It’s been a couple of years since I was last able to attend California Extreme, and I nearly missed out on going this year as well. I had early plans to attend ReplayFX and compete in Pinburgh, but uncertainty that I would get a spot in the tournament and the overall cost of the trip had me checking flights to San Jose as CAX drew near. With flights under $70 each way, it was an easy choice to return to California Extreme for 2017’s show. With 609 total games, 2017 was a big year for California Extreme.
Held at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California Extreme offers pinball, arcade, and retro console gaming that range from the latest releases back through the very beginnings of coin-op and home video games. Stern Pinball’s latest release, Star Wars, was at California Extreme in a big way thanks to Marco Specialties bringing more than 15 new-in-box games to the show. And while it’s nice to see the latest and greatest releases, the real draw of California Extreme is the opportunity to see just about every game you have enjoyed since you started playing up until today.
My main reason for coming to California Extreme is always to play a variety of pinball machines. I spent a lot of time on Star Wars, but the highlight of the show for me was found in the Bayburgh pinball tournament that Monterey Flipper Pinball put together. Capped at 64 players and held in a room set aside specifically for tournament play, Bayburgh was a laid back competitive event that showcased some fantastic pinball playing. Unfortunately I lost a tiebreaker on Star Wars to advance to finals, but I still had a great time.
Walking around this year’s California Extreme was just impressive, even after having been to multiple shows in the past. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to truck their games in and make them available to play. Rows upon rows of pinball and arcade machines fill up the main hall with vendors taking up any space that is left over. A second large room was designated for overflow, and several more rows of arcade and pinball machines filled that up. Console gaming, including a Rock Band stage set could be found on the second level of the hotel near the room that hosted Bayburgh. At nearly every turn you could see an old favorite or a soon-to-be new obsession.
It’s not just sheer volume of games, either. California Extreme allows you to play some true rarities and games that are just in absolutely amazing condition for their age. Prototypes, low production games, never officially produced titles, and highly sought after treasures are commonplace at California Extreme. On day two alone, I played Capcom’s Big Bang Bar and Kingpin pinball machines, which sat only 30 feet from a pair of dedicated Major Havoc vector arcade games. Some people deeply involved in the arcade and pinball hobbies may never see any of those games in person, let alone find them in the same room.
The staff at the show also did a great job. Games that needed attention were addressed quickly and everything was set up to keep things as comfortable as possible. Everybody was helpful from check-in and registration to people working the entries and exits. It’s easy to forget how hard it is to run a show of this scale, but they make it look easy. It’s definitely not.
As CAX 2017 wraps up, it once again proves that it’s well worth the trip. Whether it’s a short drive across town or you’re flying in, it’s hard to imagine that you can’t find enough to see and do at the show to not make it worth your trip. The venue is nice, the games are out in huge numbers, and the surrounding area is easy to get around in and there are tons of food options nearby. As long as the show remains in its current location, California Extreme will always be a priority for me to get to. Hopefully next year the show won’t fall on the same weekend at ReplayFX and Pinburgh.