What’s in a name? Pretty much everything when you’re talking about arcade-syle outing Elf Bowling 7 1/7: The Last Insult. Against all odds though, despite the ludicrous premise and oh-so-annoyingly addictive presentation, the title actually delivers several hours’ worth of quality holiday-themed entertainment enjoyable by all.
Ironically, much of the game’s charm comes from the variety of ways developer NStorm’s managed to milk a single play mechanic – knock over as many trash-talking elves as possible – for all it’s worth. Here, you can play against the computer; go head-to-head with a friend; attempt score-driven challenges; or enjoy a story-driven mode complete with quirky cutscenes. (Or rather, still pictures enhanced with written dialogue and animated camera effects that depict Santa’s battle to foil pointy-eared antagonist Dingle, who’s convinced his little helpers to go on strike.) But whichever of the four available modes you choose to tackle, rest assured there’s a good time to be had with the entire quartet.
Never mind the ability to collect trophies for performing X number of strikes or unlock additional skins that dress your ball up in smiley faces or as the world globe. It’s the actual hands-on play itself that most impresses, with the action so simple and approachable that nearly anyone will instantly get it. Quite simply, each stage, no matter the backdrop it’s set at – e.g. garishly-colored toy factories or slippery-floored icebergs – consists of a 3D bowling alley. At one end sits your ball; at the other, jabbering, animated elves in curly-toed shoes and festive hats that shout out high-pitched catchphrases like “What happens at the North Pole stays at the North Pole” and “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” Yes, these guys will grate on your nerves, especially during extended gaming sessions – then again, the whole point is to give you more incentive to hit them.
Doing so is easier said than done, however. First, you must aim, by sliding the mouse left/right. Then, you’ll click and hold the left button down, afterwards dragging it to set throw power. Once launched, you’ve then got slight control over the ball’s direction in real-time, and must guide it (again, via mouse-waggling) into optimal attacking position, hopefully notching up a strike or spare as a result. The catch being that you take a turn, then your opponent takes a turn, and before these individual segments, players can either bolster their own performance or hamper rivals’ by utilizing special power-ups collected during each toss. With he who posses the highest score at the end of 10 frames being declared the winner, victory quickly comes down not only to sharp reflexes, but also an eye for tactical maneuvering.
Say you grabbed a boxing glove bonus during a prior roll; before going again, you can add the spring-mounted sluggers to your ball, ensuring it does more damage. However, an enterprising opponent could throw up barriers on the track, shrink the size of your ball, add control-ruining oil slicks or cause elves to hop up and down erratically, potentially ruining the assault. For every dirty trick introduced though, there’s an effective counterattack, whether it be extra speed boosts, ball size-enhancing effects or the ability to turn shots into explosive fireworks. Do an especially good job of targeting your squeaky-voiced victims or repeatedly pounding them into mush with a basketball bonus, and rewards include slow-mo, Matrix-style recaps of flying elves soaring off into the ether or sharks’ toothy maws.
Granted, this is a gimmicky game based around one main shtick. And, naturally, the sort that’ll also get on your nerves in record time between its too-jaunty soundtrack, mega-chatty stars and the ongoing need to sit idly by through opponents’ turns. The graphics and animations are also nothing spectacular by modern standards – in fact, Elf Bowling 7 1/7’s presentation seems more suited to the kind of web games you can play online for free as opposed to something you’d actually download.
Be that as it may, a range of game-affecting extras will keep you coming back, and options to save right in the middle of a match further help keep the mind-numbing tedium at bay that would’ve otherwise set in were you required to complete every confrontation (sittings can take some time to finish) or restart from scratch.
Outstanding? No way, Jose. Liable to burn brain cells: Heck, yes. Even so, let’s be honest… Much as you’ll be ashamed to admit digging it in public, Elf Bowling 7 1/7 proves a guilty pleasure the whole family can enjoy – at least for a while.