For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home, "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - and pitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favorite program in the universe: MAME.

by Rob "Flack" O'Hara

I normally file bowling games next to fishing games in that "why are you playing games of activities that you could be doing in real life?" category. However, a hurt ankle a couple of months ago left me sitting in my recliner and off my foot for a week or so, and you know what that means? NO BOWLING FOR YOU. So, I did the next best thing and tried out several of the most popular bowling games in MAME. Did any of them get a strike? Will I get my balls taken away for that lame joke? Read on and find out!

It should be noted that most arcade bowling games are configured to play using a track ball. The ones I found below were all ones that you can play with a regular controller, although as you read on you'll see some worked better than others.

P&P Marketing (1991)

Bowl-O-Rama is one of the two vertically-oriented bowling games I tried. Bowl-O-Rama supports up to five players and includes three different bowling variants: normal bowling, Flash-O-Matic, and Black Jack Bowling. 

Controls, as I found out, are pretty universal when it comes to arcade bowling games. In Bowl-O-Rama, left and right buttons are used to control the amount of spin placed on the ball. Moving left and right on the controller adjusts the ball's position within the lane, while moving the controller forward ("up") launches the ball. Like all the other games I tried, Bowl-O-Rama also contains a countdown timer to keep the game moving, and has a small window where humorous animations are shown throughout the game depending on what's happening.

In Bowl-O-Rama mode, the game plays and scores like regular bowling. In Flash-O-Matic mode, random scores are flashed on the screen. The score that's on screen when you hit the pins is the score you get. It's a decent but unnecessary addition. Black Jack Bowling is a bit more interesting. Each player gets three throws to build their blackjack hand. The number of pins you knock over is the card you receive -- ten pins is a face card, seven pins would get you a seven, etc. Hitting only one pin draws an Ace. 

I had assumed that most of the bowling games I would try with a joystick would be too hard to control, but in Bowl-O-Rama, the opposite is true. It's simply too easy. Positioning the ball anywhere between pins 1 and 2 (the left half of pin 1) will get you a strike. By the second game I was bowling 300 games (see screenshot). Likewise, the Black Jack game simply becomes a matter of knocking down one pin the first time (for the Ace) and all the pins the second time for a face card and a blackjack. I suppose you and your friends could half a tournament and the first person not to throw a perfect game would lose, but it might take a while for that to happen.


Capcom Bowling
Capcom (1988)

Capcom Bowling is another top-down vertical-oriented bowling game from roughly the same era. Capcom Bowling supports up to four players.

Capcom Bowling's controls and gameplay are essentially identical to Bowl-O-Rama's normal mode. You still have your spin buttons, the controller still adjusts and throws the ball. Like all the other games I tried, Capcom Bowling contains a timer to keep you from taking too long to line up your shot and a small window which shows funny animations depending on the action within the game.  

And, like Bowl-O-Rama, a well-placed shot on the pins (this time right down the middle) will get you a strike almost every time. The ball and pins in Capcom Bowling are slightly smaller than in Bowl-O-Rama, making it a bit tougher to bowl a perfect game. Still, even a child should be able to pull of scores of 200+ every round.

League Bowling
SNK (1990)

Neo Geo's League Bowling introduces a couple of first on this list. Not only is it the first game on this list to be presented in 3D unlike the previous top-down 2D games, it's also the only game on this list that actually shows your bowler! League Bowling also changes up the controls as well.

Unlike the previous titles, in League Bowling you control the spin of your ball and power of your throw by pressing a button on a moving power bar. For spin control, the bar moves left and right; the closer to the middle you click, the straighter your throw will be. The power bar for your throw is similar to other sports titles (think field goal kicking). It doesn't take much coordination to throw relatively straight and strong balls, although the slight changes each round keep you from throwing perfect games over and over.

League Bowling also serves up three different bowling variations to choose from. In addition to Regulation play, there's Flash Bowling, which like Bowl-O-Rama's Flash-O-Matic mode awards points to throws, and Strike 90, a game I never could seem to understand the scoring to.

Like many other Neo Geo releases, League Bowling contains cute popsy music and nice sound effects. 


World Class Bowling
Incredible Technologies (1997)

World Class Bowling is the newest game on the list, and the graphics show it. Everything from the balls to the pins and lanes themselves have been rendered beautifully. Unfortunately, the controls are not so beautiful.

World Class Bowling plays like the first two games on this list, with spin control, timers, and so on. Like those games World Class Bowling was designed to work with a track ball, and I suppose because of this it is impossible to throw the ball hard enough to knock down all the pins. Even the most hearty PUSH on your controller or keyboard will only send the ball poking down the lane at half speed. Throws that would normally be strikes only seem to cause most of the pins to wobble around before coming to rest upright.

Due to the game's graphics, a fairly high end machine is required to run this one. Even on my beefy box I noticed quite a bit of sound crackle and occasional graphic lag. If you've got a MAME cabinet with a trackball you might give this a go, but joystick bangers will be disappointed in their ball's performance.

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Last updated: Thursday, April 27, 2006 04:28 PM