The X-games inspired sports games really hit their stride and peaked during the PS1 era. You had the ESPN Xtreme trilogy (that wasn't super great), Tony Hawk (and all of its Razor Scooter and Dave Mira clones), and Cool Boarders.
But there was a generation of games before that on the NES. They were games that promised the action of these extreme sports, but you sort of had to squint a little and pretend that it felt super extreme.
Skate or Die - 1988
Skate or Die was one of those NES games that just sort of showed up in your best friend's collection. He doesn't remember buying it. His parents don't know how it showed up. If you asked around, no one but everyone somehow had it. It was like this invisible game in your collection that only friends could pull out and play.
Despite the ever extreme conundrum of skating or die, the game never clicked with me. It felt sluggish and unresponsive. The music felt more suited for a beat-em-up like Ninja Turtles. And I always had a hard time figuring out what the hell the game wanted me to do.
The one thing I did like was the art. For a Nintendo / ZX Spectrum game, Skate or Die looks great. Lot's of clean lines, large distinguished sprites, and a sense of a large city.
California Games - 1987
Unlike Skate or Die, everyone owned California Games. This was the ultimate package of 6 very distinct events that could be played with multiple people.
California Games had a nice rhythm to the events that once it clicked, you would be able to win the event for the rest of your life. I'm serious, haven't played in 15 years, go ahead and try foot bag, bet you can still score a ridiculously high score. I bet you can still knock that bird out of the sky.
The half pipe was one of those events where people either didn't know how to do it and would just beat their knees up with the skate board until out of lives, or they could go forever.
Roller skating had you zooming down the beachfront on your best quad skates, but this was also the most littered beach front in the world. You had to dodge everything from puddles to ice cream cones, while doing tricks, and try to get to the end.
Like skating, the BMX course was a treacherous affair where after dodging a whole mess of holes in the ground, barrels, and puddles, you were expected to stop on a platform at the end, despite for the entire 5 minute course, never using your brakes. This usually ended with me pressing every button desperately trying to stop as I fell off the other side of the peer.
And inevitably, one of your friends would realize that you got points for ever jump you did, so they would just bounce down the track until they crashed away all their lives.
And then there was surfing, which arguably was actually a better half pipe game than half pipe, and featured a shark that would menacingly eat your character randomly.
Then the least extreme games, foot bag (hacky sack) and disk throw rounded out the package. (I guess the possibility of bear attacks in disk throw was pretty extreme)
T&C Surf Design - 1988
T&C Surf Design was fast and responsive, challenging but not impossible, and so colorful.
It featured characters from the actual T&C Surf Design shop like tiki man, some cool surfing gorilla who I believe was named Joe Cool, and a fucking terrifying humanoid cat in tights. Actually, I don't know what the hell was going on, but I liked it.
The skate boarding felt great and was by and far the best on the NES. You could gather tons of speed, get so much air, and actually perform simple tricks like Ollies to dodge obstacles.
There were things to jump over and ramps to go off of. There are still a few ramps over holes that I've never managed to land and to this day believe it was a sick way to take health on an impossible jump.
The surfing took a lot more to figure out. It was some balance of gaining speed going down the wave, but then turning around and ramping up to score points. You had to dodge birds and some dude on a raft, and if you did right, the wave wouldn't crash down on you and you would end in the pier and get scored.
I remember sitting there listening to the waves crashing on the title screen for long periods of time. Sometimes starting the game while I ate a snack, just so I could listen.
There isn't a ton of money in these sort of games anymore. Tony Hawk poisoned the well with too many lack-luster outings. The X-games in general have lost some steam.
I'll admit, I was burned out on these games for a while. I almost picked up the ever so broken Tony Hawk 5 just to get a taste, but my senses screamed otherwise. I'm putting a ton of stock into Ubisoft's Steep. It looks incredible. A nice combination of actual mountain ranges mixed with team Red Bull like sensibilities.