From Out Run to Wii Sports: The nine greatest summer video games
We have such a fraught relationship with summer in Britain. Most of the time, the sun skulks behind cloud cover, only briefly surfacing to give us false hope on the first day of Wimbledon. Its fleeting visits are met with near orgiastic excitement as even we grown adults flock to ice cream vans or hastily erect rusting barbecues so that we can give all our neighbours botulism. No sunny day can be taken for granted, so the result is stress and resentment. You don’t want to put a bikini on and frolic in the surf, but you have to or the summer police will come and bang you up.
This is why, unless you can spend three months of the year in Portugal, video games are the best place to revel in sunshine. None of these classics will ever be rained off or require the purchase of a Pack-a-Mac. And if you get bored of the endless cobalt skies, you can just switch off and go outside in the rain. Nobody loses.
Here then, are our favourite summer games.
Out Run (Sega 1986)
With its Ferrari convertable, blonde surfer girl and endless scorching freeways, this legendary arcade racer is effectively a love letter to long summer drives. Although the handling model is detailed and challenging, designer Yu Suzuki wanted the game to be a relaxing, enjoyable experience; hence the detailed scenery and a choice of sun-tinged soundtracks. The elaborate arcade cabinet ensured that seaside arcade dwellers had to pay a handsome price to experience the fantasy.
California Games (Epyx, 1987)
In the California Games surfing section, you had to ride an endless wave, performing tricks in your bright green trunks.
During the 1980s, the multi-event sports sim reigned supreme and although everyone pretends to have loved Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, the best titles in this genre were made by US developer Epyx. This instalment features freestyle skateboarding, surfing and frisbee throwing, all rendered in glorious 8bit chunk-o-vision. For C64 and Speccy owners in bleak Thatcher’s Britain, California Games was an almost cruel taste of life in sunny LA.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega, 1991)
Azure blue skies, twinkling oceans, towering palm trees, Sonic the Hedgehog takes Sega’s fabled love of sunshine and turns up the joy dial to 38-degrees. Even the Casino Night Zone in Sonic 2 feels bright and humid. Sonic does not do drizzle.
Super Mario Sunshine (Nintendo, 2002)
Super Mario Sunshine pits Mario against the inhabitants of a tropical island that’s been attacked by a mysterious graffiti artist.
With its tropical beaches, waterfalls and funfairs, this Gamecube platformer is a joyous vacation from Mushroom Kingdom, retaining much of Super Mario 64’s 3D mastery, while adding new features, including a rucksack that doubles as a water canon and jet pack. Wonderfully colourful and inventive, Sunshine is a bright spot in the GameCube’s often overlooked catalogue.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar 2002)
GTA: Vice City – more drugs, deaths and sleaze than a badly run carehome.
Rockstar’s 1980s-based gangster adventure stars Tommy Vercetti as a hoodlum who’s been released from jail and is going anywhere but straight. With its woozy orange sunsets, sleaze-ball cast and synth pop soundtrack it is basically an interactive version of Miami Vice – and therefore genius.
Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball (Tecmo, 2003)
DOA: Beach Volleyball – in which a collection of female game characters take a break from both fighting and convincing physics.
Candy floss, piña coladas, wearing flip-flops – summer is all about guilty pleasures, and Tecmo’s ridiculously crass sports game is the guiltiest of them all. Here, the female warriors from the Dead or Alive fighting game series decide to take a two-week vacation, playing volleyball every day, then blowing their cash in the casino or clothing boutiques. Ugh. It has two things going for it though: the sport sim part really is pretty good and the soundtrack includes Jesse Hold On by B*Witched.
Flower (Thatgamecompany, 2009)
Poetic, relaxing and beautiful, Flower has you controlling the breeze as it picks up and collects flower petals floating through the summer skies. Innovative and strangely emotional it set the scene for Thatgamecompany’s magnum opus, Journey.
Wii Sports Resort: ‘and when we’ve finished this game we can hit the swimming pool bar.’
Set on an idyllic beach resort named Wuhu Island, Nintendo’s sequel to the smash hit Wii Sports, gathers a range of 12 gentle holiday-themed activities, such as archery wake boarding and canoeing, into one sunny package. It’s basically like going to a holiday park except you don’t have to spend every night in the resort club, glumly watching French teenagers do the Macarena.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Namco, 2010)
Ninja Theory’s rendition of the classic Chinese story Journey to the West is set on one of the most luscious depictions of a post-apocalyptic Earth ever conceived. Under a glaring sun, the player wanders through ruined cities that have become vast exotic rain forests, and the game is lit to make everything look almost magical. Also, the fact that the two lead characters bicker constantly makes it feel like a family holiday.