The whole zombie-slaying thing has become so over-saturated now that it takes something either completely brilliant or completely ridiculous to stand out from the shuffling undead crowd.
The Bowling Dead opts for the latter.
You're a pro bowler who finds himself alone after the zombie apocalypse. As it turns out, the time-honoured means of dealing with the undead - a bullet to the head - is a load of baloney.
No, what really does for Mr Zombie is a bowling ball to the shins. Oh, sorry - it's actually a prototype "weaponized bowling ball." Not just any bowling ball. That would be silly.
We'd say the plot doesn't really matter in The Bowling Dead, but it pads its levels out with animated and fully voiced snippets. It's all very schlocky and tongue-in-cheek, but it's not quite funny or clever enough to get away with it.
Strike me dead
Get past the silly story and you have a pretty rudimentary bowling game stuck to a fairly basic duck hunt setup. Bowling is matter of grabbing the bowling ball, drawing it back, and flicking it forward.
You can add spin with a curved swipe, add more power by holding onto the ball, or lob it high (for close-up head shots) by flicking it without any back-lift.
This gives you a nice range of approaches, and it's possible to hit multiple zombies with one ball if you're careful. But strangely, it just doesn't feel that satisfying to do.
Maybe that's because the actual swipe system never feels particularly fluid or reliable - we were constantly launching balls at odd angles when we were trying to charge it up or lob a high one, and it's hard to get the ball to do precisely what you want.
There's also a close-up melee system that aims to add variety, but actually just irritates you every time it rears its undead head. Allow a zombie to get too close and your view cuts to a close-up, and you must follow the swipe commands on various parts of the zombie's body.
This gets pretty old pretty quick, and just breaks up any flow or momentum you might have worked up in the main game.
There's an extensive upgrade system that allows you to purchase outlandish new special weapon balls and upgrade their abilities, but if anything this is too convoluted for its own good. Having to buy the ability to upgrade a certain ball and then pay again for the upgrade itself just seems like a step too far.
Add in the annoying need to purchase more standard balls when you run out in a level and the ridiculously incremental upgrade structure and you can probably guess the motivation behind it all.
Yep, it's another overly grabby in-app purchase system.
The Bowling Dead does a few things pretty well. It looks quite nice, and the story sections - while at best inconsequential in content - have been nicely produced.
This also a fairly challenging game - especially when you start having to take on separate groups of zombies simultaneously, using the 'holding' bowling balls (like the one that makes the zombies dance) to keep one group at bay while you take on another.
Ultimately, though, it's just filled with too many gimmicks and pointless distractions for its own good, while the core zombie-bowling action just isn't as fun in practice as it is on paper.