Monday 11 January 2016

Virtual Bowling (Virtual Boy review)

Developer: Athena
Publisher: Athena
Released: 1995

Virtual Bowling is a Japan-only release and one of two simulations of the sport on the VB (the other is Nester's Funky Bowling, 1996).

There's three modes, the first being Standard where you bowl ten, non-competitive frames in an attempt to gain the highest possible score. The bowling mechanics are similar to traditional golf games; after setting your lane location with the d-pad a metre starts swinging and you use Button A to stop it at your desired spin strength. Another metre then appears whereby the peak represents power and the base affects accuracy. Training mode allows you to set up pins in any formation for practice but the real meat of the game is Tournament. Here you face CPU opponents in four matches; each consists of three games and the points are tallied up to decide whether you move onto the next match. This gives it a real competitive edge that was missing in Nester's Funky Bowling. The control system is intuitive and easy to get the hang of with some great pin physics. The low camera angle and first person perspective also add to the illusion of depth and there's some impressive looking scaling effects. Although the action is very entertaining bowling a strike is easy once you know the best position to stand in and how much spin to use. It still takes skill to stop the metre at the precise location but once muscle memory kicks in most matches are a breeze. There's no humorous LCD screen animations like in Nester's game but you do get a cool replay looking back from the pin-side. It's also hilarious when you bowl three strikes in a row as a giant turkey runs towards the camera, splatters on the screen and rains feathers down onto the lane! There's some excellent cut-scenes (complete with CPU trash talking!) and the music, SFX and voice samples do a nice job of bringing excitement to the action. There's no save option but passwords are available to pick up your progress at a later date.
Virtual Bowling might not be the deepest game but it does a fine job of simulating the sport and it's miles ahead of Nester's weak attempt. The gameplay is simple, yet addictive, and the smooth controls and fun Tournament mode make it a perfect game to dip in and out of.
Random trivia: By patching the game you can unlock a hidden debug menu which offers a sound test; find out more here.

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