California Games

California Games

Format: Atari Lynx
Media: Cartridge
Year: 1989
Developer: Epyx
Publisher: Atari

California Games

Ah California – where the sun always shines, the surfing is great and beach parties rock with scantily clad women with golden tans aplenty. Throw some cool sporting events into a competition and you have yourself some California Games.

If it was one game that Atari was betting on to shift more Lynx units, this one was it – California Games. The Lynx version of Cali Games turned out a bit different from its console and home computer counterparts. Firstly, the number of events was cut down to four: BMX, Half Pipe, Surfing and Footbag. Secondly, the BMX and Surfing events were tweaked for the Lynx screen which actually made them quite enjoyable to play.  Thirdly, you could not pick your sponsor (oh no, I wanted Santa Cruz boards!). Lastly, gone were the earthquakes, the taunting dolphin and the menacing shark with sunglasses.

Now, I know what you are thinking, what the hell is left in this Lynx version of California Games! Relax, chill out like a real West Coaster. This game is so awesome, I would recommend you to get a Lynx just to play it. The learning curve to play the events is quite easy, with the half pipe event being the most difficult to get used to out of the four. For those of you that have never had the pleasure of playing California Games, let’s run through the event playbook:

California Games

BMX – Ride your bike on the stunt course strewn with obstacles and get to the finish line before the timer runs out. The more stunts performed and the faster you hit that finish line, the better your score. If you keep on crashing on the way to the finish line, the event spits you out.

California Games

Half Pipe – grab your board and hit the half pipe to build up your momentum. Once you have some speed, hit each ramp with some cool tricks to gain points.

California Games

Surfing – my personal favorite of all the events. Surfing was changed on this version to riding the wave from ‘right to left’ – this actually breathed a new life to this event, as I was never crazy about surfing on the console versions. You earn points by staying ahead of the wave and getting airborne to perform (multiple) spins. Yes, I can do quadruple spins – that is a 1440! Oh yeah  you must land the board on the wave at an angle that won’t see you diving into the surf.

California Games

Footbag – or hacky sack. The premise is simple, keep the bag off the ground by kicking, kneeing or head-butting it in the air. Earn extra points by spinning around while the bag is in the air or by hitting George. Who is George you ask ? He is the friendly seagull that you hit as he flies across the top of the screen. Luckily animal welfare groups were cool about knocking off seagulls back in 1989.

The challenge of each event is always to beat your (or your friends) high score. The only way to achieve a higher score is to nail the timing in each event. Get the timing wrong, and not only does your score suffer, the game also humiliates you with light hearted quips. Thankfully, these were left in the Lynx game.

So there you have it – four obscure events that are quite enjoyable to play. If you have a Lynx, California Games is a mandatory addition to your games library.

California Games

GraphicsAwesome detail and animation in all events. This game shows off the power of the Lynx


SoundSimply awesome and ambient tunes for each event. The sound effects are just so sweet too


PlayabilityFour distinct events which will keep you on your toes


LastabilitySingle or multi player, this game is built to be replayed so those high scores and records can be broken


OverallThe perfect mix of variation, challenge, enjoyment and fun.



The Atari Lynx

The Atari Lynx - 1

The Handy from Epyx, was the brainchild of David Morse, Dave Needle and the legendary RJ Mical. All three were the masterminds behind the Amiga. The collaboration of the device was done on a napkin in August 1986 – well before anyone else had thought of a portable gaming device like this. The Handy was the first full colour, 16-bit portable device. There are arguments till this day about how many ‘bits’ this device had. For me, it was, and still is 16-bit.


Epyx, not having the finances to take the product to market themselves were planning on selling the technology to Nintendo. Little did they realise, Nintendo was already working on their own portable device, the Gameboy.

The Atari Lynx vs The Nintendo Gameboy

When the Nintendo deal fell through for the Handy, Epyx approached none other than Jack Tramiel, owner of Atari at the time. Atari had attempted to create their own portable device (the Atari 2200), however, they could not get it right, so the Handy was perfect timing for them. The Handy became the Atari Lynx and the rest as they say, is history.


The Atari Lynx was released in the US in 1989 (1990 in the UK). The price of the unit was $100 more than the Gameboy. This price disparity, and the fact that Nintendo bundled the killer app Tetris with their unit, basically killed the market share for Atari’s new portable device. The original Lynx unit was bulky and also suffered from a short battery life – it chewed the 6 x AA batteries in no time when compared to the Gameboy. This just added to the woes of the Lynx.

The Atari Lynx Games

Atari eventually released the Lynx II, which was half the price of the original unit and was also smaller and cheaper to manufacture. The Lynx II introduced stereo sound and a pause button. This newer version also had longer battery life – a relief for avid fans.


As Atari thought they were on a winner with the Lynx II, along came Sega’s Game Gear in 1991. Although the Lynx was far superior than the Game Gear, it could not compete with Sega’s vast advertising budget and resources. The Game Gear was also backward compatible with the extensive library of Master System games.



Even though Atari’s Lynx was relegated in the portable device market by the Gameboy and later by the Game Gear, it was still home to some awesome games and arcade conversions like: Chip’s Challenge, Klax, California Games, Blue Lightning, Rampart, Lemmings, Roadblasters, Paperboy, Rampage, STUN Runner, Xenophobe, Xybots and Zarlor Mercenary.

The Lynx fate was sealed in the early 90′s, not due to inferior hardware, but to better and smarter marketing from the likes of Nintendo and Sega. The device enjoys a cult following till this day in the retro gaming realm. So, do yourself a favour, grab a Lynx II. You will not be disappointed.