Introduction: Since I’m turning 50 years old in April, I am choosing 50 sports video games that I’ve enjoyed playing over the years and spotlighting one every weekday on Twitter. When time allows, I’ll be posting more thoughts on them here. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them and the memories that come with them.
In 1988, I was 16 years old. I was not an athlete, having basic skill in only two sports: volleyball and bowling. Bowling was a fun pastime on the weekends for me, mostly of the candlepin variety. At the bowling alley I used to go to, there were a few arcade games… but when I saw this one, it called out for a few quarters that I had left over from a trip to the snack bar:
Capcom Bowling is a simple game. Players use the track ball controller to roll the bowling ball down toward the pins, hoping to knock them all down. Hook, or ball curve, can be added if desired via a simple button press… but I never bothered with that. As in real bowling, players get 10 frames to score as close to 300– a perfect game of 12 consecutive strikes– as they can. I’ve never done this, in 30+ years of play. It’s simple, it’s addicting, and it can be frustrating to misroll or aim poorly… but that’s the same as playing the actual sport. You can be on a run of strike after strike, only to lose that run by not using the right ball speed or delivery point.
25 cents per game was– and still is– a lot cheaper than renting a lane and paying multiple dollars per game. While players can’t set up Capcom Bowling leagues or anything that complex, it’s a blast to play and will challenge players in 2022 like it did back in 1988.
One of the amusing features of the game lies in the selection of post-frame cutscenes. There’s a nice variety of these for strikes, spares, split leaves, and gutter balls. These animations are fun to look at and will get a chuckle or smile out of most players. Seeing an inebriated bowling ball holding a pin like a beverage and hearing a bit of How Dry I Am after watching your ball roll down the gutter is pretty funny.
This game eventually made it to my local mall arcade, and was good for a token or two in order to try and get a high enough score to land on the high score board. The only drawback was that the game was a pretty quick play. No matter how skilled you are, the game ends after 10 frames. There aren’t any extra levels or free games to earn, so the whole thing was often over in a few minutes. This was great for arcade operators, but not so much for poor kids like me who had to be pretty selective when it came to which games to spend a sparse number of tokens on.
Capcom’s name is on the game, but it wasn’t developed internally. Instead, Incredible Technologies did the work. If that name sounds familiar, it should, as this development house would go on to create an eventual sports game dynasty called Golden Tee Golf… which I’ll be talking about in a future 50 For 50 entry. Incredible Technologies would return to the lanes starting in 2004 with Silver Strike Bowling, as well as taking on other sports like hunting and bag toss (or Cornhole) in later years.
One last fun note about this game is that a lesser-known, more adult version was released in 1989, rebranded as Coors Light Bowling. This is similar to what Bally Midway originally did with Tapper, releasing it as a Budweiser-sponsored game. Coors Light Bowling is, essentially, Capcom Bowling with Coors Light objects added to the interface and in the game’s cutscenes. This cabinet was seen more in bars and bowling alleys instead of arcades, which makes sense given its advertising purpose– but it’s a curiosity that’s fun to look back on today. I never saw one of these cabinets myself.
Capcom Bowling isn’t complicated. It’s not over the top. It’s not loud. It doesn’t demand your attention. That said, it appealed to me as a young bowling fan all the same, who saw this as a big leap from Atari’s Bowling for the 2600– which had been my only bowling video game experience before this one. Looking back on it now, I can almost smell the French Fries and taste the Sprite from my bowling alley’s snack bar that were waiting for me to finish up my last few frames. There have been better bowling video games over the years, but this is the one that will always stick with me… and it more than deserves this mention on my 50 For 50 list.