World Bowling (Game Boy) review
"Silly ethnocentric me, I had completely classified bowling as a purely American game. Entirely blocking out its ancient origins, I now thought of it only as a pasttime of inflated importance for men with thick, black-rimmed glasses or an excuse for hard-working guys to build up their beer guts. Leave it to Nintendo to break down my walls of ignorance. Did you know evidence of bowling dates back 5000 years, to the time of ancient Egypt? Romans and Germans also participated in slightly altered..."
Silly ethnocentric me, I had completely classified bowling as a purely American game. Entirely blocking out its ancient origins, I now thought of it only as a pasttime of inflated importance for men with thick, black-rimmed glasses or an excuse for hard-working guys to build up their beer guts. Leave it to Nintendo to break down my walls of ignorance. Did you know evidence of bowling dates back 5000 years, to the time of ancient Egypt? Romans and Germans also participated in slightly altered versions of what is the most popular sport of all time. These are facts people; instruction booklets don't lie. World Bowling attempts to continue this legacy, offering up the modern game with an arcade touch. However, instead of an experience steeped in tradition, it's ultimately characterized by tedium, difficulty, and frustration.
The beginning steps of your journey bring the global aspect of World Bowling to the forefront. Your exploits carry you to six different destinations: the exotic Eastern lands of Japan and China, stately European countries England and France, and the utterly mundane Canada and... the United States. Okay, forget about expanding your horizons, nevermind the enlightened speech from the manual, and disregard the fact that citizens of over eighty countries actively participate in the sport. For this game, the developers decided to throw out the southern hemisphere and go with the standard lineup of superpowers.
At least they tried to communicate the flavor of the countries involved, though the main thrust of their effort involved plastering flags everywhere. The level in China features plucky Asian melodies and a strike will elicit the appearance of a giant panda. Britain receives gentle pop reminiscent of a Beatles tune and is represented by a Guard in his distinctive tall hat. Other cultures aren't as fortunate, as the United States only gets an indistinguishable human form, and France seems to be best embodied by a juggling clown. Naturally, a juggling poodle, or even a clown juggling poodles, would have been more accurate, but as it is the results of World Bowling's cultural associative process are entirely hit-or-miss.
And that phrase also describes the gameplay, both literally and in execution. The act of bowling in the game relies on a number of factors. The first two of these are established before you ever see a pin, as you must select a bowler and bowling ball. Your first option, a right-handed boy, will do better with a heavier ball. In the spirit of sexism, the remaining dainty southpaw performs best if you choose a lighter weight for her. Once in the alley, you actually bowl by setting three more variables: the ball's release point, hook, and speed. The first of these is simply controlled by an arrow at the head of the lane, while the others are determined through horizontal oscillating meters. Precision timing will be required to deliver the bowling ball to your desired target. After the final step, the ball inches down the lane, and the pins chaotically explode upon impact.
If the stars align, you may be able to quickly find a combination of these factors that consistently produces strikes. Unfortunately, the usual method involves a long trial-and-error process, which results from a lack of in-game feedback. Should I try a different angle of approach? Would a more powerful shot work better? Am I even using the right ball for my bowler? Don't expect any easy answers. The only help World Bowling provides for improvement is a supplementary top-down view of the action. However, the impact of the hectic collisions is so murky, especially on splits, that the pin physics seem mostly made-up. With no way to understand how to achieve better results, all you can do is aim for the pocket and keep rolling until you find something that works. This isn't a one-time proposal either; all six locations have invisible constraints that require different approaches.
The determination to find these combinations is absolutely necessary, as World Bowling sets the bar high despite its exasperating system. Advancing past a level in this game is done by beating a certain score, and the target for the first stage is an impressive 200, a total that any ordinary bowler would struggle to reach. By the final stage, the mark has been raised to 250, meaning you have to virtually fill the scorecard with X's. Mastery through repetition is the key, doubly so considering the game has no password scheme. Every new attempt to complete the world circuit must begin at the first stop.
Having to continually start over is the least significant reason as to why World Bowling fails to appeal. Everything in the game feels like it was executed with only the beginning of a good idea. The bowling mechanics are easy to grasp conceptually but success only comes through painstaking effort. The limited worldwide atmosphere waffles between elements that are charming or conspicuously incongruous. Even the 2-player feature suffers from the same syndrome. It doesn't use the Video Link cable, meaning you fortunately only need one cartridge, but then you must hand over the hardware every few seconds. It would be best just to pass on the entire World Bowling experience.
Community review by woodhouse (July 16, 2004)
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