Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Who's Ya Daddy?!"

[ NOTE: Originally posted December 12, 2002 on GeoCities. ]

"Who's Ya Daddy?!"

If you can recall hearing this phrase squeaked out in a high-pitched, raspy voice, then you've probably been exposed to the internet phenomenon known as "Elf Bowling."

I was not aware of the game until 2000, when my dad hooked me up with Elf Bowling 2. I had never heard of Elf Bowling one, but assumed it existed somewhere, and had probably been released prior to Elf Bowling 2.

Funny thing about Elf Bowling 2: It's not a bowling game. It's shuffleboard. More on that later.

Once my dad introduced me to EB2, I was hooked. It was immediately added to my list of holiday traditions. It would no longer feel like Christmas, I decreed to myself, if I hadn't been playing Elf Bowling 2 throughout all of December.

It didn't occur to me until this year to seek out the original Elf Bowling. It's a testament to the fun and quality of EB2 that it took me almost three Christmases to seek anything different.

When I went to the website to find the original Elf Bowling, I saw an announcement notifying me that this year would see the release of Elf Bowling 3. Wow! Two new games for me to try! This holiday season will be an Elf Bowling orgy!

Now, as a service to the masses, I present my reviews of the Elf Bowling trilogy...

Elf Bowling

Santa's fiesty elves go on strike. Their demands? Less intensive labor and more money. Santa decides to show them the true meaning of the word "strike."

Some suspension of disbelief is required here. I can't help wondering why the elves would stand perfectly still, in ten-pin formation, as a 16-pound ball is thrown at them. But I guess there wouldn't be a game if they didn't.

Gameplay: This is a fun game to play, although there are a few technical glitches. Setting the aim and speed of the bowling ball the same way each time does not necessarily yield the same results.

Animation: The laws of physics do not entirely apply here. The bowling ball goes too fast. And the elves get knocked around too fast. The action is over in a flash. That just seems like slacking off in the programming stages to me.

Morbidity: Needlessly violent. Elf heads get torn off in the machinery. The bowling ball leaves them excessively bruised and bloody. Your bowling ball squishes innocent animals that wander onto the alley. (Can anyone tell me what a frog is doing in the North Pole?) C'mon, folks, this is a cartoon! We never saw Wile E. Coyote bleed, no matter how many times he fell off the cliff.

Humor: This is why the game caught on in the first place. Without the smartass elves, this would be an unexciting game. The elves are funny here. They smoke cigarettes and carry anti-Santa propaganda. The funniest moment is when they all turn around and give Santa a 20-cheek salute. (This is when the elves speak their catch-phrase, "Who's ya daddy?") It's funny at first when the elves shriek in terror as the ball approaches. But then it happens every single time. It gets old.

Overall: The elves only have a few quips and funny actions. Gameplay is not much of a challenge. It gets old quick. Basically, playing it once in a 24 hour period is more than enough.

Three and a half stars, out of five.

Elf Bowling 2: Elves in Paradise

Dingle Kringle, a used ice salesman, wants to take over his brother Kris's toy-delivery business. He also has his eye on Kris's wife. The two decide to wager everything on a game of cruise-ship shuffleboard.

Ok, so it's not really bowling at all. I don't even know if the elves are on strike again or not. Who cares? This game is superior to the original EB in every way.

Gameplay: A marked improvement. The addition of Dingle allows the game to be played in both one- and two-player modes. As a single player, you can earn bonus points by shooting nearby penguins. The boat buoys with increasing severity each round, adding to the challenge of the game.

Animation: Perfectly cartoonish. And the laws of physics do apply here. Momentum and friction are well-programmed.

Morbidity: They got it right this time. By removing the blood, the torcher inflicted on the elves is much funnier. Even when you're shooting the penguins, you only seem to startle them, not kill them.

Humor: This game is loaded with it. The format of the game allows each elf's quip or routine to take center stage, both before and after he is flung down the deck. It usually takes playing the game more than once in order to see all the funny routines the elves are programmed to do, which keeps the game interesting time after time.

Overall: EB2 is even more creative than the first, expanding on the original premise and adding more Christmas-themed mythology (as well as making up some of their own). More challenging, more humor, and better programming... what's to complain about?

A perfect five stars!

Elf Bowling 3

You know how EB2 took what was wrong with EB and fixed it? Well, EB3 takes everything right with EB, and breaks it. This game is a disappointment, I am sorry to report.

Santa shows up at the North Pole to discover all the elves and reindeer have been drinking. It seems that pesky alcoholic brother Dingle has been spiking everyone's drinks. With the reindeer unable to perform their task, Santa decides to "teach the elves how to fly." He strings up Mrs. Kringle's bra as a slingshot, and a game of elf-tossing ensues.

Gameplay: For whatever dumbass reason, EB3 reverts back to EB's single-player-only format. And, as in original EB, the programming is all off. Careful planning and aiming does not necessarily mean the elf is going to land where he ought to.

Animation: Once again, the word "slacker" applies here. The elves don't move all that much. Their mouths don't even flap around when they speak. And Santa doesn't load them into the slingshot, they just magically pop into place.

While the above-mentioned actions are under-animated, some things are over-animated. When you actually fling the elves, it takes them too long to land. This action should have been faster; maybe almost as fast as the bowling ball in the original EB. Also, the programmers decided to give more details to the coloring of the elves. This is a pointless addition to the game, and renders these elves inconsistent with the rest of the EB series.

Morbidity: Surprisingly -- and disappointingly -- light this time. The elves land softly in the snow. Although they can bump into drunk flying reindeer, this doesn't seem to hurt them very much at all (nor is it funny). If you have the patience to play the game long enough to make it to level 8 (or somewhere around there), a polar bear shows up that will eat the occasional elf. They can also shatter a bone or two when they land on iced targets.

Humor: Agonizingly low. Almost non-existent. The elves don't have nearly as much to say or do as they did in EB2. And most of the things they do say are just plain stupid. In EB2, when an elf says, "I've got crabs," it's funny because they are in a tropical region. In this version, when an elf starts talking about his "wiener," it's not funny. It might be funny if they were in a baseball stadium or something. But they're not!

Overall: I think the creators of the game forgot what made this game great. They're trying too hard to be funny, and most jokes fall flat. The game gets boring real fast, which is why you probably won't make it to the later rounds where that polar bear and Dingle show up. The penguins from EB2 are back, but for no good reason... just because they were popular. The grating pseudo-Danny Elfman music never stops. The elves' voices are different! (That really bothers me. Did the voice-over guy from the first two games quit or something?) They end up sounding much smarmier this time around, which is a turn-off. And the game has no real ending. You just keep playing until you get bored... which will happen very, very quickly.

One and a half stars. And I'm being very generous with that.

Well, here's hopin' for a better Elf Bowling 4...

[ Note from 2010: Unfortunately, it appears the developer has abandoned Elf Bowling altogether - the most recent OS you can play the games on is Windows 2000, which is ancient in computer years. But I've recently discovered an Elf Bowling "movie" (really a half hour special) made in 2007, so I'll be checking that out this year. ]

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