King of Lanes: On League Bowling and the Neo•Geo

January 27, 2012 at 10:03 am | Posted in Reviews | 1 Comment
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With the technology we have today, the natural progression of bowling video games has been to use motion controls. Wii Sports first enabled gamers (and non-gamers) to imagine they were at an actual bowling alley as they held their controller close to their chest before twisting their wrist as they completed their simulated motion of rolling a bowling ball. Before we had to worry about inadvertently smacking our pets while following through with a controller strapped to our wrist, bowling games relied solely on positioning, timing and physics. While there have been bowling games attempted on home consoles going back to the Atari 2600 (the aptly named Bowling – a game I remember fondly), SNK’s League Bowling was one of the first arcade games to be centered exclusively on the recreational activity (or sport; at least it uses a ball). Available outside of the original 1991 Neo•Geo MVS or AES carts with a NeoGeo Station release on the PlayStation 3, League Bowling ignores the 21-year handicap to titles of today and delivers a simple, but engaging arcade experience.

The Neo•Geo graphics are timeless and the colorful sprites in League Bowling are considerably better than any of the 3D bowling titles that were released in the ‘90s. The game does not rely on a trackball for arcade ambiance (like The Simpsons Bowling or Capcom Bowling), as the Neo•Geo MVS arcade cabinets often housed multiple games and all used the same classic four bright buttons and two joystick layout. The controls for League Bowling are as basic as one would surmise for a bowling game. You position yourself for where you want to release the ball and use the same one button to initiate your roll and then stop the subsequent location and power meters. There are some customizable elements which do add some strategy to the game. In addition to choosing if your player is left or right-handed, you also select the weight of the ball you’d like to use. The different weights naturally impact the physics and pin-action of your rolls, allowing for experimentation and adding some replay value when going for a high score.

League Bowling offers three game variations: Regulation, Flash and Strike 90. Regulation is, of course, your standard ten-frame game, while Flash and Strike 90 are the same ten frames, only with bonuses on top. Flash features a meter cycling through bonus scores that get tacked onto your throw, while Strike 90 just has added worth to strikes and spares. While there is no variation to how you would approach the different games (Flash is really random and can’t be timed in my experience), these bonuses can add some excitement to multiplayer contests as they allow for bigger comebacks and more varied final scores. While effective, the single player experience is pretty short in League Bowling. When solo, games typically take less than four minutes to play, and outside of some phantom pin-action which ruins a run and makes you want to quickly play the game again, there isn’t a lot to tackle here. I couldn’t discern if it was the NeoGeo Station version or something within the settings (even with the Neo•Geo memory card option turned on, the only thing that saved was your handedness and ball weight within the same game) but high scores wouldn’t even save from session to session. All that inputting of initials (235 was my best) was for naught but I have to believe the original MVS arcade game had this in place.

Multiplayer is where League Bowling is really fun and thanks to the NeoGeo Station in the PlayStation Store, you can experience this without having to own original Neo•Geo hardware. In addition to playing locally with friends on one PlayStation 3 console, League Bowling has built-in netcode to play against others online. I love this add-on and while finding random League Bowling matches online may be a challenge (there are more popular SNK re-releases like Metal Slug 2, Shock Troopers, and Baseball Stars 2 where your odds are better), you can still coordinate and host your own bowling night and utilize the network mode in place. Priced normally at $9.95 on the PlayStation Store (and sadly not available on XBLA or the US Wii Virtual Console) League Bowling is worth checking out if you’re itching for some bowling action and turned away by middling motion control reviews for games that use a Wiimote or PlayStation Move controller. Sometimes putting your feet up and using just one button is all you need in a video game experience.


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