Modern history has always been predicated on combining the unlikely. From rap and rock to chocolate and bacon, mixing opposites has always yielded interesting results and for better or worse, the same can be said about RocketBowl.
It isn't especially complex as, like what the title implies, it's bowling plus rockets and unabashedly straightforward about it. But while other similarly inventive Xbox Live Arcade games have the gameplay to back up a thin premise, RocketBowl runs into the opposite problem. Some interesting ideas are at work, but they're trumped by the fact that there's really not much to dig into beyond the surface.
RocketBowl plays like a cross between miniature golf and bowling; the basic rules of bowling are identical, though players get three shots per frame, and sets of pins act as individual holes throughout ten courses filled with varied terrain and hazards. Each course is also filled with performance modifiers and cash that can be used to buy better bowling balls. Players can control the path and speed of the ball, along with horizontal and vertical rocket boosters, which send the ball airborne.
Despite the lack of versatility that the pseudo-miniature golf format might suggest, the gameplay possesses a surprising amount of depth. No boundaries exist between each hole, so if players miss a pin, they can try to aim for another set and being able to choose your shots on the fly gives the game a sense of dynamic unpredictability.
The vertical boost also adds another dimension to the gameplay; although it takes a while in single player before players can actually take advantage of this, being able move upwards increases the available range of motion considerably. Courses are even built around this, with obstacles that can either be dodged or boosted over, and this all helps to make RocketBowl's big feature avoid feeling gimmicky.
Past these strengths though, RocketBowl starts to falter. The game takes a barebones approach towards features; obligatory Xbox Live support is included, though finding a game is virtually impossible, and available single player modes are sparse, with exhibition, duel and tournament modes rounding out the package.
The duel and tournament modes form the backbone of the game's progression system, as the cash players earn from beating opponents goes towards buying better equipment, which helps towards unlocking new courses. There is a tangible improvement curve as players upgrade their hardware: lower tier balls control sluggishly, while higher tier balls have enough speed and rocket boosts to fly across courses. Despite this, the single-player mode, which makes up most of the game, ultimately comes off as shallow, as all three modes are essentially the same and this does little to help the game's replay value.
RocketBowl isn't a visually deep game either, with a minimalistic artistic direction that screams "final for a games design student." The game has the usual high-definition polish, but an overall blandness pervades the design: while each level is well laid out, the game doesn't do anything else its presentation beyond laying down textures to differentiate one area from another, which makes extended play feel like visual Novocaine.
Despite the things RocketBowl gets right, most players are more likely to pick up on this thread of general lack of ambition over anything else. The basic mechanics take some interesting directions within the confines of a bowling game, but the game's actual content is just an afterthought, offering only the bare minimum and lacking the depth to keep anyone outside of the devoted from coming back.