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Xbox Live Arcade Preview - 'Rocket Bowl'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 29, 2008 @ 5:31 a.m. PDT

A refreshing twist on a classic sport, Rocket Bowl offers a '50s style retro-futuristic vibe, out-of-this-world courses and rocket-powered bowling balls; Rocket Bowl rolls a perfect game of fun on the Xbox Live Arcade. Players will compete in tournaments, challenge their friends in multiplayer, test their skills in mini-games and more!

Genre: Sports
Publisher: D3
Developer: Large Animal
Release Date: TBA

For some, bowling is considered the true sport of kings. There's something about going to a bowling alley with a bunch of friends, getting some snacks and drinks, putting on a dorky and uncomfortable pair of shoes, and throwing heavy objects at pins that appeals to certain mindsets. For others, however, the sport sometimes seems a little … well, dull. There's not a lot of spice and pizzazz to it, and the dull nature of bowling alleys tends to scare off as many people as it attracts. Even most bowling-based video games tend to be fairly lackluster and unexciting, with the best of the lot being things like Wii Sports, which sell themselves primarily on bringing the bowling experience into your home. D3 Publisher, fresh off high-octane games like Onechanbara and Bangai-O Spirits, seems to think that isn't enough, and they're looking to bring a little rocket-powered excitement to the normally subdued sport.

If you've ever bowled, Rocket Bowl's basic rules are fairly simple. You're given a super-heavy ball, your goal is to throw it at 10 pins that are arranged in a triangle formation, and you must knock down as many as possible in two turns. This is where Rocket Bowl begins to diverge from its inspiration. The most obvious change is that in Rocket Bowl, you have three turns per frame instead of two. Knocking down all the pins on your third attempt is now called a "Sweep" to go along with "Strike" and "Spare." It makes the game a bit more forgiving for beginners, which is good because once you get past the very basic concept, Rocket Bowl is a bit unlike any sport you've played before.

The most obvious change to Rocket Bowl comes in the form of the rocket balls, which replace the traditional bowling ball. Rocket balls are hyper-futuristic balls that come with a variety of built-in features that change up the game. For one, you can now control the ball after it has left your hand, slowly nudging it for greater accuracy. You can also activate the Rocket Boost, built-in jet rockets that force your rocket ball to the left, right, or even jump over obstacles! To make matters even more interesting, there are different rocket balls, each with unique abilities. Your default rocket ball has terrible turning ability, can only boost once per throw, can't jump, and has very little accuracy. As you earn money by playing rounds of Rocket Bowl, you can upgrade your ball to better models that can boost 10 or more times in a round, leap into the air, turn on a dime, and various other abilities. All of this would be worthless if you played Rocket Bowl on a traditional bowling lane, but as you can imagine, Rocket Bowl's alleys are a bit more fantastic.

Rocket Bowl's stages are more comparable to a game of miniature golf than a bowling alley. Every stage is a giant open "bowling alley," with each possible frame already set up. There are 10 sets of pins scattered around the stage, and you begin in front of the first set of pins. Your goal is to knock it down, but scattered around the area are various power-ups that can improve your ball's ability. These power-ups increase the amount of money you earn, replenish your Rocket Boost, make your ball curve more, etc. If you choose to go for them in addition to the pins, you can achieve a substantially higher score. However, going for these power-up makes it a bit difficult to get back to the pins you were aiming for, which is where the concept of Wild Shot comes in. If you miss the set of pins you're supposed to be aiming for, you can guide your rocket ball to any of the other pins in the area. Hitting those is a Wild Shot, which is added to the frame where you're supposed to be aiming for those pins. More importantly, if you hit a Wild Shot, the ball you use is counted as one of the balls for that frame, not for the one you're bowling for purposes of scoring. You get three balls per frame no matter what, but if you score a Wild Shot with your first ball and then knock over every pin in your current lane with your second, it still counts as a strike. Money you earn only remains earned if you hit at least one pin during your turn, so if you're going for a substantial profit, you'll almost have to do a Wild Shot if you're not using a super high-end ball.

The ideal way to earn a high score is to earn Wild Strikes on everything after collecting a ton of stars and power-ups, but it isn't that easy. Earning a strike on your current frame isn't that difficult, since you're already in position for one. Hitting a strike on a Wild Shot involves rocketing your ball across uneven terrain from an odd angle, and you're probably not going to do it without a high-quality ball and a good amount of luck. You can go entirely for regular strikes, which isn't too hard, but doing so is going to earn you $10 or so per match. This may not sound so bad, but when the higher-end balls in the game cost tens of thousands of dollars, you're going to be doing a lot of bowling to earn them if you don't go for Wild Shots. While the top balls in the game not be necessary to win, anyone wants to earn the highest possible scores is going to want to be using the best possible rocket ball.

Rocket Bowl is going to include a fairly healthy dose of both single- and multiplayer gameplay to keep players busy for quite some time. For single-player, you've got Free Player, Challengers and Tournaments. Free Play lets you play the course on your own, with the goal being to earn as many stars as possible and perfecting your bowling technique. Challengers place you up against a computer-controlled opponent for an attempt to earn the highest score. Not only do the computer bowlers provide a challenge, but you can wager your hard-earned cash against them for a tidy profit. Finally, Tournaments place you in a contest against five bowlers at once, and both the challenges and the stakes are higher, with the minimum wager being a hefty $40, but the potential profit skyrocketing. Multiplayer gameplay allows rocket bowlers to take the game online against up to three other bowlers at once. You can customize the obstacles on the game field and choose between a regular game of Rocket Bowl or an Alternate Shot, where players take turns in trying to knock down as many pins as possible, rather than earning a high score. For those who get tired of Rocket Bowl's built-in bowling alleys, the developer will also be providing downloadable levels to further enhance the experience.

Rocket Bowl is an interesting and surprisingly fun take on the bowling genre. Part traditional bowling game, part rocket-powered miniature golf, Rocket Bowl certainly fulfills its promise to reinvent the sport. While it may not be a realistic bowling simulator, the game does a good job of capturing the mood of the sport. It may not appeal to everyone, but Rocket Bowl is shaping up to be a boatload of fun.

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