short look at Epyx's California Games on the Lynx. This was the
original pack-in game, which may have seemed puzzling at the time.
Epyx Games series were well-known on the home computers, but less
so on the consoles. It didn't help that the NES versions of Epyx
titles were so mediocre.
while it clearly isn't in the same league as, say, Tetris or Super
Mario Bros, California Games was an excellent little game that always
kept you coming back for one more turn. I suppose the only real
weakness was the lack of a battery save - Epyx and Atari really
dropped tha ball on that one. Then again, the Lynx was expensive
enough as it was, selling for $189 against the Gameboy's $89.
I suppose I could point out that the Lynx was comparible to the
new 16-bit consoles rolling out that year, the Turbografx and the
Genesis. I probably did more than once. Looking back, I'm amazed
that little color handheld ever sold at all.
brings us back to California Games, which became something of a
surprise hit. It did a superb job of showing off the power of Lynx,
with its vivid colors and impressively detailed graphics. Two things
stick out at me, and they've always been among the Lynx's best strengths.
One is the scaling effects; on this game, they were limited mostly
to the skateboarding comptetition (remember, kids, this was years
before Tony Hawk Pro Skater).
other is the endlessly fluid animation, particularly the cascading
water in the surfing mode. Lynx was capable of animating an unlimited
number of sprites, a feat which was absolutely unheard of in 1989,
and these early games really ran with it. M. Peter Engelbrite probably
used this more skillfully than anyone else, with the wonderfully
pulsating, burgling Slime World and the visually impressive Gates
all the various ports of California Games, this version is clearly
the best. None of the other versions (I'm thinking of the Genesis
and SNES) tried to update the graphics, or style the game to take
advantage of the systems' strengths. They're merely mediocre ports,
barely better than something you'd see on NES.
California Games is radically retooled to best fit on the portable
screen. The BMX game is reimagined as one enormous downhill obstacle
course, with hills and dips and shocking drops. I managed to break
1,000 points on BMX twice, but to be perfectly honest, I don't remember
how I pulled it off, and I have no clue how to do it again. It was
a pretty hard feat to pull off.
is my other favorite competition, and it's probably the best show-off
game in the pack. At least is was back in 1989. Essentially, your
stunts are limited to snaps inside the barrrel, and fast rotations
in the air. The best I've ever done was a quadruple 360, although
I've read of brave souls who could complete a full five 360's. I
did come dangerously close, but always wiped out.
of Atari's worst blunders with the Lynx - and the Tramiels are guilty
of a whole catalogue of screw-ups - was that they never built upon
their best games. There absolutely should have been another California
Games. Oh, if someone at Epyx could have added more stunts to the
surfing mode, or multiple beaches. If there were more BMX courses
to run, or a couple new moves added in.
least I could play Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer if I need a surfing
fix. I can't find a modern version of the BMX course, even there
have been a hundred stunt games in the wake of Tony Hawk. It still
would work today; something of a side-scrolling version of Tony
Hawk's Downhill Jam. I think developers have been too obsessed with
cramming so many moves into their games, that the core gameplay
got squeezed out. Why did we completely abandon 2D sprite games
in favor of polygons?
California Games' two remaining modes, I'm less enamored of them,
but they can be nice. Skateboarding has the benefit of the killer
scaling effects, and arguably the best music Bob Viera ever wrote
for the Lynx (the audio on most Lynx games was terrible). There
just aren't enough moves to do. It really just comes down to the
hacky-sack game is pretty simple, and looks a little bland (despite
the physical detail on the screen, the colors are all washed out),
but that simplicity can keep you coming back for another try. It's
fun for a quick run every now and then. I think it just needed some
tweaking of the scoring system, and the addition of some sort of
combo system. Have I mentioned that this game really needed a great
no, let's not do that. Instead of actually paying Epyx the royalties
rightfully due them, let's screw them over and farm game development
over to rank amateurs who will work for minimum wage. That's how
Lynx "classics" like Switchblade and Gordo and Viking
Child get made.
Games had one more major advantage: multiplayer. Nintendo won a
lot of praise for the Gameboy's link cable, which really was a cool
concept at the time. But Epyx built the Lynx with multiplayer -
up to 8 or 16, depending on how reliable EGM's Lynx article from
issue #3 stands. California Games allows for up to four players,
even though the box says two. The tragedy for every Lynx owner is,
of course, you never knew anyone else who had one, so you could
never try the multiplayer games for yourself. That's too bad, because
this is a game that just screams "party game!"
you can knock other surfers down, and trip up other players on hacky-sack.
Tell me this wasn't a great party game before its time.
is why I'm amazed that no one has ever tried to make a better Atari
Lynx emulator than old Handy. The ideal emulator would come with
a large split-screen, four lynx screens tied together. You would
select number of players, choose the game, and play away. The trouble
is that Lynx has always been an obscure footnote in the history
of gaming. It's always deserved a better fate. Maybe you should
just starting harassing anyone you know who's in the emulation scene.
Get someone on the ball, people. I want to run someone over with