Since the dawn of time, man has enjoyed sport. The Olympics, The World Cup, the ironically named World Series, the Superbowl. Man loves its sport, pitting its offspring in junior school boxing championships and encouraging teamwork, competitiveness and to quote (by this point, probably an already out-dated meme) Charlie Sheen, WINNING. But we’ve looked at the energy and competitiveness of sport and asked one question. Can I do this sitting on my sofa? Well, thanks to the wonder of video games. I can truly say you can. Now, sports games are generally good at adding hope for your favourite team, for example in Fifa, you can probably win football matches with Sheffield Wednesday against Real Madrid or whatever teams are good these days, but you can also engage your imagination and play sports in ways that are just impossible. I prayed and prayed, but Sonic didn’t show up to run the 100 metres at the Beijing Olympics, Peach isn’t going to score a Slam Dunk in the NBA Jam and Monkeys in plastic balls aren’t going to be playing at Wimbledon. But when video games allow you to do crazy stuff like that, I guess it’s refreshing…except now I can’t watch tennis without background music.
Milo’s Astro Lanes takes the concept of a fun sports title and just, quite literally torpedoes it into outer space. Here’s the pitch. A Bowling game, set in space imagined by 1950’s Americana. And whilst on paper it has “Greatest concept ever” the reality is…it’s just awful.
First of all, there are only 2 single player options. League and practice. No tutorial. Well, I guess we learn through trial and error then…To be fair, the practice mode allows you to get to grips with your controls, which aren’t massively difficult to master, A picks up the ball and bowls, the control stick can change direction of the angle and the C buttons move your player and L uses power-ups. Of course, you can pretty much just get a strike from pressing C down a couple of times then throwing it forward at full power, making everything else a complete waste of time.
The addition of power up doesn’t help this fact at all, you get a choice of offensive and defensive ones, including 3 balls, giant balls, bombs, rainbows, super speed and some other ones that you probably won’t ever use. The thing is, if you use the power-up offensively, the chances are you’ll get a strike or a spare (look at me with my sport knowledge…) and if you use it defensively, there’s a strong chance you’ll stop your opponent getting points. Now whilst you may think “Isn’t that the point?” Yes, it is, but computer players never use defensive items, meaning on single player, the game is really easy.
Now, this shouldn’t really be a problem, an easy games an easy game, you can complete it in a day, put it down and say you’ve had some fun and some laughs, but it’s nigh on impossible with Astro Lanes, each game lasts a standard 10 rounds in 1 on 1 competitions. Oh and you can’t skip your opponents go, which is increasingly tedious as the match continues. Now combine that with easy gameplay, predictable patterns and really dull repetitive music and voice effects and the chances are by round 4 you’ve fallen asleep.
The game also manages to combine this with some dire character designs, all the characters, from humans to aliens to robots (yeah, it’s that kind of game) have really bad pixelated square heads with little inspiration behind them, from 12 year old Bowlplex employee Milo to Ann, who’s possibly a robot waitress, but that might just be bad animation. Basically, they’re all bad, except Onuki, who looks a bit like Morbo and Elvis from Perfect Dark and he is awesome, although I’m not sure wether he’s evil or just very dramatic. He occasionally slips from British to Australian and his head ALWAYS collides with the camera when he gets a strike, but despite alien anatomy or robot autonomy (or whatever the term is) there’s a section between levels that gives you a choice of 3 lanes and the exit to the menu, showcasing sloppy animation, bad voice-over work and essentially, a pointless screen that serves no purpose. To make things worse, keep the sounds on default and you get the voice-over drowned out by the dull background music. Not that this is a big loss, the voice-over either sounds like a bored Duffman in the character select, or a campy reject from Super Monkey Ball, bizarrely that game, despite it being effectively a thrown in extra is infinitely more fun and replayable than this drivel, although that maybe because it genuinely takes some skill to master other than POWER!!!! And the characters were actually likeable, except Gon Gon. No-one likes him.
All in all, Milo’s Astro Lanes has this brilliant concept. I like the idea of a sports game set in a 1950’s inspired outer-space, but that’s all that’s brilliant about it. The graphics seem to still be in a beta stage, the characters look dire, the gameplays infuriatingly boring with no real effort put into it. The plus side is that is that everything about it is instantly forgettable, so…what game were we talking about again?