Released in 1987 by Epyx for a large number of systems, California Games was a collection of minigames based around outdoor activities in non-traditional sports. In most versions of the game, the player chose to compete in individual events or an event series. Unlike Epyx previous games, in which players chose a nationality, players get to choose a sponsor. The Commodore 64, for example, includes Maxx-Out, Costa Del Mar, Kawasaki, Santa Cruz, Ocean Pacific, Casio, Auzzie, Spin Jammer, and Ray-D-O, while the NES release adds publisher Milton Bradley to the roster.
As a multi-platform game, the visual fidelity of California Games really depends on the machine that is powering it. In general, the art style was heavily informed by Californian imagery. The footbag event has the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. On other platforms where space was at a premium, events were sacrificed. The Atari Lynx and 2600 releases only included four of the events: BMX, surfing, footbag, and halfpipe.
Each event featured a different soundtrack, including some renditions of well known hits. Richard Berry's song "Louie Louie" accompanies the titles, while The Safari's hit "Wipe Out" sounds out during the surfing event.
Set under a crashing pipeline wave, players gain speed to do aerial tricks and avoid falling off their board. Most versions of the game rate the player on a 10.0 scale, though some give points to the number of rotations in an aerial trick.
Players are given a time limit in which to earn points for rotation and hand plant tricks in a skateboarding half pipe. Not only must they execute these tricks, but they must turn their board in time to descend the ramp and keep momentum into the next trick.
This event requires throwing a frisbee to a partner off the screen. Players time their button presses to a meter to execute angle and speed and, once released, gain control of the offscreen player the catch the flying disk. Points are earned for successful catches.
Players ride along a dirt track with ramps and obstacles, doing wheelies, flips and spins to earn points. They are also judge on the time it takes to reach the goal, which can be impeded by falling off the bike or crashing.
Juggling a hackysack with feet, head, and body, players must keep the bag from touching the ground while doing fancy moves to earn more points. Players can hit seagulls with the bag for bonus points.
Players skate along a path running parallel to the beach, doing tricks and spins while avoiding obstacles on the sidewalk.