Virtual Bowling
  • Genre:
    • Sports
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • Athena
  • Publisher:
    • Athena
  • Released:
    • JP 12/22/1995
Score: 70%

This review was published on 06/30/2016.

Virtual Bowling is a sports video game developed and published by Athena for the Virtual Boy. It was originally released in Japan on December 22, 1995, but it didn't come out in any other parts of the globe. There are two bowling games for the Virtual Boy, both made by different companies, and this is the first one. The second one is Nester's Funky Bowling, made by Nintendo, which was exclusively released in North America a few months after Virtual Bowling. Out of the two, Virtual Bowling is the better game. While not exactly on the mind blowing spectrum of good, this is still one of the better games in the Virtual Boy's rather mediocre library. Whether or not you like bowling in real life, you may take a liking to Virtual Bowling. By no means is Virtual Bowling worth getting a Virtual Boy over, but it isn't a bad game. It merely had the misfortune of being released on an ill fated platform.

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Before I talk about Virtual Bowling, let me talk about real bowling. The art of bowling revolves around players taking turns rolling heavy balls across wooden lanes to hit the ten pins at the end. Each round of turns is referred to as a "frame" and there are ten frames per game. Players get up to two chances per frame to knock down all their pins, and the pins are replenished after each frame. If a player knocks down all the pins on their first roll, it's referred to as a "strike," but if it takes them two rolls to knock everything down, then it's called a "spare." Knocking down anything less than ten pins in two rolls is known as an "open." On the tenth frame, players get extra chances to roll if they get strikes or spares. The more pins a player knocks down, the more points they earn, and whoever has the highest score by the end is the winner. The basics of bowling are pretty basic, so it's an easy game to learn.

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Despite the ugly red and black color scheme of the Virtual Boy's screens, this game still manages to look reasonable. Most of the action is viewed from a first-person perspective, featuring large sprites, decent animations, detailed backgrounds, and stylish menus. You even get fancy replays from the perspective of the pins whenever you get strikes or spares. The bowling lanes are rendered as flat surfaces capable of simple rotations similar to the Mode-7 effect found on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which gives the environment some visual depth. The game makes decent enough use of the Virtual Boy's stereoscopic 3-D, too. The music is also surprisingly good. That's not something you'd expect to hear out of a Virtual Boy title, pun completely intended. The title screen theme is particularly good. There are also a couple of speech samples, which is impressive for the Virtual Boy, though they don't sound anywhere near as good as the music. This game does a good job of presenting itself, having both decent graphics and sound.

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Controlling the game isn't too complex, though it does use both of the Virtual Boy's d-pads, which may make things seem complicated. Before you swing the ball, you can use the left d-pad to change your positioning and the right d-pad to change your aim. Once you're satisfied with your adjustments, you press the A button to make the spin meter appear. There will be a ball-like indicator frantically moving left and right on the spin meter, and you stop it at the desired spot by pressing the A button a second time. After that, the throw meter will show up. For the throw meter, you have to press A twice, once when the indicator is at the highest point of the meter, and another when the indicator is on the circle near the bottom. Depending on how well you time all the meter shenanigans, you'll get a better or worse shot. Once you get acclimated to the controls, the game will have a nice feel to it.

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Before you begin the game, you're able to customize a few options. These customizable options include choosing whether you're right-handed or left-handed, how far down the lanes are waxed, the weight of the ball, and the power meter type. Some of these options will have an impact on your bowling performance, like how heavier balls will spin less, but hit harder. When it comes to the power meter type, you can choose between power, normal, or technique. Going for power will make your throws a lot stronger, but the drawback is that the meter will move much faster, making it harder to get the proper timing. On the other hand, technique slows down the meter, but it'll weaken your throw in exchange. These minor options add a tiny bit of extra depth to the game's mechanics. Lastly, you can also choose to disable the background music, though you shouldn't ever do that, because the soundtrack is good.

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There are three modes in Virtual Bowling: Standard Mode, Tournament Mode, and Training Mode. Standard Mode is just a single ten frame game of bowling that you play by your lonesome, and if you get a high enough score, your entered name will appear on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a save feature, so you'll lose your scores upon shutting the thing off, rendering this mode pointless outside of practicing your bowling skills. Speaking of practice, Training Mode is another way to test your abilities, as it lets you manually set up the pins to your liking. Tournament Mode is where the true fun of the game lies, however. In Tournament Mode, you'll be going up against computerized opponents in different bowling alleys. Sadly, you don't actually get to see them bowl, but you do get a bit of dialogue from them every so often. Oddly enough, only their silhouettes can be seen when they speak. Conveniently, passwords can be used to continue from where you last left off in Tournament Mode. The sense of progress and competition makes Tournament Mode the best part of the game.

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If you have a Virtual Boy lying around and are looking for some decent games for it, then consider Virtual Bowling. It's better than Nester's Funky Bowling and is just an all-around decent game. The graphics are solid, the 3-D effect is neat, the music is great, and the game play feels good. Getting strikes is satisfying enough to put everyone on strike. Even if you're not a huge fan of bowling, you may want to give Virtual Bowling a try. It can get repetitive after a while, though.

Word Count: 1,128

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