Reviewed: February 25, 2004
Released: January 7, 2004
I find it amazing as I sit here surrounded by hundreds of AAA video games and thousands of dollars worth of hardware that I have become totally addicted to a $19 budget game; a bowling game no less. Fast Lanes Bowling is the unsuspecting game that barely rises from the ranks of ďsharewareĒ quality, and it has literally consumed me for the past several weeks. I literally cannot sit down at my computer now without playing at least 2-3 games or even a quick tournament.
While Fast Lanes Bowling offers up a wacky cast of bowlers and some unlikely bowling alleys all of this glitz cannot mask the quality bowling game that lurks at the core of this title. Itís simple by design, accessible by young and old alike, and manages to present a challenge when played with humans or the computer-controlled pros.
Fast Lanes Bowling delivers a comprehensive bowling package with multiple gameplay modes, inventive locations, and several bowlers to choose from. The first thing you need to do is create your bowler. This isnít as creative as it could be. You basically pick from one of eight character models, male, female, robot, skeleton, or alien, enter your name and itís off to the alleys. You can then tweak four attributes like power and accuracy by removing points from one attribute and adding them to another.
The bowling alleys are all based around themes like Egypt, space, a pirate ship, a medieval castle, tropical island wharf, or even a conventional bowling alley. Each location has an alternate mode that you can unlock by winning games and playing through the various modes. These new modes are equally as inventive. The moon becomes Mars, the bowling alley goes into this cosmic neon bowling mode with glow-in-the-dark pins and a laser light show, just to name a few.
Game modes include practice, open bowling, tournament, challenge mode, and golf. Challenge mode presents you with various pin configurations and gives you limited attempts to knock them down with a single ball. Golf gives you three tries (par) to knock down multiple pins (often more than ten) in unique configurations. The fewer balls thrown, the better your score and shooting under par unlocks new alleys.
Bowling on the computer is much like playing golf on the computer. Youíre taking something that requires a substantial amount of physical coordination and reducing it to a few mouse clicks or key presses. In this case, bowling is all about timing and hand-eye coordination and a little bit of setup. You donít really need to know anything about bowling to play, but it will help if you know some basics.
To start off you can move your bowler sideways. Then you click the View button and aim the ball using the target line. This is the general direction the ball will travel if you throw it perfectly straight, spin not withstanding. Spin is noted on the ball icon and you can increase or decrease the amount of spin you put on the ball. This will create a lateral arc on the ball that you will have to experiment with and figure out over time.
With your bowler positioned, your spin set, and your target all lined up its time to throw the ball. This is a simple three-click system much like any golf game you may have played in the past ten years. You click once to start the top power meter moving to the right. The harder you throw the ball the more force you have to knock down the pins. The faster the ball moves the less time your spin will have to affect the ball. This means slower balls curve more.
Click a second time to set the power and the bottom accuracy meter starts to move back to the left at a speed determined by the power you set. Harder balls makes the bottom meter move quickly while a ball thrown at 60% will cause the accuracy meter to move more slowly. Your third click should be at the indicated mark for a perfectly thrown ball. Anything to the left or right of that mark will cause the ball to move in that direction.
All of these elements relate to one another, so if you have a tendency to miss-throw to the right you can increase your spin to the left or compensate by aiming to the left of the head pin. It all works quite nicely thanks to some great physics that are slightly exaggerated but accurate enough for consistent gameplay. There seems to be some gratuitous pin action physics that causes the pins to fly further than they normally would.
Fast Lanes Bowling supports up to four bowlers, either real, computer, or any combination of both. You can choose the difficulty of the AI ranging from moderately challenging to watching the computer bowl a near-perfect game. The multi-tiered tournament automatically increases the difficulty each tier.
I canít believe the details in this game. The graphics arenít revolutionary but they are mighty impressive for a budget title. The last bowling game I played had multiple alleys but they were all variations of indoor realistic alleys. Fast Lanes takes you outside into some of the most beautiful scenery ever seen in a bowling game, so beautiful they even have fly-throughs before the match.
The pirate ship alley slowly rocks back and forth and the cannons roll along the deck. The tropical island has a giant shipwreck offshore, seagulls fly overhead and sharks swim around in the water. The moon has a land rover driving around and Mars has a flying saucer that zooms by. But itís more than just the environments; everything is designed around the theme including specialty balls like a pumpkin, globe, or coconut, and pins that range from toy rockets, stone idols, and chess bishops. Even the menus and tournament tree structures all take on a special look with fancy fonts on parchment or high-tech readouts.
The characters are creative and youíll definitely want to change the models so you can watch them all perform. The alien has a nice shiny outfit and the skeleton is easily one of my favorites. R4D4, the robot, is also a nice touch (thanks for not suing Mr. Lucas), but the human players are rather boring. You canít change their clothes and they seem very stereotypical from the elderly black man to the Japanese school girl, complete with uniform, to the trailer-trash bimbo with black leather pants and skin-tight top with nipples poking through.
Animation is pretty good for the most part. Itís definitely not mo-capped so you can see some jerkiness when they approach the lane and throw the ball. They make all the right moves but it just doesnít ďflowĒ. Itís like keyframe animation with several frames missing between the keys. Once the ball starts moving you can easily see the spin as it takes hold and curves the ball. The pins go flying with realistic, and sometimes exaggerated results.
The camera is excellent with great angles during the action and some nice slow-motion replays. My only minor complaint is that the camera will often change between the power and the accuracy meter. This sudden shift can catch you off guard and screw up your final click. Iíve also had other bowlers, objects, or even shadows pass through my bottom meter messing up my final click.
There are plenty of special effects. Everything is shiny, sometimes almost too shiny. The polished floors, balls, and even pins all have a metallic or glassy sheen to them. Itís very cool but also distracting in a way. Other times the graphics are quite realistic like the coconut and pumpkin balls that look very organic.
Each alley or environment has its own theme song and they are all very good but there is only one song per level so you can imagine that after a few dozen games on each alley you might get tired of the same old music. Thankfully, the music is pleasant and almost atmospheric in quality so it doesnít get annoying. Youíll either learn to tune it out or just turn it down or off in the options. This game would have really benefited from a built-in MP3 player, but there is no reason you can task switch out and play your own CD tunes.
The rest of the sound package is pretty much what you would expect to hear at any bowling alley anywhere in the world. There is the familiar subtle hum of the balling rolling on wood followed by the crash of pins. Each alley has plenty of atmospheric effects like birds chirping, waves crashing, computers whirring, and in the case of the conventional bowling alley, other bowlers bowling. You can even hear other bowlers taunting you on the moon and Mars alleys, which is the only occurrence of speech within the game.
There is no preset length to Fast Lanes, no career mode or pro tour, but since the game is totally unstructured you are free to play however, whenever, and as often as you like. With a bit of dedication and practice you can unlock the six alternate alleys in about two hours, but the game is just so pleasantly addictive that if you are like me you will catch yourself playing it daily. You can squeeze off ten frames in about ten minutes, which makes this the perfect diversion whenever you have some free time.
Iím guessing a lot of critics are going to casually dismiss this game as ďjust another budget titleĒ, but when somebody can make a game this fun and addicting and sell it for $19 I have to tip my hat and say ďwell doneĒ.
Fast Lanes Bowling is a great family game, not only for gamers of all ages but for the entire family to gather around the PC and play together; something you simply donít find in PC or console games these days. Itís highly addictive and just plain fun, which is why we play these games in the first place.