Just like Tetris, there were two Bowling games released for the Virtual Boy and just like Tetris, each region only got one of these games. While North American gamers were treated to Nester's Funky Bowling, the Japanese exclusive was Virtual Bowling which features various weights of ball, different lane conditions and provides two ways to play plus a training mode. The aim as in any bowling game is to knock down as many pins as possible, earning extra points for strikes and spares – and getting either of those in the final frame rewards you with an extra throw.
The action is viewed from a first-person perspective as you line up your shot, your ball at this stage represented by a simple circle. The 3D works well as you look at the lane in front of you, although - as was the case in Nester's Funky Bowling - it doesn’t look quite long enough. Upon releasing your ball some authentic rolling sounds accompany it as it travels down the lane as the camera follows, before the ball crashes in to the pins with a wonderful clatter. Should you get a strike or spare you are treated to a replay from behind the pins, where curiously the lane does look the right length and the speed of your throw is given in both kilometres and miles per hour.
The controls work very well. You position yourself with the left d-pad but use the right to pick where you are aiming. Once happy you are presented with a meter swinging left to right, that determines the spin that will be put on your ball, this is followed by a power meter where you have to press the A button twice. The first time determines power and then as the marker moves back down you have to aim to press it again when it reaches a circle. Doing so allows you to pull off the shot you intended but missing the circle causes your ball to veer off from its intended path. It can be difficult to get right at first but it soon becomes a lot easier and you will find yourself purposefully missing that circle to compensate for some incorrect spin you may have added.
There are a number of speech samples in the game that play including for strikes, doubles and turkeys – the later of which includes a floppy-eared creature bouncing down the lane. The samples are not the best quality but you can still tell what is being said and they add to the atmosphere.
Before each game there is a screen where you can make a number of adjustments. You can chose from three types of power meter: power, normal and technical. Power is obviously the strongest but you will be faced with a fast moving meter should you select it, technical is the weakest but has the slowest moving meter where as normal of course falls somewhere in the middle of the two. Next you can choose to bowl left or right handed – which makes no difference whatsoever to the gameplay but does effect which side of the screen the meter appears on. You then pick from the wide selection of balls: weights ranging from 6 to 16 pounds are available. You can also adjust the amount of wax on the lane, picking from no, half or full.
The final option is where you decide if you want the background music on or off. The music that plays is quite catchy but does get repetitive after a while. If you do choose to play without you are instead treated to sounds from other games being played – though it’s a bit strange when no games can be seen in play in the nearby lanes.
If you choose ‘Standard’ from the title screen you bowl for one game, aiming to get as many points as possible. Adjusting the wax on the lane affects the behaviour of your ball to keep things interesting, as you have to change your tactics for each, so having mastered one you can then try another. Like all bowling games there is a certain combination of power, spin and direction that will get you a strike every time and it’s unfortunate that once you’ve found it, its very easy to pull off with the Normal meter. If you are finding it becomes far to easy, you can of course just switch to one of the other two options. There is a scoreboard for you to try and get on but unfortunately the game doesn’t save your score and so this is lost as soon as the machine is switched off.
There is one other main mode of play, and whilst a two-player option would be great, what is on offer instead is still fun to play. The other mode is Tournament where you compete against four computer controlled players. You play three games and should you have the highest score at the end you get to go through to the next round… where you compete against the same four players. Luckily they do get better as you progress and to give them a bit of character they will pop up between frames to compliment or mock your bowling ability or just to declare that they’re not out of it just yet.
There are four rounds in total and although the wax on the lane is fixed for each round all of the other options are available to you at the beginning of each game. With the wax level changing between rounds, it adds to the challenge as you get used to one set of conditions and then have to adapt to another: and as your opponents get better you have less time to do so. If you don’t have the time for the full tournament you can come back to it later as your progress is saved with passwords, presented after each completed round.
Virtual Bowling features impressive visuals and atmospheric sounds, which combined with great controls make it a lot of fun to play. There are however some problems such as the default power meter option making getting a strike too easy and the game not saving your high scores. A two player option would be a great benefit but the tournament mode is excellent and overall Virtual Bowling is a very impressive bowling sim.