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Athena manages to blow Nintendo's bowling game out of the water
Author: B. Hodges | Date: 2008/12/11 | Rating: 8/10


Virtual Bowling for the Nintendo Virtual Boy was released only in Japan in December of 1995. This game will work on an American Virtual Boy without any modifications and all text and voiceovers are in English. This is NOT the Japanese version of Nester's Funky Bowling. Supposedly this game was meant to be released in the U.S., but Nintendo thought it would be too much competition for their own bowling title, Nester's Funky Bowling, so they only let Athena release it in Japan in VERY limited quantities. It is considered the rarest of all Virtual Boy games.

Gameplay - 9/10

Virtual Bowling contains three different modes of play: Training Mode, Standard Mode, and Tournament Mode. Every mode let's you choose from a variety of options such as which hand to bowl with, how fast the throw meter moves, the weight of the ball, toggle the BGM, even how much wax is on the lane! Unfortunately, unlike Nester's Funky Bowling, there is no multiplayer whatsoever.

Training Mode let's you easily practice various pin setups. After choosing your options, you are taking to the pin selection screen. Here you can choose exactly which pins are set up. After a single throw, you go are given the option of throwing again or setting the pins differently.

Standard Mode allows you to play a ten frame game of bowling. All the options you had to pick from in Training are available to you. After every three frames, you are given a recap of the score.

Tournament Mode is the real draw of the game. In this mode, you compete against four CPU opponents in four rounds of play. You play the four same opponents each time: Mary, Max, John, and Davis. They have their own personalities and between rounds appear for a bit of smack talk. You never actually see them bowl, their scores are automatically generated, which is a small letdown. Each round takes place in a different bowling alley and each alley has it's own unique wax coating, which forces you to change your bowling technique. During each round you play three complete games, player with highest total score wins. After winning a round, you are given a password; this is great idea because playing 12 games straight would be a bit much!

Play Control - 9/10

This game has outstanding controls. Before you roll, you can use the left control pad to change the place you will throw from. To start your throw, you press A to stop the spin meter, this will determine how much english you put on the ball. This starts the throw meter, the object here is to press A at the top of the arc and then press it again as close to the empty circle as possible. If you hit it dead on, the circle will be highlighted black, if you are off a bit it will be highlighted red. If you don't hit it, there is no highlight (and your shot will be way off). This simple, yet effective feedback helps you get the proper timing down very quickly. As an added bonus, you can use the right control pad to select the exact pin you want to aim for! The pin is highlighted by a black arrow and you can change this at ANY time before you left go of the ball. This handy feature makes picking up spares a breeze.

Graphics - 9/10

This game rivals 3D Tetris in terms of how well it makes use of the Virtual Boy's 3D capabilities. When you roll the ball, the camera chases it down the lane. Make a strike or spare and you will be treated to a replay with the camera set up behind the pins and the ball coming towards you!

Sound - 8/10

Overall the sound in this game is very good. Unlike Nester's Funky Bowling, you can't choose your BGM, you are stuck with the default. Fortunately, the music is actually enjoyable and fits well with the game. You are given the option to turn off the background music, doing this turns on ambient bowling sounds.

This is when the sound really shines. You can hear the balls rolling, the pins crashing, and the buzz and cheer of the crowd; you feel like you are in an actual bowing alley.

The digitized voiceovers are the only real hangup. When you roll a strike, spare, gutter ball, etc., a woman with a Japanese accent will make a comment (in English). While these aren't nearly as annoying as the announcer in Nester's Funky Bowling, the recordings themselves are of poor quality and sound scratchy and fuzzy.

Playing Time/Replay Value - 6/10

There are plenty of options and modes here to keep you occupied for some time. Still, it is just bowling, so most gamers will tire of this pretty quickly. Since there is no multiplayer and the CPU opponents don't provide that much of a challenge, you're mainly trying to beat your high score. The game lacks a backup battery, so you lose your scores when you turn off the power.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid? - Buy

This is one of the best bowling games I have ever played. The problem is that this game is as rare as they come and goes for ghastly amounts of money on eBay (easily over $1,500). Tragically, most gamers will never get a chance to play this incredible game, but if you ever stumble across a cheap copy, pounce on it.

Overall Score - 8/10

Virtual Bowling is a very solid title, and vastly superior to Nester's Funky Bowling. Athena did a fantastic job of creating an authentic bowling experience while making incredible use of the Virtual Boy's 3D capabilities.