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Bowling games generally fall into one of two categories: intensely simulation based or completely off the wall and wacky. AMF Bowling 2004, one of the only bowling games to feature the official AMF license, falls squarely into the simulation-minded group, focusing entirely on realistic bowling mechanics and little else. Unfortunately, despite its earnest attempt at realism, the game's clunky, overly convoluted interface, general lack of gameplay variety, and incredibly stripped-down presentational aspects leave it dull, confusing, and generally not much fun to play.
Bowling is a very American sport, one that is equally open and accessible to amateurs and experts alike. Bowling video games, then, need to serve both the casual armchair hurler and the grizzled alley veteran. So Jack of All Games had a minor challenge in developing the first bowling game for Xbox -- it had to appeal to a broad audience. AMF Bowling 2004 may be the only hope for Xbox owners wanting to bowl a few games without getting off their ass, but the game really isn't likely to be appealing to anyone.
I must mention after all of the harsh comments that AMF Bowling 2004 is a budget title with an MSRP of $19.99. I was also pretty shocked when I saw how few people are on the credits page; 16, including shout-outs to people who may have not even been involved in the actual project. That’s not a huge group which probably means that money was an object when the title was in development. In terms of price and staff it’s not altogether terrible, but it’s still close enough for me to warn that you may ask Blockbuster for your $4 back if you rent it. There is much more with this game that is flawed such as the competitive AI that cheats, the ball return orifice that looks like the Predator’s head, or the absence of online capabilities. I can gripe about this game all day but I would rather spend my time playing a title with more realistic gameplay and better graphics; I guess I’ll have to pull my Intellivision and PBA Bowling cart out of the cellar.
Bowling in a video game is kinda like an alcohol-free beer - you can try to have a good time with it but it really isn't as much fun as the real thing. If you want more proof of this, give AMF Bowling 2004 a spin. Even at a budget price of $20, it never really comes together like it should, with the kind of generic presentation that'll drive you bonkers and so little extras. The bowling system is alright but not as challenging as it needed to be, and multiplayer games actually get tedious. Seems like a digital gutter ball, really.