One of the sports that feels tailor-made for the Nintendo Wii is bowling. Wii Sports proved that a bowling game can be easily made and easy to control for players young and old. There are plenty of Wii owners who have never bothered to buy another bowling game for the console simply because Wii Sports Bowling got just about everything right. That's another reason why few gamers even bother to look at another bowling game for the system. With just about every Wii owner already possessing this game and it already being a good title, there just doesn't seem to be a market for a competing game in this particular sport. That doesn't stop some developers from trying to come up with a better bowling title with some new hooks and gimmicks thrown in for good measure. This is the route Destineer has chosen for its latest title, AMBL: Alien Monster Bowling League, and while there are a few things done right, almost everything else falls apart.
Oddly enough, there is a story behind all of this. For ages, there has been a balance of both light and dark power in the galaxy, and this balance has kept everyone at peace. However, the world of the dark powers began to decay. Seeking to preserve their people and way of life, the queen of the dark built a ship capable of harvesting the energy of other planets. Knowing that it was beyond her capabilities of ending all life, she created a tournament that would help decide which planet would be the unlucky victim of the machine. As one of the four humans crazy enough to save the planet with their bowling skills, your job is to not only become the representative of the planet but also to win the tournament and save your planet from destruction.
The campaign mode takes you through the story with one of four human characters. After choosing the pop singer, heiress, wannabe surfer or army veteran, you have to defeat the other three humans before battling against the five monsters of Earth. Defeating them will grant you the right to fight against the other alien bowlers. Matches are decided on one of two different bowling formats. Battle matches are timed games where the winner is determined by how many pins, strikes and spares can be scored in the allotted limit. Regular matches are just like any other game, where the highest score earned in 10 frames wins the match.
There are a few things that make the aforementioned games just a little different. For Battle matches, there is a multiplier that brings up the score as long as you keep knocking down pins. For both game types, you have super-powered bowling balls that knock down more pins, reposition the ball if the initial throw was bad, and help clear a split if your first throw created one. There are also defensive powers, such as the ability to disorient the opponent's screen or put up a blocker so he can't hit any pins at all. At times, you'll also be given the ability to shoot down pins after a throw was made. If you lose any of these matches, you have the chance to earn a rematch by playing a Turkey Shoot mini-game. Shoot down more turkeys than your opponent in the given time period, and the rematch is yours. Lose, and you have to face your previous opponent one more time.
For an arcade bowling game, all of the above activities make the game sound promising. Indeed, the different game types and powers can bring about some enjoyment from the title. There are enough problems, though, that can suck away the fun that could have been had. Regular bowling matches always suffer from a seemingly invisible time limit for both players, who must finish a frame before the next one can be played. This becomes detrimental to a slower-paced player, since not bowling in that invisible time limit gives you a gutter ball for that throw. Faster-paced players, in the meantime, will always have to wait for the AI opponent, who always goes at the same pace no matter what. The ability to shoot down pins also occurs randomly instead of letting the player choose when he wishes to use it. With only five seconds to use the power, you'll actually be spending one or two seconds figuring out that it's time to aim rather than spending those precious seconds trying to shoot down the pins you need, making it feel like an unnecessary surprise instead of something you can use to your advantage. The Turkey Shoot mini-game, while fun at first, feels tacked on just for the sake of making the campaign feel longer. Since this is the only way to rematch your opponent and the AI on normal difficulty ends up being tough, expect to play this mini-game several times over before finishing the mode.
The controls work in the same manner that Wii Sports does. The d-pad still moves the player, and the B button needs to be held down and then released after a throw has been made. The control differences are mainly with the use of special bowling balls and powers. The A button activates defensive powers, the plus and minus buttons select special bowling balls to throw, and hitting both the A and B buttons activates special offensive powers. Interestingly enough, there's also an option to use the Nunchuk in combination with the remote and forgo motion controls altogether. It's less fulfilling since motion is what the Wii is all about, but it is there for those who really hate the act of throwing in a bowling game.
What really hurts the motion controls, though, is the disconnect felt when performing your throw. Normally in a bowling game, you can see your bowler walk up to the lane when you're ready for your throw, cock the arm back, and then throw when you've directed it to. Here, all you really manage is your power meter. Once you have it set, your bowler finally makes his move. This lack of fluidity can really throw you off since you'll feel like your technique doesn't matter as much as how hard you can throw the ball. Since bowling requires both power and technique to be good at the game, making the player feel like one element doesn't matter doesn't work out too well.
At first, the graphics in AMBL make it seem great. The environments are not only varied but detailed as well. Bigger things, like the architecture in the Egyptian-themed alleys, to the smaller things, like moths hanging around the lamps in Vietnamese alleys, make this stand out positively among other bowling games and budget titles. The characters all move in a quirky manner, but at least the movements are smooth. It looks funny to see characters hop around or march toward the lane before throwing the ball, but at least it doesn't look badly animated. The character designs won't appeal to many players thanks to their exaggerated limbs and grotesque features, making them feel like they came out of a notebook of a young comic book fan who has yet to properly hone his skills.
The real crime in the graphics department, however, is the inability to clearly see the pins in the lane. On a full screen, the characters aren't too transparent, blocking your view of the middle of the lane and making it more difficult to get a good shot. The issue becomes worse on a split screen, the default viewpoint, since the character's size becomes large enough to cover the entire lane. Considering how important it is to see where you are in relation to the pins, this issue hurts the overall playability of AMBL the most.
The sound works well enough. The music is passable but ultimately forgettable fare that neither enhances nor drowns the vibe gained from the surrounding environment. The sound does well to mimic what you would normally hear while bowling, and the effects of the powers don't sound too bad either. The voices for every character are decent, but they aren't varied at all. In the course of one game, you'll be able to hear everything that can be said from a character in regards to things like strikes, gutter balls and spares two or three times over. Giving them more phrases to work with would go a long way, but as it stands, you'll quickly grow tired of their given phrases and learn to tune them out.
AMBL: Alien Monster Bowling League isn't afraid to take some risks, and that's a good thing. A very arcade-like approach to bowling is always welcome when you feel like regular bowling just isn't cutting it anymore, and the special moves make it feel like it was on the right track. Unfortunately, everything from the mini-games to the graphics to the bowling itself felt disconnected, and that was enough to make AMBL feel like it wasn't properly planned out. Your best bet would be to stick with either Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort for your bowling needs and leave this one on the shelf.Score: 5.5/10
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