Undead Bowling isn’t the typical ten frames of bowling that you’re used to. There are no spares or strikes, no gutters or pins, and no fungus-laden shoes or hairstyles leftover from the '70s – but you do knock things down with a bowling ball…a bowling ball of doom, that is. And actually, “knock” isn’t an appropriate word; more like, obliterate. You obliterate things with a bowling ball of doom, and those “things” just so happen to be brain-hungry zombies. So it’s safe to say this isn’t a friendly game of bowling – this is bowl or be killed.
Instead of being up against ten inanimate bowling pins, the lane is populated with zombies that lumber closer and closer toward the screen with every turn you take. Not only will you need to bowl down as many of the undead as you can to succeed, but you must also stop them from getting to you and, well, devouring your brains. While doing so you’ll have the opportunity to link together combos, set high-scores, and even play a few mini-games that require that you topple all objects to advance.
There are four types of levels available – which basically just offer different variations of zombies to crush – and each can be played in one of three modes such as Survival, Hunt, and Combo. Survival will require that you last 15 turns without dying, Hunt has you defeating a set amount of the undead to win, and Combo asks that you link together a specific number of hits per turn. Survival and Hunt essentially play the same, and really don’t feel any different from one another; just keep anything from making its way to the red line and you’ll find success. Combo mode offers some variation, but it also comes with a steep difficulty curve when playing on the harder settings.
There is a tutorial “mode” – which consists of three instructional images – to help you get familiarized with the controls, but it’s almost unnecessary as the game only requires the circle pad and A-button to play. Just press left or right to line up your shot, A to release the ball, then simply steer and use A again when you want to make sharper movements. It’s immediately accessible to gamers of all skill levels, that is, as long as you can stomach the sight of a vast amount of blood splattering all over the lane.
Maintaining an agile sense of control over the ball will require persistent utilization of the A-button for tighter steering; the problem is this effect only lasts a few seconds at a time, so you must release and repress the button, rather than constantly holding it down. In most cases this isn’t an issue, but when playing the Combo mode on harder difficulties a skilful sense of precision is integral, and this control mechanic doesn’t always meet the demand. To say these situations were sometimes anger-inducing would be an understatement.
We did have other issues throughout our time with the game, mostly in the form of unexplainable detection inconsistencies. Sometimes we’d knock over zombies that we clearly hadn’t collided with, and on other occasions when we were the same distance away, the target would remain untouched. Luckily this works in your favour more often than it does against you, though it still kept us constantly guessing the hit radius of each enemy. There’s also a slot machine that is your ticket to the game’s few bonus stages, but its inclusion seems quite arbitrary as it appears to match three images every 4 or 5 turns regardless of your performance.
Also, in this day and age it’s baffling that a high-score-setting game would lack online leaderboards. This omission instantly diminishes replay value and leaves very little incentive to conquer any of your high scores. You can’t even enter your initials to brand your personal bests, so if you’re looking to pass the game off with a friend or family member, good luck remembering who owns those lofty digits. It’s such a necessary part of a game like this, and it would add a substantial amount of replay.
And yet for all of the shortcomings and oversights, Undead Bowling is still a decent game. The production is satisfactory, controls are intuitive, and things are weird enough to be entertaining. Sure, it’s not heavy on content, nor does it offer much depth in the way of gameplay, but more often than not we found ourselves unexpectedly enthralled by its chaotic sense of action. This is bloody arcade bowling that’s meant to be a time killer, more than a main focus in your free time.
If the absurdity of slaughtering hordes of zombies with a bowling ball sounds like it would be right up your alley, Undead Bowling may be worth shedding your spare dollars on. It might not be a perfect, and we understand if it initially strikes you as shovelware, but there really is some simple, appropriately brainless fun to be found here. Lack of leaderboards, relatively minor control issues, and an overall shallowness are what keep this from being a surefire recommendation. Even though this zombie may be lacking a few limbs, that doesn’t mean it’s not capable of feasting on many hours of your life.