes on a different context to it as it’s applied to the task of escapism. When you’re bored in the car or stuck at the airport and have nothing else to do, California Games takes you to some far off tropical island to skate and surf under the summer sun. It’s like Dorothy clicking her heels together. In that context the game becomes something magical.

Cynics would argue that the Lynx version is “terrible” because it’s “missing events” that are present on other systems. While there are fewer events on the Lynx version of the game, you’re not missing much. I never had much of a desire to roller skate some girl along a sidewalk to begin with, and never felt as though I was shortchanged on Atari Lynx for not being able to do that.


Atari Lynx California Games Skateboarding Halfpipe

Skating the Halfpipe with the Hollywood Hills in the distance


If you want to experience California Games at its finest (and that’s exactly what it is – an experience) it should be done with the Atari Lynx, while brining the game along with you on an adventure, a road trip, some sort of journey that you’ve been looking forward to taking.

California Games is just as much about the state of mind the game puts you in as it is about the gameplay itself. I used to think it was just me who saw the game this way, but I’ve come to realize that’s not the case. It’s not merely the fun gameplay or the element of nostalgia. California Games is a window into all that defines the summer experience.


Score Atari Lynx California Games


CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 2: ’90s Road Trip with Atari Lynx




California Games was programmed at EPYX by James Donald, Pete Wierzbicki, Larry Abel and Stephen Jungels.

Justin is a Technology Entrepreneur, Futurist and Raconteur, and an avid Atari aficionado behind the creation of Atari I/O. He is also a contributing writer at The Retroist under the name Atari I/O. You can follow him at his website


Atari Lynx Boxed California Games

model # PA 2025

Score Atari Lynx California Games

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