Most folks will agree that bowling is a sport that's only fun while you're in the moment. After a few beers with friends, it's easy to just have fun by putting aside the fact that you can't pick up a spare to save your life and you're wearing communal shoes. Unfortunately, this same sensation doesn't really extend to watching bowling on television or, in the case of Brunswick Pro Bowling, playing a virtual version on the 3DS. Though the title is clearly competent, it also gets monotonous after the first few frames.
The primary draw of Brunswick Pro Bowling is the career mode, wherein players create a wannabe pro and run through a series of leagues, tournaments and one-on-one challenges. The game offers a staggering number of career events and gives players full control over how they want to tackle the challenges. If you prefer the safety of a team, you can take on every single league event before attempting a solo challenge or tournament. Conversely, players who want to rely solely on their own skill can jump straight into rival challenges and attempt to best other high-flying rollers. Winning events nets cash, which can be spent on new equipment in the pro shop, and the sheer number of available events will provide content for days or weeks on end.
While the content is there, the rewards are not, as every match feels virtually the same and there's no sense of progression. New balls claim to vary in weight and spin, but their actual in-game differences are negligible. Also, pro shop equipment supposedly boosts bowler attributes like strength and hook, but once again, it's practically impossible to tell the difference between a decked-out character and a freshly created rookie. There's little incentive to even look at new equipment or expensive bowling balls because they just don't feel special.
Further hamstringing the career mode is the feeling that leagues and tournaments go on far too long, to the point that each event becomes a major time sink with little eventual payoff. For instance, a four-player league consists of at least eight matches against other teams, and if you choose to control every player manually (to avoid potential issues with the spotty teammate AI), you'll be rolling over 360 frames in just one event. Tournaments suffer from a similar issue, as I once had to wade through a 16-round state tourney just to move onto the next challenge. After a few matches, the game starts to feel like a slog, and what originally appears to be a robust and fulfilling mode becomes a chore.
Making matters worse, there's very little to do outside of career mode since Brunswick Pro Bowling only offers quick play and a rather weak Spares Challenge. Even simple titles like Wii Sports have found ways to make bowling more exciting than this.
Once you've chosen a mode and hit the lanes, the title offers two different control methods, neither of which feels truly satisfying. Playing with the stylus allows competitors to precisely set the starting location and angle of the shot; determining the power and hook is a simple matter of how quickly and at what angle the stylus is flicked across the touch-screen. Taken as a whole, stylus controls are far too easy; I was able to roll a perfect 300 after only about an hour.
Those looking for more challenge will likely prefer arcade controls, but they're so imprecise that it's nearly impossible to make consistently good shots. Angle and power are determined by tapping a button when the meters are in the desired zones, and hook is governed through sliding the circle pad to a specific spot and holding it there until the ball is released. The two control options run the gamut from too easy to too hard, with no real sweet spot between them.
Presentation is also subpar, with an obvious chance to use the 3-D effect totally wasted. Alleys and lanes are drab and boring, and even with the 3-D slider cranked all the way up, there's no depth added. The game could have really shone by creating a sense of depth as players lined up for a shot or sent pins flying out of the screen on strong shots, but as it is, you can completely turn off the 3-D effect and not feel like you're missing a thing. Add to this a dull soundtrack and absolutely no commentary, and the package is as humdrum as they come.
The one saving grace is the inclusion of a number of quick, cheesy videos that play after strikes and spares. The short movies look like the sort of thing you would have seen playing in bowling alleys in the early '90s, and they work as a fun guilty pleasure for a bit. The pickings are slim, though, so repeats pop up often, and after you've seen the same video for the dozenth time, it loses most, if not all, of its charm. Like everything else about this game, the videos start out fun but then grow boring.
Brunswick Pro Bowling is the sort of game you can play for a couple of hours and think it's a ton of fun. Then you come back to it and realize absolutely nothing has changed, evolved or grown for a few hours and you're starting to waste your time. This title flies in the face of the norm in that the more time you put into it, the less you get out of it, and that's not a good situation. Avoid this gutter ball.
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