I didn’t think I’d be reviewing a second bowling game this year if I’m honest but here it is. Crazy Strike Bowling EX (CSB) by Corecell Technology was recently (5/25/16) released for the PS4. This game is equal parts bowling game, RPG, and anime. This odd sounding mixture ultimately nets a decent enough experience but falls short of the ideal mark for any of the three parts done as standalone titles. Before you read any farther, know that for the $13 price tag this game is a pass in my book.
CSB is awkward to judge on a graphics level. It’s very well modeled. The art style reminds me of something like the anime Märchen Awakens Romance if it was done with 3D models instead of 2D drawings. The game has a lot of character and life to it, which was one of my favorite things about it. The six playable characters each have their own persona from the way they look to the clothes they wear. The various costumes you can choose for each character are specific to them, helping to develop them as individuals all sharing the space of this game as equally important members of it. Each of the stages/settings that you bowl in has a ton of stuff going on in addition to you bowling. First off is the fact that other characters are continuously bowling on either side of you as you play the game. Most bowling games, including the much more serious ones, only feature you bowling. Often there aren’t even any NPCs in the alley just for decoration. This game appears as if you are part of a world that has always been there. It wasn’t built for you. I really like that for a bowling game because it’s something you basically never see. The backgrounds for each stage have a lot going on as well. The first level is set in a Dutch inspired meadow complete with cows and windmills. The windmills are constantly spinning and the cows eat grass while swinging their tails. Other levels have things like cherry blossom petals falling from trees and snow and a number of different settings such as the Grand Canyon and the Amazon rain forest.
The level design is really good, as are the character renders. But at the same time, the game was not finished well. The menus are 50/50. Some look really nice and appealing. Others look lazily done. The entire game is a bit pixelated on the edges and basically all in level graphics are over lit. It’s like one person modelled everything and then someone else who wasn’t paying nearly as much attention just set all the lights to high and sent it out. Sometimes these issues can affect the gameplay. The snow level for instance has an odd color scheme that when mixed with the lighting makes it difficult to read your angle when aiming your roll. On some level I think this overuse of lighting was done to make the game seem more like an anime, but it really hurt the visual quality of the game overall as a bowling title. The HUDs look fine. They are simple but clean and easy to interpret. The many costume options for each character look very nice and highly variable allowing every player to have their own personal style when playing. It’s not a bad-looking game but it’s definitely got noticeable visual flaws.
The gameplay is good but contains subtle differences to most bowling games that weaken the experience for people who have a decent amount of experience playing traditional bowling games. It’s very straightforward. You set your position and angle then press X. A power meter and spin options come up followed by the spin meter. Press X again and balls goes. The spin meter really takes some getting used to and requires you to visit the tutorial page to understand how it works. At first glance it looks like an accuracy meter and you will intuitively try to hit it dead center but this is actually a mistake. It’s not gauging accuracy of throw at all. It’s actually gauging the amount of spin. The center point is for the strongest spin and the outer red areas are for a weaker spin. Different types of gear have different stats that will affect both the spin and aim. But regardless of what your spin stats are, you can only choose spin left, spin right, or no spin. The way you choose the amount of spin is supposedly by where you hit it on that meter but it never spins the way you think it will and you have to eye how the power affects it as well. I’m gonna say that the spin system is the Achilles heel of the gameplay in this one because there’s just no helping it. Bowling head on is the way to go.
The RPG elements of this game work pretty well. They are there but not too complicated. Characters have a rank/skill level which is based on experience, but the experience is pooled for all characters. Your skill level gives you the ability to purchase different types of gear for each character. You use points you earn from playing to buy gear. The amount of points you get is based on the score you get in each game. Rolling a 180 adds 180 points to your total. The same cannot be said for XP though. Every game regardless of how well or badly you do appears to net you 60 XP. Gear can be mixed and matched and affects the characters’ stats. The stats addressed are spin, power, and control. Gear, including balls, can be unlocked as well through completing different things. Different balls perform noticeably differently so it’s important to figure out your throwing style as quickly as possible so you buy the right ball instead of wasting credits. You can switch balls each roll. The game has 4 modes of play. Exhibition mode is just straight bowling. Crazy exhibition mode is bowling with added special powers, items, and obstacles on the course. Each character has their own power which must be charged by knocking pins over. Some powers include making the ball larger, giving it the ability to jump, or freezing the gutters so you can’t get a gutter ball. Powers are activated once charged with a simple quick time event that calls for six button presses but accepts no errors. If you make a mistake you lose the charge and get nothing. Challenge mode is a set of 50 different challenges separated into 10 types of five each that will force you to use a specific character and set of gear to complete each objective. There is also a PVP battle mode.
The Battle mode is very interesting. You can play against the PC or a friend. While regular bowling allows up to four players, this mode only allows two. Players face each other in a horizontal split screen scenario where you have to knock down all the other player’s pins first to win. The lane is shared so you can hit the other player’s ball. Powers and items work in this mode as well. It might not be the most fun PVP ever, but it is very original for a bowling game. Overall I’d say the gameplay is solid but the spin takes some real getting used to and doesn’t work quite perfectly. Also it’s really inconvenient that you can’t restart games. You have to quit the game all the way to get a fresh match in any mode.
The sound is great in CSB. It’s got a nice little fantasy soundtrack with different songs for each level. The sound effects are solid and good quality. The standard stuff you’d expect such as the roll and hitting the pins. But also the characters have their own voices. Not to talk but just to do the Link expressive noises thing and say maybe yay or no. There are some effects for getting a spare and stuff that were also done really well. I wouldn’t say this game is something you’d buy for the sound, but the sound is probably the only part of the game that I have literally no complaints about. You can also set the music and effects volume levels in the options menu.
There is the tiniest bit of writing present in this game, but that’s more a flaw than a plus because of how they did it. There are only two forms of writing in CSB. The tutorials, which are extremely helpful and written in a very simple manner, are a must read. At first I tried to play the game without reading them because of all the bowling game experience I have, but that led to me getting mediocre scores of about 160. The tutorials explain things that you probably wouldn’t be able to guess and help you achieve much better scores overall. The other type of writing is the character bios. These are very short blurbs about each character but the problem is that they’re actually quite interesting. Some of them, such as the one for Mina, make you really want to know more about the character. There is no story or character development in this game, but the characters have their own personalities and clearly interests from the different costumes that only they can equip. In some ways it’s kind of depressing that you don’t get any more about them since those initial bios are decent enough to peak your interest in some cases.
The replay value in this game is not great. It’s mostly just play until you get enough XP to hit max rank and enough points to unlock all the gear. Levels can be unlocked as well but they don’t unlock across all modes, meaning you have to unlock all levels for both Exhibition modes which is a rather disappointing way to extend the gameplay. There is lots of gear to unlock, but you won’t necessarily want all of it. The 50 challenge missions will take a bit of time but not necessarily enough to extend the game to 13 hours if you’re good. It’s a solid game that plays up to four players, but it lacks many of the things that give a bowling game solid replay value. There are no tournaments for example. Brunswick Pro Bowling, which is admittedly more than double the price, has tons of tournaments, NPC rivals, and objectives to complete. This game has none of those outside of the challenge missions. For $5 I’d say this was an excellent buy, but for $13 it’s just not worth it. Unless you have people who really want to play it with you, the game will get old fast.
Crazy Strike Bowling EX is fun, but lacking in a number of places. I get what Corecell Technology was trying to do and in many ways this was a good try. But ultimately the game needs a lot of tuning. They could have improved it considerably if they had put a little more into the bowling game aspect of it and less into the RPG anime thing. Ultimately I’m gonna have to call this a soft pass with potential to be improved with patches that will never actually happen.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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