The History of Surfing Video Games
July 29, 2010 by Dennis Amith
If Gatorade had the “Be Like Mike” campaign years ago for the young hopefuls who dreamed about becoming the next Michael Jordan, what about the young groms who wanted to be like pro surfers Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Sunny Garcia, Martin Potter, Occy, Gerry Lopez or whichever awesome pro surfer they rooted for or whoever was kicking butt on the Associated Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour?
These days, players can be like their favorite athlete via playing their character on a video game and there is no doubt it, these sports games are big monkey making machines. They are done right, cover an entire competitive season, utilizes the rosters of a current team (or can be updated online) and they’re fun to play.
But for surfing video games, yeah…we can play the character of our favorite surfer but developers have opted to challenge players with moronic obstacles like bombs or mines while surfing on a wave and in the past, in Tony Hawk fashion, pulling off the craziest, fantasy moves (which were enjoyable to pull off).
Sure, we accepted these crazy challenges at the time but it has been nearly a decade now since the release of “Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer” or the “TransWorld Surf” video game was released and it’s about time that a new surfing game was made and it’s definitely time to try a new concept, especially for a surfing video game built for a next gen console.
Having had the opportunity to play surfing games since I was younger, looking back, it really has been a stagnant 25-years in the development of surfing video games and hopefully within this decade utilizing newer technology and developers who actually cares about wanting to make a very good surfing game (with good controls and good camera positioning), we will see developers working on a building new surfing game that would rival previous games on any console or PC.
The fact is we have been waiting for a surfing video game on the PS3 and XBOX 360, it’s been way too long and may it be a sequel to KSPS or TWS, we hope a developer is considering a surfing game to created sooner than later. Earlier this year, Alex Wilson of Surfer Magazine wrote an article titled “IT’S TIME FOR A NEW SURFING VIDEO GAME” and I agree, it’s time for a new game but I believe that we need a game similar to other sports related video games that focus on the yearly competition, in this case, a game that would possibly focus on the ASP World Tour and an ability for the player to create their own character to compete in this video game version of the World Tour.
I have a lot of ideas for a newer game but as I was growing a bit nostalgic about the surfing games from yesteryear, I wanted to revisit the history of surfing video games (that were released on a console or PC, non-flash and not movie related) and then I’ll discuss what I would like to see in the next surfing video game and hope many of you can chime in on what you want to see.
So, let’s take a look at the history of surfing video games. Let us begin with…
CALIFORNIA GAMES (1987) BY EPYX
The first surfing video game that I played was “California Games” from Epyx. The game was first released on the Commodore 64 and then a few years later in 1991 on the NES, Sega Genesis and the Atari Lynx. The goal was to take part in competitions and like most games at the time, score the highest points.
“California Games” included Half Pipe, Foot Bag, Surfing, Skating and BMX. But the surfing portion of the game was quite challenging especially on the PC and definitely would frustrate the hell out of you and you would move on to a game like Foot Bag, calm down and replay the surfing portion of the game. Needless to say, once you got everything down, the game became much more fun to play. The game had a followup in 1993 with “California Games 2” which was cool because it included snowboarding and added newer games but they took away the surfing game and replaced it with body surfing.
T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage by L&J LTD. (1988)
In 1988, a year after “California Games”, people had the chance to try L&J Ltd.’s video game “T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage” for the NES. People can play as one of the mascots of “Da Boys” and take on “Street Skate”, “Big Wave Encounter” and “Wood and Water Rage”.
“T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage” allowed a person to keep spamming the same moves over and over again (as seen on the video above) but my memory of this game was its crappy controls on the NES.
Surf Riders by UBI SOFT (2000)
Over ten years without any surfing video games released on a console since “T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage”, in 2000 we were greeted with three surfing video games. The first came out in August 2000 from Ubi Soft titled “Surf Riders” for the Sony PlayStation.
With the Tony Hawk games so popular at the time, there was high expectations for this game on the PlayStation and what people saw was a game that didn’t look all that good, another surfing game with bad controls and you were limited to surfing one direction (frontside only).
You can play up to 16 players but you start off with 5 from California, Australia and France and the graphics were so limited that the game just ended up being repetitive. Fortunately, a much more enjoyable surfing game was coming out a few months later for the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation.
Championship Surfer from Mattel Interactive (2000)
Available on the Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation was “Championship Surfer” developed by Krome Studios. Possibly the first video game to spotlight professional surfers and in this case, O’Neill surfers Cory Lopez, Shane Beschen, Jason Collins, Tim Reyes, Bill Bryan, Rochelle Ballard, Jon Jon Florence and Nathan Carroll.
Finally, a surfing game on the console at the time to get stoked about! The game featured video footage of the surfers and you would compete in various heats. If you win, you open up another beach/surf comp to compete in. Because the game allowed 2-4 players, it was pretty cool as you battled with friends for a wave and you try to score as much points as you can. And there was a good amount of moves to pull of from tailside cutbacks, floaters, rail grabs and various airs.
But all was not good…
The game controls were a little kitschy and the game was very arcade-like in which the game had sharks, mines, bombs and ducks that explode or have poison that really screw with you in the later levels of the game. Come on developers…what the hell were you smoking when you decided to add those obstacles in the game.
DEVELOPER 1: We need to make this game much more challenging?
DEVELOPER 2: But how?
DEVELOPER 1: How about exploding ducks?
DEVELOPER 2: Yeah, and we can put mines and bombs and make the competition like a warzone?
DEVELOPER 1: Surfing with bombs, mines and killer ducks. Yeah!!! Let’s do it!
Nevertheless, the game did have its fun moments but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of a surfing game with bombs in the water. Oh well, considering there was not much else out there for surfing games and that it took nearly 12 years to bring out a surfing game, I wasn’t going to complain.
Surfing H30 by Rockstar Games (2000)
With the growing popularity of Rockstar Games for its “Grand Theft Auto” games, there was a bit of fanfare for their surfing-related game titled “Surfing H30”. The first surfing game on the new Sony PlayStation 2 system and the game would come with a mini-surfboard that would go on top of the PS2 controller analog sticks.
Needless to say, there were high expectations because of the company’s reputation and people wanted to see this new technology used on the PS2 and how much more realistic the waves would look. The developers prided themselves with the games visual graphics and water physics.
Unfortunately, the game sucked balls. The controls and camera were frustrating that you literally feel like giving up. During the game, you have to collect buoys and for the most part, this game was severely lacking of any kind of enjoyment but if I had to give one positive, it would be the game’s soundtrack. Oh, and although there are no pro surfers in this game, you can play as Kelly Sunset and Mark Mavericks, Megan Kira, Rob Makaha and Rochelle Rincon and open other characters as well.
Don’t be fooled by the graphics of the game because there is nothing good about a surfing game when the controls and camera are just shoddy. “Surfing H30” was not that great of a surfing game, it had a good soundtrack and it was a step forward graphics-wise but a step backwards in gameplay and controls. Granted, this is not entirely Rockstar’s fault, ASCII in Japan was responsible for making this game (known as “Surfroid”).
But if Rockstar Games was to come back to work on their own surfing game, that would be awesome. Combine the GTA elements with a storyline but then competitive surfing modes for the next gen consoles. That would rock!
Ultimate Surfing by Natsume (2001)
In 2001, Japanese developer Natsume (known for their “Harvest Moon” games) released “Ultimate Surfing” for the Game Boy Color. The game was reminiscent to “California Games” but this time around, you compete with other three surfers and you’re going one direction. While competing, everyone else is competing against you in trying to pick up power and speed items that show up on the waves. Overall, an easy game but the more you begin to advance, you have other surfers trying to screw with you and knock you off your board. A basic Game Boy Color game that came out a little too late as by then, the Game Boy Advance and games were released to the market.
Sunny Garcia Surfing by Krome Studios/Ubi Soft (2000)
With the release of “Championship Surfer” in 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast and Sony Playstation, Krome Studios went to work on “Sunny Garcia Surfing” (distributed by Ubi Soft). Similar to “Championship Surfer”, the team would focus on pro surfers such as the 2000 World Tour Champion Sunny Garcia (No Fear), O’Neill surfers Corey Lopez, Shane Beschen, Rochelle Ballard, Jason Collins, Tim Reyes and Nathan Carrol and Gotcha surfer Shea Lopez.
This time around, Krome Studios learned their lesson by focusing more on the surfing, pulling off the moves and beating your opponent in competition.
Problem about the game was, this was a rehash of the “Championship Surfer” game for the Dreamcast and PlayStation utilizing the same engine and trying to spruce it up for the PS2. Thus, the game didn’t look like a PS2 game but more of PSX game with slightly better graphics but really, the game didn’t look all that great. Although, I will say that I spent a lot of time playing this game.
Granted, this was much better than “H3O”, so at least at this time, there was a much better surfing game for the PS2. Not the best looking nor is it the best surf game out there, but it still was fun to play.
TransWorld Surf by Angel Studios/Atari (2001-2003)
This time around, surfing video games were going to be taken to a new level and surfing publication TransWorld Surf would have its own video game thanks to Angel Studios and Atari. The game came out for the XBOX in 2001, followed by an easier version for the Sony PlayStation 2 in 2002 and then retooled for the Nintendo GameCube via “Transworld Surf: Next Wave” which fixed the framing issues apparent in the PS2 version and was worked on by Rockstar San Diego. With the most recent version being the better of the three.
Surfers included in this game were Rochelle Ballard, Shawn Barron, Taj Burrow, Jason Collins, Tim Curran, Shane Dorian, Christian Fletcher, Andy Irons, Cory Lopez, Dan Malloy, Fred Patacchia and Chris Ward.
“Transworld Surf” allowed players to take on their opponents in the Transworld Surf World Tour and 13 of the top ranked surfers would compete in 10 locations. The game established goal challenges for the surfer such as completing photo shoots, pulling off some moves and then competing against surfers in 3 minute heats.
The graphics for this game surpassed any surfing game before and also surpassed other surfing games with its gameplay. The fact that you can compete at Pipeline, Teahupoo, Witches Rock, Todos Santos, Huntington Beach and other locations was pretty awesome!
I will say that I had the XBOX version but the game was too insanely hard for me and ended up buying the PS2 version which decreased the difficulty of the game and made obtaining goals much more easier. They fixed up the game a year later and ended up with “TransWorld Surf: The Next Wave” (smoother animation, better speed adjustment, better controls, better camera and newer characters) for the Nintendo GameCube which I have been told is the best all-round version of the game, although graphics wise, the XBOX is the better of the three.
To this day, fans of the game are awaiting for a sequel!
Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer from Treyarch/Activision 2 (2002)
And just when you thought “TransWorld Surf” was the best surfing game ever released, later in the fall of 2002, Treyarch known for their “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” games went on to release “Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer” which was released for the Sony PlayStation 2, XBOX, GameCube, GameBoy Advance and Mac/PC.
The game allowed you to play the World Champ Kelly Slater, Lisa Anderson, Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Kalani Robb, Rob Machado, Bruce Irons, Nathan Fletcher, Donavon Frankenreiter and secret characters Travis Pastrana, Tony Hawk and several others.
The game featured 30 levels featuring 15 popular surf spots from around the globe and also an unlimited number of interactive waves. In fact, you’ll never play the same wave twice. Each level requires you to meet some goals in order to open up boards and characters. If anything, the biggest positive for “Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer” is its controls. Surfing games have had major problems with controls and also camera but this time around, those problems have been eliminated.
Quite simply, this is the best surfing game out there. Granted, “TransWorld Surf” is an awesome game but “Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer” is a much more accessible for people to play and to learn the controls. It’s just pulling off those moves and wicked fantasy tricks ala insane looking, physics defying aerials but also utilizing moves such as tube rides, snaps, cutbacks and floaters.
If anything, I’ve owned various versions of this game already. PS2, XBOX, then I got the PC game from my purchase of the “Step Into Liquid” film and also for the GameBoy Advance. I love this game and one can only think how awesome a sequel would be if one was to create it for the next gen console. Hopefully sooner than later.
It has been over eight years since we have seen a surfing video game. Granted, there has been the “Surf’s Up” animated movie game and various flash-based games online but it’s been way too long without an awesome surf game and I hope one of these days we get a sequel to “Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer” or “Transworld Surf”.
What I would like to see in an upcoming surfing video game?
- With XBOX Live and the PlayStation Network, downloadable rosters and having a game that is based on that year’s ASP World Tour would be sweet! Create your own character and similar to other sports games with their build-your-own-legend mode, create your own surfer with the ability to select stats based on trick moves, durability, stamina, etc. for competition.
- Online competitions with other players around the world! This is a must!
- Possibly another style of game is to have story elements…like a “Bully” or “Grand Theft Auto” where you can venture to various areas of the city, buy some boards or meet the locals. Can you imagine visiting various spots around the world and having to visit shops or areas, and then having to go up against a boss of that local area challenging you. May it be a short game of who can string the most tricks to a game that included something similar to “Sunny Garcia Surfing” with the push window or just one-on-one battle like “Guitar Hero” battles but in surfing where one competes against the other and who can get the most points by pulling off moves.
- The game can even be more in-depth. What if your surfer had to work for money to buy a new surfboard but there would be a “Shape-a-surfboard” game or have to work in teaching people the basics of surfing. We have seen these implemented in various games where they have to pull off certain jobs from “Grand Theft Auto”, “Shenmue”, “Bully”. Otherwise, stick to the beat a level and get a new surfboard.
- There has to be an inclusion of a big wave competition. Man…can you imagine having to go against Laird Hamilton in a fantasy big wave competition? Love to see how current technology would take advantage of the water physics. That would be sick!
- I’d like to see an “open a legend” added along with opening spots for more characters. What I mean by this is that it would be cool to open up legendary surfers like Duke Kahanamoku, Greg Noll, Gerry Lopez, David Nuuhiwa, Micky Dora. Sort of how the wrestling or fighting games have these characters that can be opened after one beats a game or uses their money to open up a character, it would be wonderful to be able to use a legend, using the old school boards and applying the physics to those boards and the waves. Just a thought.
- If MLB, NFL, FIFA to even UFC and other sports can use the players likeness, there must be a way for a developer to work with the ASP in getting those pro surfers in the game. No more of this under ten surfer characters. This blows! We are so used to more and more characters and there has to be a way for this to be increased. Get all the top competitors of that year’s ASP (yes, including the wildcards) on the game!!!
- In all sports games, we see people able to purchase gear from various companies. EA Sports have been good with this. I would like the ability for surfers to choose surfboards and surfing gear and wet suits from various surfing companies. Don’t half ass this game, do it right!
- If people can customize their cars in racing games, how about the ability for surfers to customize their surfboard (other than colors)? Why not. These games can be educational too… Certain boards work better for certain waves.
- XB360 Achievement Points and PSN Trophies – This is a given!
Any other ideas of what you would like to see in a surfing video game?
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