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Bowling - The Atari Times


The quest for the perfect game
by Ethan C. Nobles

March 15, 2006
For a game that rolled off the assembly line in 1978, Bowling for the Atari 2600 has held up surprisingly well. Sure, there have been better games released about the nation's laziest sport, but this 2600 title is still fun to play from time to time.

This game essentially raises crude simplicity to an art form. Anyone can pick up Bowling and play very well within a matter of moments (in contrast, I'm still thrilled when I get in the mid-100s at the local bowling alley). The thing even keeps score well, and you don't have to mess with those nasty, rented shoes. While it can certainly be argued that Bowling could use a few more bells and whistles, it does exactly what it was meant to do - offer players a solid game of computer bowling at home.

Now, the graphics are crude as can be and two of the six variations are pretty rotten (specifically, games 5 and 6 where one or two players get the thrill of throwing a ball that doesn't curve one bit. Yawn, yawn, yawn). You get a side view of a bowling alley, and the pins are represented by ugly black squares while the ball is kind of an almost round thing. Yes, the graphics aren't what one would call great, but they do their job. Besides, the bowler is rendered well enough, and even does a dandy dance when he rolls a strike.

Of course, I would have preferred the game to be a bit more true to my actual experiences at the bowling alley. It would have been ideal to have the bowler set down his beer prior to bowling each frame, then pick it up again as soon as his turn had concluded. However, this game is vintage stuff for the 2600 - you can't have everything, can you? But, I digress.

Aside from the rotten, stinking "straight ball" game variations I've mentioned, there are two others that are great - one offering a steerable ball, and another that lets the player throw a curve ball. The curve ball option is my favorite in that the player can line up, throw the ball and then initiate a curve whenever he sees fit. That adds to a bit of strategy and is certainly the most realistic option in the game. The steerable ball variation, as the name implies, lets the player have some control over his ball as it heads down the lane. While that might not be terribly realistic, it's not a bad option to choose every now and again. The variations, of course, can be enjoyed by one or two players.

The control is solid enough - you can position your player prior to releasing the ball and initiate a curve or steer the ball easily enough. The sounds are the typical blips and bloops you'd expect from a 2600 game, but the swooping tones that sound after a strike is scored and the bowler is going through his dance of joy add quite a bit to the overall experience.

Scoring is handled well, too. The standard stuff is used, and the ultimate goal of the game is to roll strikes throughout 10 frames and get the coveted perfect game - 300 whopping points. That's no easy task, however, as there's a bit of randomness involved in how the pins fall, and getting a strike (or a spare, for that matter) is more of a challenge when the difficulty switch is in the "a" or "expert" position. The standard indicators are used to display whether a player has scored a spare, lucked into a strike or left some pins standing.

While Bowling is very simple, it can be fairly addictive and is great for those times when you want to play a couple of quick games and aren't in the mood for the typical arcade or action title. The instruction manual tells you everything you need to know, but it's not necessary to have one to pick up the game and play it. The title is very common, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding a copy.


(c) Atari

See? Atari was into sports games at one time!
There's just something addictive about knocking down pins...
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Sports
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 90%
Control Score: 90%

Final Score: 79%

Reader Comments for Bowling

One of my faves! by Gregory D. George on 2006-10-04 15:45:42
I played this "back in the day" at a friends house. We loved it! It was probably 20 years later that I got a copy for myself. Now I play it on the Cuttle Cart 2 regularly. Hey, you can't go wrong with a dancing bowler!
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