Elf Bowling 1 & 2
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-02 GBA Mini-games E (Everyone) Ignition Entertainment

If you receive as many random emails as most people, you may recall a small game download called Elf Bowling that made its "email rounds," if you will, a few years back. My first experience with the game was through one such email, and now, years later, I have come across its handheld version, combined with its sequel for good measure.

The original Elf Bowling finds Santa with a bit of a crisis on his hands. Through a very loosely structured storyline (available only in the game's manual) we find that the elves responsible for the fluidity of Santa's workshop have gone on strike, demanding better wages and treatment. Where most bosses would try to resolve the situation peacefully, Santa proves he is not one to be pushed around when he invents a new sport: Elf Bowling.

The gameplay is intuitive to say the least, but perhaps too simplistic overall. The screen is split into two halves vertically, with the action taking place on the left screen. Santa moves back and forth along a grid of triangles that represent the angle at which the ball will be sent down the lane. The two outermost triangles on each side always result in a gutter ball, while shooting the ball straight down the center always results in a split of some kind. No matter how hard I've tried, I've never been able to pick up the splits, which is a disappointing fact, since the ability to pick up the spares in such cases would have added to the skill level of the overall game.

Where the left screen shows the action, the right screen shows a close-up of the elves, as they wait for the inevitable. There is very little focus placed on graphical appeal, so the second screen is actually a necessity, since the gameplay half is a bit blurry as it shows the entire length of the lane.

Instead of making it look pretty, Elf Bowling would much rather make the player laugh. Filled with dark humor, this is not your average Christmas title. Not content to simply be turned into bowling pins, the elves will let you see and hear their disapproval in the form of "Santa Sux!" picket signs, farting in your direction and even showing off their behinds in unison, if you know what I mean. Adding to the laughter are the moments when the elves start to dance a little jig, and the fact that the pinsetter sometimes beheads one of the elves when they get stuck in the machine.

While it may look like a game for kids, Elf Bowling is definitely not, what with the foul-mouthed elves and all. The same thing could be said about its sequel, Elves in Paradise, which is also included on the GBA cartridge.

Where Elf Bowling was your average arcade bowling title with a twist, Elf Bowling 2: Elves in Paradise is an arcade version of shuffleboard, with the elves replacing the pucks.

The story is again only available in the manual, but it goes something like this: Mrs. Claus has always had a thing for Santa's brother Kringle, so much so that she wants him to take over Christmas and leave the original Santa in the dust. Instead of resorting to violence, the two challenge each other to elf shuffleboard on a cruise ship.

A great aspect of Elves in Paradise is the fact that two players can play this time around, or a single player can go up against the AI. Instead of Santa being automated, you now have control of the big red guy and can move him back and forth in front of a large square grid. Where the triangles in the previous game controlled the angle, this time around, the boxes control the power at which you send your thong-wearing elf down the board. The farther up the grid the light goes, the more power, and vice versa.

Each player gets four elves, and the entire point of the game is to get as far down the board as possible, without falling off the end. Or you could stick with my strategy: Aim for the other player's elves in hopes of knocking them off the board, even at the sacrifice of yourself.

Instead of being filled with dark humor, Elves in Paradise goes for the more family oriented route, and has removed some of the funnier bits from its predecessor. The jigs are still there, but most of the bad-mouthing is gone. To replace the humor, a new bit of strategy has been added instead. Since you are on a boat and all, the waves will cause the boat to move. A small circle at the top of the screen shows the boats position in relation to the water level, and you must take that in to account before sending your elf down the board. You wouldn't want to let him fall overboard, now would you?

So the games aren't the prettiest to look at. Actually, that's an understatement, as they are nowhere near the average standard for a GBA game. And so what if the sound department is pretty much nonexistent? In the end, the humor and originality of both titles is enough for me to recommend at least a rental from GameFly or the like, if only to see the elves moon you in laughter.

Where most websites bashed this title because it is free to play on the web, I am going to commend it. If you do indeed play it for free on the web, and fall in love with its quirkiness and charm like I did, the ability to take it with you wherever you go is highly appreciated. So get yourself into the holiday spirit and track this one down. You'll be happy that you did.