Like Wii Sports, the release of Kinect Sports for the Xbox 360 came with a bowling game. It was a little flashier than Nintendo's offering, but it was similar in many ways, including its use of Avatars and a simple but effective approach to the sport. As a result, the small inclusion to a bigger sports package has become the standard for how bowling games should be treated with the new peripheral. After releasing their revamped bowling game to the PS3, Crave Games and Farsight Studios decided to take their bowling simulation to the Xbox 360. Brunswick Pro Bowling is a decent game that could have been much better if the developers had worked out some design issues.
Like Body and Brain Connection, Brunswick Pro Bowling hasn't mastered the art of facial recognition in bad lighting, so bright lights are a must when starting up the game. After the startup sequence, though, the game performs well in any lighting condition.
From the outset, you have several available modes of play. Quick Play is the standard mode where up to four players can bowl at any of the six available lanes. You can choose from any of the preset characters or, if you've leveled up your own bowler appropriately, you can load your career bowler instead. Standard rules apply, so whoever gets the highest score at the end of 10 frames wins the match. The Spares Challenge is a solo affair, though, and has you trying to complete as many spares as possible with different spare scenarios. More points are given if you use fewer balls, and while scores are recorded, you only get local leaderboards instead of online ones.
Quick Play provides some insight on the elements that make this a more involved affair when compared to the bowling game in Kinect Sports. You have the ability to properly direct your aim instead of just throwing the ball and hoping for the best. You can also check out the oil patterns for each lane to help you determine how you should throw the ball. You can select different balls, all of which have different spin ratings. This may be gibberish to the casual player, but for the more involved bowler, knowing all of these things can mean the difference between a good game and a perfect game. The fact that all of this is here shows how much thought was put into the title's simulation aspects.
The real heart of the game lies within Career mode. You can create your character and then participate in league matches, tournaments, or one-on-one matches against a rival bowler. Each win unlocks the next tier in each category, but it also rewards you with cash, which can be used at the pro shop to buy different clothes and equipment or to enter the next tournament. Many equipment and clothes items boost your bowler's stats to improve his game.
Career mode has a few issues, and while they are relatively minor, they do add up. When picking out your character, you can change his name, but you can't customize his appearance at all. Even though you'll be seeing more of his back than his front, it would have been nice to at least have the ability to change the hair or height. Menu flow is also an issue; at the end of each match, you have to confirm your score and then confirm you want to quit before you're able to progress. Even with short load times, it gets annoying when you're in large tournaments with multiple matches. Finally, when playing against the CPU opponent, you have the opportunity to skip its move and go on with your turn instead. However, the window to enable that is so short, especially since it takes a while for a menu selection to be read, that you're much better off waiting for the turn to finish.
Like any bowling game should, Brunswick Pro Bowling features both local and online multiplayer for up to four players. While Quick Play mode is the order of the day for multiplayer, it plays slightly differently in online and offline modes. Offline requires each person to bowl consecutively, while online bowling has everyone bowling at the same time. As good as that sounds, there are two issues that keep it from being great. The first is that you'll never see your opponents bowling while you're going. You'll see their scores update, but you'll never see them physically present on-screen. The second issue is the fact that there's no one really playing the game at the moment. Throughout the review period, not one opponent could be found. This game is barely a few weeks old, so the chances of finding any online competition are relatively bleak.
The controls are a bit better than what was available in Kinect Sports. As stated earlier, you have the ability to aim your shot in addition to walking to where you want to throw the ball, so it's much more accurate. Aiming is controlled with your free hand, so you're never going to run into a situation where you'll accidentally bowl instead of aim. The hook shot still requires you to swing your arm closer to your body than normal, but when combined with our arm speed, the game reads your quick or slow shots better than expected. Ball selection is a pretty easy process: You stick out your arm to the side until the desired ball is selected. There are a few cases where you can throw the ball and it fails to come off your hands, and menu navigation is a bit tricky when you're trying to select available matches in career mode, but for the most part, the controls work well.
The sound, on the other hand, isn't as good as Microsoft's offering. The effects are nice and crisp but questionable at times. The ball rolling down the lane has a nice sound to it, but then you get the noise of a busy crowd accompanying it all — no locations feature anyone else on-screen. There is no voice acting, but the music does a good job of emulating covers to some fairly popular songs from the last decade or so. It's a nice effort, but all of the music sounds hollow because it was compressed far more than necessary.
Graphically, Brunswick Pro Bowling straddles the line between awesome and awful. The environments look great and have some pretty nice detail, like working monitors, moving fans and neon lights. There are even some nice reflections of the pins and the balls on the lanes, but the people are missing. All of your environments have multiple lanes, but you never see anyone else bowling on the other lanes. No people are watching you bowl, either, making the whole experience feel empty.
The biggest complaint is with the character models, which are mostly fine but lack customization. Except for instances when the Kinect spazzes out, the character animations demonstrate 1:1 motion detection with no lag. When it's time for you to bowl, the camera is over the character's shoulder, but you can see his whole body in the shot. Unfortunately, this viewpoint tends to obscure the complete lane from your sight, and the bodies don't go transparent, so you have to constantly move in order to get a view of the whole lane. You can alleviate this by using your free hand to get a quick aim of where you are presently in relation to the lane, but other games address this issue without requiring extra steps. On the bright side, every strike and spare you make displays amusing videos in a small window. The experience isn't complete, though, since there are no videos for splits and misses.
Brunswick Pro Bowling could have been great, especially with the wealth of activities that can be done in the game. However, the presentation only gets the job halfway done, and the lack of online players this early in the game's life cycle means that you'd better have a good set of friends who love virtual bowling enough to make this worthwhile. The gameplay mechanics are solid enough that some people could get over the game's graphics. Rent the title, but you should consider a purchase only if you're sick of the bowling in Kinect Sports and want more bowling action.
More articles about Brunswick Pro Bowling