Brad: Back when I was a teenager, I played in a bowling league. Now I could regale with stories from those days, telling you all about high scores or the dramatic head-to-head “bowl-off” that occurred on the last week of the season when our team finished in a tie for first place. But believe it or not, teen bowling leagues are actually not that interesting. Strip bowling of the beer, the cigarettes, the middle aged construction workers with names like “Sully” or “Smitty”, and all you’ve got left are a bunch of 17 year old nerds with nothing better to do on a Saturday night than work out their sexual frustrations by whipping a big heavy rock at a bunch of little sticks. More often than not, the highlight of the evening was after the bowling was all over and I could spend some quality time with the alley’s Combatribes arcade machine. That is, unless I was the lucky guy who won the weekly prize drawing. Then the highlight of the night was playing Combatribes while drinking a free Shirley Temple.
I, too, was a “finess” bowler when I played.
So, if that’s how geeky bowling is at its core, you can probably imagine what it must be like on your Sega Genesis, where the already limited social aspects are completely removed and you can enjoy it from the comfort of your mother’s basement. I mean, I suppose you could drink beer or smoke while you’re playing it, but it’s just not the same, and the misguided attempt to recreate an atmosphere of the real thing just makes it seem even more sad. It would be like treating your kid’s school art show as though it were the opening night a high-end gallery by getting ripped out of your mind on cocaine before attending. The experience still doesn’t match up to the real thing.
Still, if you can allow yourself to participate in such a particularly geekish activity (and seeing as you’re reading a blog about old Sega Genesis games, that seems like a pretty safe assumption), the game can be pretty fun. Sure, a game about bowling isn’t going to be that “video game equivalent of Citizen Kane” that the more insufferable journalists in this business are always clamoring for. But the gameplay is solid and I’d be lying if I didn’t do a little fist pump every time I rolled a strike. That’s more than I can say about Earthworm Jim.
So this is where all the Railroad Barons and Gay Punks like to hang out.
Which isn’t to say that the gameplay isn’t without it’s limitations. To throw the ball, you do consecutive timing meters (similar to a golf game, or kicking in football) for spin, location, and power. In real bowling, you would have to do all of this simultaneously, which is a big part of the challenge. Doing each in succession allows you to compensate if you screw up one of the earlier inputs. Try to imagine a picther in baseball trying to throw a curveball so that it starts right down the middle before breaking sharply out of the strike zone, but at the last second realizing that he screwed up the throwing motion and that the ball wasn’t going to curve at all. In real life, that pitch would get crushed out of the park. But in the world of Championship Bowling, he’d just change his location to the corner, increase his power, and throw a wicked low and away fastball instead of a curveball. Theoretically, this kind of change could turn the current starting rotation for the Cincinnati Reds into a group of Nolan Ryans. Or me into a world-class bowler.
My only other complaint with Championship Bowling is that playing the one player mode seems kind of… pointless. Obviously, I didn’t expect a bowling game to have an epic story (and really, it’s probably better that there isn’t one), but there isn’t much benefit to beating the computer. Given what other sports games were offering at the time, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a bowling game with teams, league play, and different players with various abilities – sort of a Madden or Tecmo of bowling. Instead, you go up against three different opponents in individual games, and when you beat them, you get to do it all over again in a new alley. Sorry, but I’m going to need something more than the promise of a different background to look forward to if you expect my to sit through 12 games of bowling in one sitting. Even in real life, with beer, fried foods, and “Smitty” around to enhance to experience, I’ve usually had enough by halfway through the third game.
I think a sparkly hooker dress with high heels is totally appropriate for bowling.
Stryker: I also bowled as a teen, but unlike Brad and his uber-lame Saturday night bowling league for nerds who can’t get dates, my league at least was on Saturday afternoons. But even though I was raised in a bowling environment free of smoking and drinking, I still find this game’s sterile representation of the sport to be lacking the bowling atmosphere I’m accustomed to. Specifically, it just feels weird to bowl without an episode of American Gladiators or WWF Superstars of Wrestling playing on a TV in the background. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I retired from the sport in 1995 in the first place.