In the grand scheme of things, today's bowling games aren't that much different from the games we saw hitting arcades and arcane home consoles 20 years ago. While some bowling games tend to take advantage of technology and the advancement made in virtual physics over the years, others just let you hurl a ball down a lane at some pins. Enlight Software's budget-priced PC offering, Fast Lanes Bowling, attempts to combine zany locales with tried-and-true bowling mechanics, but the game lacks substance and ultimately won't please bowling fans, be they hardcore or casual.
There are six gameplay modes to choose from, though most of them are just basic variants of the standard game of bowling. You can play in open play, practice, tournament, skis, and challenge modes if you want a regular game. Golf mode gives you different pin configurations each frame and a set number of rolls to hit them all in. The game calls that number par and uses basic golf scoring.
The gameplay in Fast Lanes is pretty basic, though it could have been streamlined a bit. You can position your bowler, aim for a specific spot on the lane, pick different ball weights, and control the amount of spin put on the ball. Once you've decided on all of that, hitting the space bar starts your roll in motion. The game uses a "three-click" system that is lifted from most modern golf games. The first press starts the meter going. Then you press the space bar again on the power meter to set the strength of your roll. Finally, the indicator swings over to the accuracy portion of the meter, where you must press the spacebar a third time to determine the positioning of your roll. And that's pretty much it. Some bowling simulations take things like the quality or depth of the oil on your lane into consideration so that the lane quality deteriorates over time. If Fast Lanes Bowling makes any attempts to emulate oil dispersion, it certainly doesn't make it clear--lane oil has little or no apparent impact on your rolls. As such, all you need to do is find a sweet spot to place your ball and get good at timing your rolls, which is quite easy to do. Once you've got your timing down, rolling strikes is easier than it probably should be.
Fast Lanes contains eight different characters, including male and female bowlers, a robot, and an alien. The bowlers don't animate very well, and many of them use the same animations when reacting to a particularly good or bad roll. The game also has 12 different locations to bowl in, ranging from your average bowling alley to castles, pirate ships, and the moon. The environments look OK, but they also aren't very exciting.
While Fast Lanes contains bad music, you can thankfully turn it off. Unfortunately, the game doesn't exactly have interesting sound, either. It plays back the sounds of balls rolling on lanes and striking pins pretty well, but that's about it. Also, each lane uses the same sound, even though you could imagine that bowling on a pirate ship or striking pins shaped like little rocket ships would probably sound slightly different from your everyday bowling noises. Different ambient sound is used in some locations, though.
In the end, Fast Lanes Bowling is a textbook example of a budget game. Its no-frills approach is inoffensive but also quite drab. Though there haven't been many released recently, there are better bowling products available both on the PC and on consoles, so fans of the sport would do better looking elsewhere.
Editor's note 02/20/04: The review originally suggested that the game does not model oil dispersion, which is incorrect. GameSpot regrets the error.