When the Nintendo Wii launched, who knew that one of the most loved games would turn out to be only one part of the included sports compilation disc? That title, of course, is the bowling game in Wii Sports. While video game bowling certainly isn't anything new, it's safe to say that the title and console certainly reinvigorated the often-ignored realm of bowling video games.
It's not a huge surprise that during the launch window for Sony's newest motion-control accessory — dubbed PlayStation Move — that we've already seen a couple of bowling-related titles. High Velocity Bowling was released on PSN beforehand and then upgraded with Move capability. Having played some of that, I'd say it's going to be the better choice between the two available products. The other title (and the focus of this review) is Brunswick Pro Bowling. It carries an official bowling license with the Brunswick brand, but aside from brand appeal, this title doesn't have a whole lot going for it.
My experience with Brunswick Pro Bowling was pretty tepid. The game doesn't have much of a presentation, with one repetitive background track for music and not too much in the way of game options or variations. There's Quick Play mode, which allows up to four players to participate in a round of bowling; you can pick between six different locations. The first thing I want to mention, and this is primarily in comparison to High Velocity Bowling, is that the lane selections are pretty boring. Brunswick Pro Bowling is definitely going for a more realistic approach, but that makes for a pretty dull set of visuals. There are a few lanes that have bright colors, neon lights, and a sense that the developers were trying, but with only six locations to pick from, the selection becomes a little bland after a while.
Another available mode consists of the biggest portion of the game, Career mode. You can select a bowler from a set of four pre-set male models and four pre-set female models. Unfortunately, the game does not allow you to customize the physical appearance of the characters, but you can change their names. Each character also has some strengths and weaknesses, such as power, accuracy and so on. With that said, I had a hard time figuring out how much these attribute differences factored into the gameplay, especially since the main draw of using the Move controller is one-to-one motions, meaning that the game is supposed to accurately depict the player's movements. If it's following my movement, and the speed of my arm along with the wrist rotation, why should there be any difference in character accuracy? Is there a random number generated by the game that also affects how accurate my throw is going to be? The game doesn't do a great job of explaining what these attributes affect, if anything.
In Career mode, you can select from three different areas to compete in, including league play, rival matches and tournaments. League play allows you to play on a four-person league, which can consist of CPU-controlled partners or actual players. If you're playing with CPU partners, you can quickly skip their rounds and move on to yours, which speeds up the gameplay. In Rival Play, you're matched up against a computer-controlled character for a single game of bowling, with the winner being decided by the best score. Finally, for Tournament play, you compete in an elimination tournament, complete with brackets, against computer-controlled characters. The reward for winning in any of these modes is mostly cash, and the occasional extra unlock in the Pro Shop, which is also accessible through the Career mode menu.
The Pro Shop allows you to customize your character's clothing options. Many of the clothing options seem to be palette swaps of the same shirt and pant design, along with the occasional hat, glasses and bowling balls. The biggest draw has to be the bowling balls, as some will have a better hook rating than others; this rating comes into play when you view the oil track on the individual lanes. (More about that in a second.) The dearth of unlockables in the Pro Shop shows how little personality this game has. There could have been some interesting variations and designs, or the developers could have done something with licensed wear. Instead, all of the selections are really boring. It's difficult to get excited about unlocking items in the game if you're going to be presented with gear like this.
As far as controls go, and considering that the Move is a relatively new device for the PS3, Brunswick does a pretty good job of registering your movements. My only complaint is timing the release of the ball and how easily you can dupe the system into thinking you've made a powerful throw. The idea is that the entire game is controlled with just the Move controller and not the Navigation controller (but you can use that with the Move for menu options). Using the Move controller, you'll line up your shot by moving left and right, with a pointer on the lane to let you know where your character will release the ball. From there, you can also adjust the angle, and when you're ready to throw, simply tap the Move button to get into position. From this third-person perspective, you can hold down the T button on the bottom of the controller, swing back your arm, and swing forward while releasing the button to launch the ball.
Sound familiar? Yeah, it's pretty much the way Wii Bowling plays. The biggest difference is that Brunswick Pro Bowl supposedly tracks the speed of your throw, but you can game the system by releasing the T button as you begin to swing forward and jerk your wrist to throw the ball at around 16-19 MPH every time. It's a little cheap but effective if you're looking to score strikes and spares more often. The longer you hold on to the T button after you begin your forward swing, the slower your ball will travel down the lane. What disappoints me the most is that the game doesn't accurately register the speed of your arm movement, which I thought was supposed to be the biggest draw when it came to the PlayStation Move and bowling titles in general.
Brunswick Pro Bowling introduces the concept of oil patterns, which isn't something that most people are going to know or care about, but it's interesting to note that most bowling games don't make use of this very real aspect of professional bowling. In the game, you can hit the Triangle button to give you a view of the oil pattern on the lane, which will let you know how your ball is going to perform. A lot of oil lanes are straight, meaning that the pattern won't have much of an effect on the throw. Some patterns can be diagonal, though, which means you'll need to select a ball with a higher hook rating, and you'll need to do some adjusting to your actual throw, which adds some much-needed challenge to the game. It's not really a selling point, but I'd like to see more bowling titles acknowledge this as a part of the game.
PlayStation Move owners can safely skip Brunswick Pro Bowling. It's a pretty uninspired take on the sport and lacks any real personality or options. While it has an online mode, I could never find anyone online to play with. It's going to be more fun with four people involved, but High Velocity Bowling is the better game and can be purchased for the same price. Brunswick is really lacking in features, and aside from the minigame title Spares Challenge, where you attempt to pick up randomly placed spare arrangements of varying difficulty, there's not a whole lot to do. The Career mode doesn't really provide you with any motivation to finish. Be sure to pass this one up and pick up High Velocity Bowling instead.
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