Rayman, French console developer Ubisoft's limbless action hero, may not be the first franchise character you'd pick to be a crack bowler--but it turns out that the spunky magical torso has rolled a strike this time around. RB's comical gameplay touches and cartoony graphics put a novel spin on an old genre, offering a good play for fans of the pine alleyway.
All the rules are the same as traditional bowling--10 rounds, splits, spares and strikes--and the 3D-esque viewpoint helps to maintain the real-life look of the game. The chief difference is that to progress to the next alley you have to reach a certain minimum score, like 120 points on the first stage.
Bowling itself is a multistep process. First, you choose where Rayman will be bowling from along the alley using the number keys 4 and 6 to move him left and right. Next, the game cycles through seven possible curves for your ball. Then a line moves back and forth from your position to determine the direction you are rolling. Finally, a power meter goes up and down to select your ball speed. It becomes intuitive rather quickly, especially if you've bowled in real life.
Each successive game opens up another alley with its own unique Rayman quirkiness. The level "Pont," for instance, throws a stream in the middle of the alley that can only be crossed by a small wooden plank. "Pieges" puts ball-eating mouths in the way, while "Tapis" randomly places a conveyor belt that will change your ball's path. All of these different elements seem to be culled from the Rayman universe.
The fun comes in modifying your strategies based on the new obstacles. The mouths of "Pieges" tend to only allow bowling straight through the middle, so it takes a nice curve and careful handling to hit the corner pins during a split. The game is tough, but the learning curve is always fair and it usually doesn't take too long to understand the dynamics of each level.
The sound is on the simple side, but the graphics are crisp and colorful. The real strength of this title lies in level design; the unique environments kept me playing much longer than I intended. There is also a "Classique" level for those who prefer regular bowling, so there's something here for everyone.