Review by Retro

Reviewed: 08/30/03 | Updated: 09/02/03

A decent little sports title that just screams "AVERAGE" to you

The sport of bowling is a special game. God hasn't made many people who hate losing more than I do, at any game, but especially at those that I like a lot. I hate that side of myself, but I've learned to live with it. I've also learned to deal with the fact that I usually hate any game that I'm not really good at. It takes a special kind of game to keep me liking it even if I suck at it, and bowling is one of those. Rarely do I ever reach the embarrassing total of 100 points in an entire game of real life bowling, but I still jump at the chance to bowl anytime I can.

All right, enough of my ''boring personal story,'' as one former fan would call the previous paragraph, and on to the review of this mediocre bowling game that has a very fitting title: Bowling. A game of Atari Bowling is played much like one in real life. At the start of a game, a bald headed guy is standing on the left side of the screen holding a bowling ball. Before introducing the ball to the pins, you can move your bowler up and down as you please (good controls). Simply press the joystick's button and Mr. Bowler will swing the ball backwards and then forward toward its stationary targets. The bowling man amazingly doesn't even bend his back the whole time. As if in competition with the man to see who's stiffer, the bowling ball always rolls at the same speed, and it doesn't appear to even roll; it just scoots along on the floor.

Depending on how and where you hit the ten pins that look like small, flat squares, a certain number of them will be knocked off the screen, and in a certain pattern. Then the ball rolls down and to the left, returning back to you with as much loyalty as a boomerang. Apparently, this bowling ball and these pins don't need those fancy machines that we're used to seeing in everyday bowling alleys to line them up or return them to the user.

Bowling would be pretty dang dull if it didn't have three different variations to choose from. In a game of Curve Ball, moving up or down just once while the ball is spinning toward the pins will make it curve in that direction until it reaches the end of the lane (amazingly there are no gutters). There's about a 99% chance that you and everybody you know will enjoy playing the Steerable Ball variation more than the other two. In it, you can move the ball up and down as much as you please-even while it's plowing through the pins! Unfortunately, you still can't alter the ball's speed. I'd bet my life that 99.9% will like playing Straight Ball the least. Bowling experts who love to put a lot of spin and English on their shots will completely despise it. This is because it's boring! Upon releasing the rolling weapon, all you can do is watch it roll away from you in a perfectly straight path. Cursing at it and pressing all the buttons you can won't persuade it to curve, or hook, even the slightest bit.

After you play one or two games of Bowling by yourself, the fun will begin to run out quickly, especially since there's not a computer-controlled player available. Along with throwing in three different variations to make Bowling more interesting, the makers of the game did something else intelligent: they made it two-player. For competitive reasons, Bowling is much more fun when played with a friend-which you can do in any of the three kinds of games. Since the game is relatively fast-paced (a turn that consists of two shots shouldn't take more than 20 seconds), it doesn't grow tiresome playing several complete games in a row. One reason it's so easygoing and fast-paced is because you don't have to use a machine to keep score or to change from one player to the next; it does all of that for you in a cinch (and it's accurate).

Another thing that works well with Bowling is the console's Difficulty Switch. It's tough getting spares or strikes with the switch occupying the A position. With just a flip of the switch (to the B position), you can make bowling down the pins a good bit easier. A shot that would leave you with a split (i.e., two pins remaining in the standing position at the top and two pins at the bottom, with an open space between the pairs) with the difficulty switch in the A position, would leave only one or two pins, period (if you don't get a strike!), in the B position. It's not even that farfetched to get at least a spare every turn and to reach 200 points.

Speaking of spares and strikes, it's easy to see that the programmers tried to put in a little bit of personality. When you get a strike or spare, the screen comes to life with a bright flash or two while your bowler joyously jumps up and down like the stiff stick figure that he is. But that's as much flare and personality that you'll see in Bowling, which is why it's nowhere near as addicting as the real life game, and why I chose to give it an average rating.

Everything about the game just shouts ''average'' to me.

The sound of the ball rolling down the lane (and all the other sounds) --no music included
The few colors that make up the palette
The blocky graphics that are neither ugly nor cute
The amount of fun that you get from playing the game
The number of variations
The overall replay value of the variations
The overall presentation/impression that the game gives you

Everything I said earlier is true. Yeah, there is a decent amount of fun to be had when playing the game with a friend, but I never get the adrenaline rush or the amount of entertainment that I get from some of the other Atari sports titles. Of the ones I own, I'd put Bowling somewhere in the middle of those, in terms of its greatness. I like Ice Hockey and Football much better than this game, but Bowling is better than Golf, Home Run, and it's on about the same level as Basketball.

The Bottom Line: Bowling is a nice little bowling title to add to your collection if you're looking for a decent multiplayer sports game for the Atari 2600. Just don't expect to see anything flashy or really memorable about it.

Rating: 5

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