AMF Bowling 2004's clunky interface, general lack of gameplay variety, and stripped-down presentation leave it dull, confusing, and generally not much fun to play.
Bowling games generally fall into one of two categories: intensely simulation based or completely off the wall and wacky. AMF Bowling 2004, one of the only bowling games to feature the official AMF license, falls squarely into the simulation-minded group, focusing entirely on realistic bowling mechanics and little else. Unfortunately, despite its earnest attempt at realism, the game's clunky, overly convoluted interface, general lack of gameplay variety, and incredibly stripped-down presentational aspects leave it dull, confusing, and generally not much fun to play.
AMF Bowling 2004's basic gameplay relies on a meter that appears in the lower left corner of the screen. This meter by itself determines the power, speed, and spin of your roll. To activate the meter, you press the A button once, which will send the meter upward. Hitting the A button again between the initial spot on the meter and the top of the meter will determine the power behind your roll. Once you've selected the power, the meter will then shoot downward, and hitting A again will decide how accurate your roll is, depending on how close you get to the correct spot for the most accurate roll. Once that's set, you determine how much spin you put on the ball as the meter goes up once more. Spin direction is dependent on whether your bowler is right- or left-handed, so that must be taken into account when applying spin. The meter itself definitely takes some getting used to, as the timing required to set up the right throw is extremely precise.
Other factors play into a throw besides the basic meter. You can position your bowler anywhere along the line, and you can set an aiming mark before you throw by moving the left thumbstick around to the desired spot. The oil pattern of a lane can also be determined by pressing the X button before a throw, and this pattern will also determine how your ball rolls down the lane. When you put all of these various mechanics together, you'll actually find the game to be quite realistic in its delivery, but realism aside, it still isn't much fun. Though it's still entirely possible to screw up a throw even after you've gotten accustomed to the game's throw meter, after a while, your first throw becomes little more than a repetitive exercise. It does get a bit more interesting trying to set up for split shots and particularly off-kilter spares, but only a bit. Also, elements like oil patterns and aiming marks may be true to life, but they aren't exactly intuitive to a casual bowler. The game itself never really explains how these elements come into play, and the manual's vague descriptions don't do much to help either.
Another problem is the game's complete and utter lack of variety. There are a few different play types in AMF 2004, but they all revolve around the same basic game of bowling, with no rule variations or anything of the sort. It's 10 frames each and every time out, with all the same scoring rules in every game. The actual list of game modes isn't terribly deep either. You can basically choose from a regular game, a team game, a practice section, or two types of tournaments--one with a qualifying round and one without. The game's multiplayer component is good for up to four players on the same Xbox, but there's no online, and honestly, playing in multiplayer isn't much more entertaining than the single-player game--which is to say, it isn't particularly entertaining at all.
Additionally, AMF Bowling 2004's graphics and sound leave quite a lot to be desired. Ostensibly, there are several different pro bowlers in the game, as well as several different bowling lanes--however, you'll barely notice, since practically all the bowlers and lanes look roughly the same. The bowler models are pretty much a complete joke, with badly shaped bodies and no real detail to speak of, and though they animate reasonably well when throwing the ball, they're still quite stiff overall. The bowling lanes look reasonably decent, showing off some decent light reflection and polish on the lane, and the pin physics look pretty true to life. The remaining set pieces and components are all pretty low-res and generally not nice to look at, though. There are create-a-bowler and create-a-ball functions in the game, but the created bowlers are still generally lacking in variety. There is a pretty decent listing of different ball textures and designs, but most of the designs are rather silly and don't look particularly good on a bowling ball. In terms of sound design, essentially all you get in the game is a slight roster of tacky, 1950s-like rock-'n'-roll tracks that get old quite quickly and the sound of a ball rolling down a lane and crashing into a set of pins, which sounds about as good as you might expect.
Though there aren't any other bowling games currently available for the Xbox, that's hardly enough of an excuse to recommend as dull a product as AMF Bowling 2004. Though it may be mechanically sound, you're far, far more likely to have an enjoyable experience going to an actual bowling alley than spending any time with this game.