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I fancy myself a pretty decent bowler. In fact, I was so good at one point in my life that I actually went out and picked up a pair of bowling shoes. Yes, they were a shade of off-white and they had salmon colored strips down the side (it’s not pink dammit!) but I wore them like badges of honor. Every couple of weeks or so I’d head down to the bowling alley to strut my stuff, but I was no match for the hordes of overweight professionals that lurked around the lanes. Still I persevered; I’d go out there, bowl my 140 and hang my head in shame as I left the alley. I vowed one day that I would come back and show those morons a thing or two. So about 10 years have passed and I never did quite get back around to schooling those guys but thanks to Enlight I can bowl in the comfort of my own home without having to embarrass myself in front of others. The only problem is that Fast Lanes Bowling
is like that runaway bowling ball that has a date with the gutter.
From the start this game has budget title written all over it, not that I have a problem with this. One of my favorite games of the DOS era was Fuzzy’s Miniature Golf
which was a very simplistic and generic golf game. Fast Lanes Bowling heads down this path by offering a few unique modes, some straightforward gameplay and a host of generic and out of this world bowlers. However, this isn’t 1997 and games have progressed quite a ways in case you haven’t noticed. There are no pros here, no real venues and nothing that really shows me that the designers put their heart and soul into the game. Hell, it’s like the designers haven’t even discovered instruction manuals or jewel cases yet as the only thing you get in this package is a paper sleeve with the screen printed CD.
After you get past the installation you can finally hit the lanes. There are six modes available for you but they’re all pretty much the same. Open bowl allows you to play a usual 10-frame set with any of the bowlers, tournament allows you to compete against others, and golf mode is a pretty interesting variant where the game is scored like a round of golf. Of all of the modes I’d say that golf is the most interesting as it’s the only one that really brings anything new to the table. To be honest that six is really more like a four since you can essentially do the same thing in half of the gameplay modes. There is a nice variety of lanes for you to bowl on which are based on different themes and locales. In addition to the traditional bowling alley you have a tropical island pier, a futuristic space station setting, a medieval setting and a couple more. What’s nice about these lanes is that they all have balls and pints that fit with the theme. So the island level features a coconut as the bowling ball and some island-themed pins.
Player creation is pretty barebones; select a model, adjust some of the settings, deal with the archaic menu system and you’re on your way. It would have been nice had I been able to actually generate a model or change some settings like the hair color or enormous breast size. Before you approach the ball you can line up your shot with a two-part system. First you position your bowler on the arrows and then you press the backspace button to zoom up on the lanes to dictate your aim. It’s a pretty nice system that works pretty well except for the fact that the bowler tends to get into the way when you’re in the positioning process. Also after you bowl the game has this annoying habit of moving your aim cursor for no apparent reason. So let’s say I just bowled a strike and I want to keep the same settings for my next shot. Forget about it because the game will mysteriously move your cursor to one side or another which forces you to reposition on every single shot.When you get things lined up you’ll be presented with a Links
styled three click system. Press spacebar once to start up the bowling mechanism, hit it again to dictate the power and once more to dictate the accuracy. I wouldn’t have a problem with this so much if it weren’t for its sluggish nature. The bar doesn’t stop exactly when you press the spacebar but rather a few milliseconds after it. You’re forced to overcompensate and hit a bit early. With practice you can overcome it but it’s woefully inaccurate and should have been fixed throughout the quality assurance process.
While the interface is poor and the bowling mechanism is flawed I have to admit that the physics system is pretty realistic. The ball generally maneuvers down the lane like it’s supposed to and the tumbling pins react to each other in a realistic manner. Upon contact it feels like every single object has a realistic weight and momentum mechanic to it. You’ll see arrant pins rolling nudging others which sends the upright pin teetering on its base as it strives to regain its ballast, just like in real life. Even though the physics are pretty spot-on the game still remains unrealistic because it fails to factor in other things like lane oil deterioration and the effect that smelly bowling shoes has on your player’s performance.
Running on the Renderware platform, the game looks really dated and awkward. Other games such as World Series Baseball
have shown the versatility of the engine but Enlight does nothing to tweak it for the bowling realm. All of the characters are awkward and suffer from a lack of polygons and refinement. The texture work is insipid and the level architecture is bland and generic. Very little appeals to the eye and even the strong points of the game’s visuals rest well below par. Alright so the game is downright ugly and looks pretty much like a shareware title that was developed by an independent developer using middleware technology.
As if the visuals weren’t bad enough the audio takes the cake in the race for the worst technical performance of the year category. Some of the audio in other Enlight games such as Joan of Arc
are pretty bad in their own respect but the effects here are just downright awful. Each of the alleys is accompanied by what is best described as a musak fiend with a Casio keyboard. Everything sounds like a midi sample, an awful, looping, repetitive, low quality, annoying midi sample. Luckily the game utilizes .wav files for its audience so a little bit of maneuvering on your part could probably replace the insipid samples with something more tolerable. Personally I preferred to play the game with the sound off and opted to treat my ears with music from my iPod.
When a game plasters the words “bowl like the pros!” on top of a picture of a big-breasted woman wearing a low cut top you know you’re in for some trouble. Aside from the superb physics the game looks, plays and feels really dated. It’s 2004; I expect a lot more from my video games than packaged shareware fodder. It’s not really all that fun and unless you’re looking for a pretty barebones bowling title I’d suggest you keep on looking.