I don’t think there’s any commonly played sport harder to make and review a game for than bowling. It’s a liminal sport at best that has so many social and cultural aspects attached to it that creating a fun and realistic gameplay scenario is extremely difficult. For some people, bowling is a serious, highly competitive art form that requires concentration, skill, practice, physical ability, and a bit of luck to be even half way decent at. For others, it’s just a fun thing to do with your friends that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Both opinions directly oppose each other yet because of the nature of the sport, serious professionals and amateurs alike play in the same establishments, purchase similar equipment, and often have very similar physical builds. A bowling video game has to be easily accessible for all players yet challenging at the same time. It’s also important to note that the people who will buy the game probably lean closer to the amateur side of the coin meaning fun trumps realism. But at the same time, it’s being able get reviews that say it’s realistic that will sell the game. As an average at best, but once mildly serious bowler who also has a lot of experience with bowling video games going all the way back to Animaniacs: Ten Pin Alley (1998) on the PS1, I was very interested in trying out Brunswick Pro Bowling (BPB) on the PS4.
The graphics in BPB are good but not great. The first thing you’ll notice is that the game starts by having you “create” your character. Basically there are only two character renders: one male and one female, both Caucasian and wearing the same clothing. You just pick the gender you want, choose your name, and which hand they bowl with. Pretty unimpressive but I will say that they both look like what you think of when you say the word bowler. The menus are very basic. Just grey and orange block text in gray gradient boxes. The menu background images aren’t bad looking and they’re all very relevant to bowling. The alleys, of which there are six, clothing, balls, and such all look very true to the source material. You get that polished wood look on the floors and the shine on the balls. It all looks very much like what a bowling game should look like, but the graphics quality isn’t that impressive. It’s definitely something that we would have seen on the PS3 and not been impressed by. The game by no means looks bad though.
One thing that was kind of disappointing as far as graphics is that your character is pointless. When you roll, the ball just sits on the ground and then rolls down the lane. It has a very realistic spin to it and the pins fall and slide in a very realistic way. But at no time does your character ever actually touch the ball. The character is basically only there to react to your roll. When you hit a strike it will celebrate and when you do something bad it will react by throwing up his/her hands or some other common physical reaction. Nothing is gained from the existence of the character, yet they are necessary in order to justify the use of stat based clothing, which does affect your character’s appearance. One thing I thought was really cool about the graphics was the fact that the game has the TV screen with the funny animations for when you roll. You can choose between four different animation styles, all of which are very similar to what I’ve actually seen in bowling alleys. One thing that was a bit odd was that the alleys all have tables, chairs, and other background objects that should be there, but they are all empty. All this stuff was built-in but no people to use it. It’s a little eerie.
The HUD is extremely simple. All it shows is your score card, the ball you’re using, the amount of currency you have and the current pin layout. When you go to roll, a green arrow appears on the ball and the power/accuracy bar appears once you’ve set your trajectory. All in all the graphics are average but leaning toward good.
The gameplay is good on many levels, but I did have some issues with it. Rolling is very simple. You set your position and angle with the left stick and shoulders. Then you set your power and curve/hook by pulling back on the right stick. When you are ready you push forward on the right stick in the direct opposite direction of the right sticks starting position and your hook is defined by how accurate you were to your projected curve. The system is not bad but the hook is really inconsistent. Even when you’re perfectly accurate you don’t get the hook you think you’ll get. This is especially annoying because before you throw you can actually see the proposed spin the ball will have. The biggest issue though is the max speed. I believe that you can increase it with upgrades, but the starting max speed you can throw is only about 13.4 MPH. And even after upgrading to a mid-range quality ball, I was still only getting that speed. In real life, I bowl at about 20 MPH so that really irritated me because often that’s what’s stopping you from getting the strike in this game. As with real bowling,l you never get the exact results you think you will. The ball can lean in a direction. The hook can screw you over. Your release can be off. Many factors are out of your control. And even when it looks right you still may miss that one pin or not get the strike. In a lot of ways it’s like really bowling.
Gear is used to upgrade your character’s abilities. You use in-game currency, which is acquired by winning tournaments, to buy gear and boost stats. Each piece of clothing affects specific stats and can have one or two buffs added to it depending on the level of clothing. Buffs start to make the game unrealistic. They can include anything from getting bonus money to being able to steer the ball down the lane. They cost prices similar to buying new gear. Pricing for gear is consistent through all types, maxing out at $6000 for clothing and $13000 for balls. The game starts you with $5000 but early tournaments only net a few hundred dollars for winning. You must place in the top three to win a prize. Each tournament also has special achievements in order to add replay value. Accomplishing these adds more currency to your winnings.
There are also power balls. These are magic balls which give you special abilities. The default ones include splitter, which splits the ball into two on command. This is used for hitting splits and it’s very effective. The bomb ball makes it so if you hit one pin they all fall down. And the titan ball is just a larger sized ball. These can only be used once and then you must spend in-game tokens to get more of them. Tokens can be won in challenges as well. Each day the game will refill one power ball automatically which comes off very much like a mobile app. But there are no micro transactions so you can’t just buy more tokens or money.
There is a “Quickplay” mode which is allows for local multiplayer. The “Spares Challenge” mode is a scored set of 19 challenging splits where you get three attempts to accomplish each. If you fail too many times, your round ends before you reach all 19 challenges. The career mode has two main paths to follow. The tournament section allows you to play against the PC by beating an average score to place. Each alley has several tournaments that must be completed to unlock the next one. The rival section has you play against one NPC. You must beat each rival to unlock the next one. The gameplay works in a lot of ways. Other than the curve and max speed problems, I will say that I generally liked this bowling game in comparison to other ones I’ve played. Something I found very interesting is at that at the start of the game with no upgrades I was rolling within the average range I roll in real life. That’s kind of cool when you think about it.
The sound is very realistic in BPB. The music is soft lounge music with just the slightest hint of jazz, which is exactly what it should be. The sound effects are perfect. The ball rolling down the wood and hitting the pins is spot on. You can set the music and effects levels from 0 to 100 separately. I was very happy with the sound overall.
The only writing in the game is the tutorials. They are ok, but should have included pictures because they can be a bit confusing at first. The game is easy to learn and doesn’t take long get decent at, but the writing could have been a bit clearer instead of you having to feel it out making the tutorial notes near useless for the gameplay. The gear notes are much more helpful though.
The game has a lot of replay value, but it’s not necessarily something you’ll care to do. There is lots of gear to buy, many achievements to complete in the many tournaments to beat, and many rivals to defeat. There is also a local only leaderboard. You will get a lot of hours from the game. But that’s contingent on you caring that much. Because of the lack of excitement a bowling game creates, you may not take the career mode as seriously as say FIFA or Madden. Plus the game is $30 which I’m not sure is worth it. It’s not that the game isn’t at the level of other sports games that would cost you 30 or more dollars. It’s that I just don’t feel like a bowling game with no online multiplayer or leaderboards is worth that much regardless of how realistic it is. There definitely should have been an online mode.
Brunswick Pro Bowling is hard to judge. In a lot of ways it reminds me of real bowling. It’s good, but not great. You will have fun but it does get old. Playing alone is depressing in a lot of ways. It really recreates the actual bowling experience. But how does that translate into fun is the question that I find very hard to answer. Wii Sports Bowling is really unrealistic. Yet I would say that I have more total fun playing that than this. This is definitely a higher quality game. But I don’t necessarily believe that makes it a better game. I’m gonna say that it’s good, but you should wait for a price drop. Pay like $15 for it if you actually like bowling. Otherwise you can pass.
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