We’re in for a bit of a treat this week, friends. SNK’s NEOGEO system is probably best known for its fighting games and the Metal Slug series, but it also had a rather rich library of arcade sports games to enjoy. Certainly, the likes of NEO Turf Masters/Big Tournament Golf, Baseball Stars Professionaland Super Sidekicks are well-known among fans of the system, but there’s one game I’m rather fond of that doesn’t seem to enter the conversation quite as often as those: League Bowling ($3.99). And lucky us, we can now enjoy the game on mobile via SNK and Hamster’s ACA NEOGEO line of releases. Is it a strike, or a gutter ball? Sorry, I just wanted to pretend I was a 1990s reviewer there. Let’s proceed.
League Bowling is another one of those early NEOGEO games, dating back to the console’s first year on the market. Its most impressive on-paper feature was its support for the NEOGEO Multi Link, which allowed four cabinets to be connected together for a whopping eight-player battle. In practice, I don’t think I ever saw four NEOGEO cabinets in one place together. But hey, cool idea. Each cabinet supports two players, and indeed even when you are playing solo you’ll only be working with half of the screen. The other half will helpfully display the extremely complicated set of controls for the game.
There are three different modes of play in the game, and in all of them your goal will simply be to score as many points as you can. You can pull in a second player in this mobile version if you have enough external controllers to go around, but otherwise you’re just going to be bowling alone and trying to carve your place on the scoreboards. The first mode is Regulation, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Bowl your ten frames and see how close to a perfect 300 you can notch. Flash mode offers up a timing-based bonus if you can throw a strike or spare, and the total here can go as high as a whopping 3,000 if everything lines up right. Finally, there’s Strike 90. In this mode, strikes earn you 90 points for the frame and spares get you 60. The maximum score here is 900 points.
After choosing your mode, you also get to choose which hand your bowler will use and how heavy of a ball you want. It adds a little depth to the game, but you can also just ignore it if that’s your preference. Then, it’s time to bowl. This is one of the more straightforward NEOGEO games control-wise, and it makes it a great fit for mobile players who are using touch controls. The stick moves your bowler left or right. One you’re in your preferred position, press the button once to stop the direction meter and again to stop the power meter. It’s all timing and knowing which throws you need when, so pretty much anyone can get the hang of it in a hurry.
And that, my dearest chums, is it. There’s nothing more to it. Get your best score, enter your initials, tell Hamster’s wrapper to submit your score to the online leaderboards, and have another go. You can choose between the Japanese and International version of the game, and you also have a Score Attack and Caravan mode as usual. The Score Attack mode is functionally the same as playing normally, as it’s always one credit for one game anyway. The Caravan mode gives you five minutes to get as high a score as you can muster. Realistically, unless you really dawdle, your game should always be over within three or four minutes. But hey, another leaderboard to compete on.
League Bowling has often been criticized for being a little too thin and a little too repetitive. But it’s bowling, isn’t it? If you try to jazz it up too much, you’ll just break it. Within an arcade setting, it was just about perfect. Waiting for your clothes to finish washing? Need to kill a few minutes before the movie starts? We have a break from work? Pop in a coin and have a quick game. Its simplicity and straightforward nature are exactly what make it an excellent arcade game, and I’ll go as far as to say that it also makes it a great mobile game. Touch controls? No problem. Don’t have a lot of time to spend or don’t want anything to be involved. It’s got your back.
The leaderboards add further incentive to keep improving, and you can always compete with your own scores as well. But it’s also just good fun to play a game or two, in and of itself. Who doesn’t like watching a ball speed down the lane and take down all of the pins? It’s one of those primal joys that jolts humans directly in the happy zone of our monkey brains. We throw a thing at a thing that is pretty far away, and we knock down that thing. Ah, that’s the caveman happy juice. And League Bowling will absolutely hook you up with it. Throw in some colorful, cartoony visuals, and the crisp sounds of the ball and pins, and you’ve got a great mobile sports game that isn’t going to shake you down for extra money. Well, not in this form anyway.
Now for the boilerplate ACA NEOGEO stuff. In addition to the two different versions of the game and the extra modes, you’ve got a wide assortment of options for the game, display, and so on that you can tinker with as needed. You can use an external controller if you would prefer to, and if you have an extra you can play multiplayer. This is the only way you can do so, however. And there is unfortunately no way to access the multiplayer modes for more than two players. It’s just how it is. The emulation quality is up to Hamster’s usual speed for NEOGEO, which is to say it’s pretty much spotless.
Simply put, if you’re looking for a great pick-up-and-play sports game for your mobile device, you can’t go wrong with League Bowling. It’s perhaps simple and streamlined to a fault, but the bowling action is precisely what it needs to be where it counts. It’s a great companion to Big Tournament Golf, and indeed might even be a better choice when time is of the essence. The light nature of the game suits this platform well, and it plays like a charm with touch controls. An easy recommendation.