Time to set your watch, as yet another bowling game has been released. Beyond the seemingly clockwork annual releases of bowling games, the genre has another curious common thread running through it: most bowling games are pretty second-rate. The recent release of Championship Bowling for the Xbox is no exception to this streak of mediocrity; its unsophisticated controls, stingy list of gameplay modes, and lack of depth are bolstered only slightly by a couple of funny character designs and some decent physics. The result is a game that even diehard bowling nuts should avoid.
Goth chicks at the bowling alley. It sounds like a Ramones song.
There are a few things to like in Championship Bowling. The game's controls are immediately easy to grasp; you aim with the left analog stick and set your ball down the lane using a three-button-press shot meter, which controls both the power and accuracy of your shot (you can also add spin with the triggers). Additionally, there are a couple of interesting character designs found among the game's roster of stereotypical character types--our favorites being a fairly shameless unlockable rip-off of Jeff Bridges' character from The Big Lebowski; a sweet, grandmotherly type; and a sullen, hooded teenager type named, get this, Kid X. Honestly, though, we're not sure if we like the latter two examples because they are particularly funny or because our sense of irony is kicked into high gear at the moment. Finally, beyond the occasional curiosity--such as the ball furiously spinning even after it's come to rest at the back of the lane--the physics in Championship Bowling are decent. The bowling pins tend to fall in a suitably random fashion, and it's not uncommon to see a final standing pin tipped over at the last moment by one of its fallen cousins, nailing that spare you were hoping for.
Each of Championship Bowling's high points, however, has a disappointing flipside. For example, the three-button control scheme makes you, as the player, feel especially disconnected from your player--you hit the A button three times, watch the animation unfold, and that's about it. With mechanics like this, is it any wonder that the best bowling games are those found on cell phones? Wouldn't it be cool if the motion of your throwing arm was somehow tied to the right analog stick on the Xbox? Unfortunately, that's not the case here, and it didn't take long for us to get really bored with the detached nature of the game's controls. Of course, it doesn't help that the game's cast of characters are mostly lame, personality-free caricatures--the goth girl, the hot chick, the Russian redneck (okay, that last one isn't so bad). The few lines of dialogue that each character spouts are similarly uninspired. Finally, while the basics of the game's physics feel okay, they're not perfect. You rarely get that pin-shattering impression of power, for example, even when playing with the strongest characters in the game.