Review: Arcade Bowling (DSiWare)

Some games were meant to be played in real life.

David Crane is a legend in terms of video game design. The creator of such early classics as Pitfall, its sequel Pitfall II, and the original A Boy and his Blob, he and fellow Activision alumnus Garry Kitchen have most recently co-founded Skyworks Interactive, focusing their talents on 'advergaming' and web-based game design in general instead of console releases. 2008 saw their first steps into the iPhone App Store, and now, a little over a year later, they've ported one of their iPhone offerings to the DSi Shop, Arcade Bowling. What can we expect from these legends of gaming here on the DSi?

Arcade Bowling is a direct port of the iPhone version, which is in essence a skee-ball game. For those who haven't had the opportunity to play skee-ball in an actual arcade before, it's a game where you roll weighted balls up a ramp toward a goal area consisting of holes in the backboard. Stout borders around the holes can either deflect your ball away from a hole or help to guide it into one, depending upon the player's skill. Points are awarded depending on the difficulty involved in getting a ball to go down a hole, the minimum being 10 and the maximum being 100.

On the main menu, you may choose between two modes of play, Classic and Progressive. You can either use your stylus or the D-pad, A, and B to navigate the menu area, and once you've begun a game, you may pause with Start - the pause menu allows you to start your round over, continue your current round, or exit to the main menu. Classic mode is a normal game of skee-ball. Using the stylus, touch the bottom half of the touchscreen and flick upward to send one of your nine available balls flying up the ramp and toward the scoring holes. A light, weak flick of the stylus will not send your ball far, and a strong, fast flick will send it careening into the rear wall instead of into one of the high-scoring holes, so some practice is required before you'll begin making the high score list. The DSi touchscreen is fairly sensitive when it comes to how fast or slow you flick your stylus, and this game is fast enough to keep up with you if you want to flick all of your balls up toward the goal one after the other, but unlike real skee-ball, this game has a distressing tendency to flatly deflect your ball off of the outermost border instead of that nice, familiar bump that happens in real life that sends your ball flying up toward the score holes if you send it straight up the middle of the ramp. Should your ball be deflected by that outermost barrier or just not have enough oomph behind it to make it up the ramp, it will roll back down and you may try again without being penalized. Progressive mode is the same as Classic, but with the addition of score 'goals' and bonus flashing score holes. By sinking a ball into a score hole while it's flashing, you'll rack up five times the score as normal, and if you manage to reach the score goal, you'll unlock nine more balls to play with.

When your round of skee-ball is over, you're taken to the scoreboard for that particular mode. If you managed to get a high score, the game will use your name as entered into the DSi's settings - there is no option to choose your own name in this game, so if you handed your DSi off to someone else, their high scores will all be registered as yours. It will also save the date each high score was reached. A screen tap or a press of the B button will take you back out to the main menu, where you can either start a new game or choose to see the scoreboard for either Classic or Progressive mode again anytime.

The graphics are slick, 3-D, and futuristic-looking, complete with glowing neon lights, 'laser' balls, and a screen over the backboard displaying different graphics and/or slogans each time you manage to score. In all other respects, the play area looks just like any skee-ball setup you may see in an arcade anywhere, with the balls coming down the chute on your right, nets between the games themselves, flashing lights decorating the nets, and the digital counters telling you your score and how many balls you have left to play. All of the moving elements of this game are animated smoothly.

Sound-wise, there are three background tracks to choose from in the Options menu on the main screen, where you may also adjust the volume of the sound effects and music individually. The noise of the balls rolling up the ramp and bouncing around on the backboard or against the barriers is perfect, and the other sound effects also fit the futuristic theme of the game, with assorted whooshes and laser gun sounds accompanying each ball as it drops into a hole as if you were playing at a real machine.

Conclusion

It's not groundbreaking, but it's not bad - the controls are fluid and intuitive, the graphics and audio work well together, and the game itself is simple enough for everyone to enjoy. However, there's a couple quirks involved with an actual skee-ball ramp that Arcade Bowling can't quite replicate accurately. Skee-ball was a game meant to be played in person in an arcade, but David Crane and his team at Skyworks Interactive did a nice job replicating as smooth and authentic an experience as possible in Arcade Bowling. If you're absolutely dying for a game of skee-ball, this may tide you over until you're able to get to an arcade and play the real thing.

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