The greatest game I ever bowled was probably around 180. A far cry from the perfect 300 but a decent game nevertheless. Most bowling video games are extremely simple in scope. Pick up a ball, roll it down the lane and see what pins drop. Sometimes you get to choose the curve of your ball and even the weight. But that is honestly about it. So when I saw that there was a new bowling game on Xbox Live Arcade, I didn’t think anything of it. However, once I tried the demo I realized this was something different. A game that blended bowling with miniature golf and created something kinda unique. I was so intrigued by the demo, I ended up coughing up the 800 points to make a review.
Rocketbowl was originally a very simple PC game and had huge aspirations going into the Xbox Live Arcade format. The graphics are decent with major emphasis on the large variety of bowling balls that you can purchase. The balls look great with my favorite looking ball has to be the classic Fireball. The courses are okay, but most of them feel quite bland. If you are looking for a Hot Shots Golf or Tennis feel here with goofy players to play with, look elsewhere as your character or anybody you play against is merely a scoresheet and a small picture.
Roll a ball, hit some pins. The game is in English Dolby Digital 5.1 but it could easily pass for 2.0 Stereo. It sounds right but it’s really just basic in scope. While I can live with the sound effects, the music is horrible. If I hear Rocketbowl sang one more time, I’m going to set a 1,000 Sonic Franchises on fire. The music sounds like we just fell into Drive-In at the Hop hell and repeats constantly. The music also has the habit of dropping every once in a while which might be a blessing I’m not sure.
The idea behind Rocketbowl is simple. Take a bowling game, mix in some miniature golf ideas like hills, curves and other assorted obstacles and you got Rocketbowl. Your bowling bag can hold up to six balls at any time and these have different properties such as velocity, curve and number of boosts. They also sport some fun designs as well. Bowling is a 3-step system. First angle your ball just right, then start the power meter. When you hit the right power, follow thru and the ball is on its way to hitting lots and lots of pins. While the ball is en route to the pins, you can also manipulate it to some degree which direction you want it to go. One can also use a Rocketboost to rapidly move your ball left or right (better balls also enable you to make it jump) to increase velocity and direction on your ball.
The game performs well, with a feeling of accomplishment when you get a strike or pick up that difficult spare. The game also lets you collect money by use of star points which can be picked up along the course or by hitting a certain pin. This money in turn can be used to buy better balls that have more rocketboosts, greater velocity or just a really cool design. There is also the need to sell balls from time to time to free up slots in your bag as you are limited to 6 balls at any one time. One other thing that I like a lot is if you miss a shot, you can possibly maneuver your ball to another frame on the course and pick up pins. This is called a Wild Shot and if you get another frame’s pins entirely this is a Wild Strike. This also gets you a few more dollars.
The game’s difficulty is quite varied. This means one frame will be ridiculously hard and the next might be very simple. The courses with practice work out to be about the same difficulty. Quite frankly, you could use the house ball and score a 300 if you know what you are doing. However, the better balls do have their advantages and make this task a much easier one. The game like traditional bowling does involve some luck. Sometimes you will hit pins just right and leave the ten pin. Sometimes due to a slope you might barely hit a few pins and have them careen into the others for a strike. It is fun and frustrating at the same time.
There are a few different modes in the game. Free Play is your basic one player game where you play from the variety of courses in an attempt to gain some money and learn the course. Your course options only start off with two options and based on a minimum score, future scores are unlocked. Naturally, this gets increasingly harder and you have to score in the 200’s to unlock the final course. Challenge is letting you go against the local pro and having a side wager while you are at it for a little more money. He or she also gets harder as you move up in courses. The most profitable way to get money (if you are good) however is the tournaments. This takes a course and pits you against 4 others with the top three getting a piece of the prize pool. There is risk here in that you have to put up an entry fee and could lose your stake.
There are also multiplayer modes both local and over Live. There is the option of Alternate shot format and also whether to include obstacles. Obstacles add things like wind, water & fire traps among others. This adds to the difficulty and frustration levels. Since this is an Xbox Live Arcade game it is also has the standard 12 achievements for 200 points. Some are fairly easy like placing first in a tournament or just a lot of time like bowling with every ball (which requires you to buy all of the balls). But then there are the ridiculous Live multiplayer achievements. Winning 5,10 or 25 games in a row is bad enough on its own, but the fact that I couldn’t find a single person online is even worse. Those achievements should have been thrown out the window and went back to basics like a 200 game (in addition to the 300 game achievement), a Wild Strike, a Turkey (three strikes in a row) and so forth.
The idea of video game bowling is a great time waster. A typical game will take ten minutes and you can finish it up in no time. Rocketbowl is a fun little game that is a great time waster. The wealth of courses and obstacles is varied and will tax your skill to get the best score. The graphics and sound are kinda bland but the gameplay more than makes up for it. The amount of different balls in the game is great even if you are limited to six in your bag. The only major disappointment here is the achievements and the lack of finding anybody to accumulate the Live multiplayer ones with. Listed below are a couple of bugs to keep note of and to alert the developers of what to fix if they read this review. I do recommend this game to anybody who likes to bowl in the confines of their home. There are some problems here but I think it is well worth the 800 points.
Bugs or Enhancements needed for Rocketbowl as of 9/30/2008
1. A longer clock timer. I have had quite a few situations where pins have not counted because the game decided it was long enough and stopped the action. The time to hit pins should stay the same but once you actually hit pins, the time should increase to allow for bounce mechanics.
2. Unlimited bowling bag. There is no sense in only allowing 6 balls in the bag. If we want to bowl with a different ball each frame, then so be it. Limitations like these are silly and un-needed.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- 1up.com: “Far too often, you’ll just be waiting for nothing at all — or you’ll curse the game when it tallies your score just before those last few pins tumble.”
- Gamespot.com: “While there is some occasionally noteworthy level design, RocketBowl hits the gutter more often than it strikes “