Review: Brunswick Pro Bowling – Move Edition (Sony PS3)

Brunswick Pro Bowling
Developer: Farsight Studios
Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 9/28/2010

Set your Wayback Machines for Christmas 2007. I purchased my then almost five year old son a Nintendo Wii as his “big gift.” He was enamored with the entire concept of video games, but being not quite five, his skills were right about where you’d expect them to be. But here was the Wii, a system with an entire library of games so simple and mundane that even a four year old could excel, and within a month, he was quite certain of the fact that he was indeed the greatest five year old gamer in the history of electronic entertainment.

One such title that assured him of his incontrovertible gaming mastery was Wii Sports Bowling, and I have to admit that, despite its simplistic controls, its toned down aesthetics, its bargain bin physics, and staggering lack of depth, it grew on me. Those first two months (before I succumbed to the same malaise that struck many a Wii owner upon first realizing they’d paid 250.00 on a souped up Gamecube with a vibrating pointy stick) I spent countless hours dueling my son at the virtual lanes, watching my line on the bar graph that passes in Wii Sports Bowling for stat tracking slowly rise up in the ranks of all the oddly creepy Miis my kid had created. Throughout the experience, I’d laugh inwardly at myself for spending so much time on a game that was no deeper than your average Facebook-based time waster, and yet there was just something about it, some immaterial, immeasurable quality that compelled me to keep playing it. I knew by my own gaming standards and tastes that I shouldn’t like it. And yet I did. To this day, I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that made me look forward to getting home from work so I could waddle my bounceball-fisted Mii up to the lane. It was not unlike walking down the sidewalk, and realizing to your utter dismay and disgust that you’ve been humming a Big Time Rush song for the past half hour. You know in your heart that you should hate it. But your easily entertained brain has betrayed you.

So now it’s 2010. My son still has a Wii, but he barely plays it. Short of the occasional “hardcore” scrap that Nintendo tosses from its table, I barely touch it myself. Now I have a new smoking gun to deal with: the Playstation Move, aka, The Wii Crapware Magnet. In what I am sure will be the first in an avalanche of Waggletastic ports, Crave Entertainment has blessed us PS3 owners with Brunswick Pro Bowling, a title that in every measurable way should be better than Wii Sports Bowling. But is it?

Let’s find out.

1. Story

Ah, bowling, the perfect game for aggression therapy. You pick up a ball that’s roughly the size of a human head, and you hurl it into a group of ten wobbly pins that are just vaguely human enough in shape to pass for almost anyone in your mind’s eye: your mother-in-law, your boss, whoever it was on staff that got Dead Rising 2 while I got this game. You get the idea.

In career mode you play a spunky young lad working his way up the grim and gritty ladder of the pro bowler’s circuit. You’ll make friends and enemies. You’ll meet a cavalcade of unique characters. You’ll face challenges, trials, tribulations, betrayals, and in the end, you will make a moral choice that will steer the course for the rest of your career.

Actually, that’s all a lie. This game’s got about as much story as the crackhead Olsen Twin has a potential lifespan. I once read a Jack Chick comic whilst sitting on a toilet at Steak N’ Shake that had a more cohesive narrative than this game. If you took Wii Sports Bowling, and performed waggle surgery on all the Miis so they looked like the faceless androids from Disney’s The Black Hole, it would still somehow have more of a story to it than this game.

So yeah, no story.

2. Graphics

This one is a hard category to gauge with this title. In all ways graphically, this game looks better than Wii Sports Bowling by a huge margin. Yet I still find nothing here visually that impresses me. It’s realistic, it captures the general look of bowling to a much greater degree than almost any other bowling game out there right now, but it just feels sterile and lifeless, like a Turbografx-16 TV Sports title. It’s going for pure visual realism, but didn’t pick up the other aspects of going to a bowling alley at all: the poor lighting, the haze of dust that permeates the air; the occasional drunk bowling his ball down the gutter of your lane and still thinking he got a spare. These subtle little visual cues are things I expected to see in the outer edges of the game’s visuals, but I never did.

The closest it comes is in the early stages of the career mode, where you essentially join a four man team in a small local tournament. You look like a slightly repressed college fratboy. You have two seven foot tall twins on your team who look like Francis Dolarhyde traded in his fake vampire teeth for a Brunswick twenty pounder, and then you have Short Asian Stereotype Man, who is obviously there because all Asian men are experts at ping-pong, Kung Fu, karaoke, and bowling.

You have six different venues, each with their own unique look, and there’s Brunswick product placement everywhere. The balls have a realistic sheen to them, as do the pins. The game characters, while simple, still animate fluidly and pack a lot more detail than what you’ll see in Wii Sports Bowling or in the Wii version of this title. But yet again, there’s just this generic “blahness” about them. It would be like buying Burnout Paradise, but all the cars are modified Hundai and Kia sedans. It looks realistic, but so does Faces of Death. Realism can be overrated. Quite frankly, I much preferred the graphics of High Velocity Bowling. Their characters are unique, and each has their own style, as does the overall look of that title. You won’t find that here. This is bare bones realism.

In short, the graphics in this title are well animated and realistic, but once you turn it off, there’ll be nothing that stays with you. The visuals are about as compelling as your everyday women’s magazine lying in any American doctor’s Office.

Sound

Now this was just sad. You hear some very minor ambient noise, such as pins being hit further down the lanes, background conversations from unseen patrons, and so on. Again, it’s just not quite there for me. The pins sound real when you hit them (Though I have noticed on several occasions where I was going for a spare and missed, just nicking the edge of the pin, and the game would still play the sound effect for smacking a lane full of pins.) When you roll the ball down the lane, it sounds like a bowling ball rolling down the lane.

But they just didn’t try hard enough. Each venue seems to only have one piece of background music, which it plays over and over again. You occasionally hear what sounds like idle chatter in the background, but you don’t hear redneck couples arguing over who took the last cigarette in the pack. You don’t hear guys hammered on Coors Light trying to pick up the gap-toothed waitress who isn’t nearly as attractive as they think she is. You don’t hear the lonely divorcee sitting in the back corner contemplating suicide over a plate of soggy chili fries that will likely do the job for him. As with the graphics, the sound is realistic, there’s just not ENOUGH of it. It’s missing all the little touches that make going to your local bowling dive so much fun.

4. Control and Gameplay

This is a mixed bag. You have all the options you could possibly want from a bowling game here. You have a full career mode, a quick play made, a challenge mode where you have to score spares from randomly placed odd pins on the lane, and you have online and local multiplayer.

However, once you play any one of them for any amount of time, you come to the quick realization that you’re playing Wii Sports Bowling with a better physics engine. When using the PS Move, the controls are almost an exact clone of Nintendo’s freebie, with one exception. When lining up the aiming of your shot, you don’t have a control cross. You just hold down the trigger and set the aim with the motion controls. When you have it the way you like it, you press the Move button, then hold down the trigger and start your run. When you’re ready to let go of the ball, you release the trigger. Sound familiar Wii players?

Now I will say this. Physics really come into play with this title. In Wii Sports Bowling, I could sit on the couch and just flick my wrist and get a strike. This game requires more effort on your part. The Move camera can sense depth of field from the ball on the end of your controller. It wants to see you swing. The harder you swing, the faster the ball goes. If you twist your wrist just right, you’ll put some side spin on that ball and eventually master getting it to go pretty much anywhere on the lane that you want.

Alas, there is one game breaking bug that just annoyed the living hell out of me. The game does try to hold your hand when you’re not doing so well. If you don’t get a strike off your first ball, the game will show you where it thinks you should bowl next. If at any time the game tells you to bowl right down the far right or far left edges of the lane, don’t. Because no matter how well you think you have it lined up, your guy will gleefully toss that ball directly into the gutter and force you to watch it slowly drift all the way to the end before letting you try again. Not only does it cheat by making every edge shot an instant gutter ball, but it forces you to wallow in undeserved shame. This needs to be fixed in a patch, because it can greatly affect your strategy when you’re afraid to get any closer than a foot from the edge of the damned lane.

The career mode has a total of 60 events to it: 20 league, 20 tournament, and 20 “duels” with rival players. For you trophy whores out there, don’t expect a horde of PSN score goodness here. There’s maybe 12 trophies, and no Platinum, which leads me to suspect that this was originally intended to be a PSN release, much like the Williams Pinball port that came out last year. So the only real motivation to playing all the way through is to earn new swag to customize your character: new clothes, new gloves, new glasses, new bowling balls, that sort of thing. All of them have some sort of stat modifier that boosts your character’s abilities – not that any of it will do you any good, since once you get past the first few league games the difficulty takes a hard turn into “Yeah Right” country and hands you your ass at the slightest opportunity. If you get halfway through league play and you can’t average at least 160-175 per game, you might as well put the Move down, victory is not in your future.

As for the play modes, quick play is quick play, career mode is sufficiently lengthy for today’s modern sports titles, local co-op is fun, but online multiplayer is a joke. Well, technically there’s nothing wrong with it, per say. There’s no lag, there was always people in there when I signed on, everything in the scoring works just as it should. But you can’t see the other players. You can’t even watch them bowl! It’s just a scoreboard with updating numbers while you bowl, again, alone. Come on, Farsight! Have you never actually bowled with anyone else before? Why not have mike support here, so you can watch the other player and heckle them mercilessly like you would in a real game? Can you even imagine how much fun the online to this game could be if you got bonus points for psyching out the other player and making him gutter ball? But no, you get your player, and a scoreboard. I might as well play velcro darts in the basement.

5. Replayability

There is the aforementioned tournament mode, and the challenge modes (which can also be played in local or online multiplayer) and there’s the full-on multiplayer experience, all with the potential to keep bringing you back for months.

But why would you? It’s just barebones bowling. There’s nothing to draw you in and keep you hooked, which is even more confusing to me because it is easily four times the size of Wii Sports Bowling, and yet I still occasionally pick that game up, while I have little to no interest in touching this one ever again.

It’s as though Farsight Studios went to their local bowling alley and rented the whole place out to themselves. So they got the core mechanics, look, and feel of the actual game right. But without all the nuances of playing in a crowded bowling alley with your friends, talking smack to each other all night, heckling the other drunks, eating horrible subpar junk food, playing Drunk Street Fighter II in the arcade between sets, it’s just an empty, unfulfilling gaming experience. It’s like the entire game is caught in the Uncanny Valley: it looks sort of real, but you can sense there’s something off about it, something that just makes you feel dissatisfied and annoyed while playing it. It’s Bizarro Wii Sports Bowling.

6. Balance

Like I said, this game starts out with a gentle curve, then it tosses you unceremoniously off a cliff into gutter ball hell. You will proceed only so far, and then you will proceed no further (imagine that being spoken in a hushed whisper by Ian Mckellan for the desired effect). Now if you master the nuances of the Move’s hook shots, and you upgrade your character accordingly, you can make it through the harder tournaments, but the sudden change is almost staggering, like running out of a sauna full of hot chicks and jumping into a freezing pool full of dudes. You go from playing a no talent barfly in one set, to playing a guy whose game is right up there with Roy Munson’s before he was sponsored by Goodyear, Trojan, and Dupont Plastic in the next. The opponent’s AI goes from a TI-85 to Hal 9000 instantly, and you’re quickly and efficiently wiped off the lane like a glob of spilled salsa. It takes some getting used to; the question is if it’s time you feel is well spent.

7. Originality

BWAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHEHEHEHEHEHEOHOHOHOHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO. Okay you’re getting the gist that this game is as unoriginal and generic as it gets, yeah?

8. Addictiveness

When I first started playing it, I did find myself losing track of time, and I was several matches in before I even realized it. But then the next day when I hit the Cliffs of Difficulty Insanity and found myself grinding away just to earn money to boost my character’s speed and accuracy and get to one more tournament that would play exactly like the last one, I quickly decided then and there that I could easily take or leave this game, especially when I woke up that following morning with a bad case of Move Shoulder. In other words, if I continue to force myself to play this title just for completist reasons, I’ll be more likely to become addicted to ibuprofen than I will the game itself.

9. Appeal Factor

Everything about this game is the epitome of Meh. Nothing is broken, but nothing stands out. The controls are basically the same as Wii Sports Bowling, but I don’t see kids my son’s age spending any great amount of time on it. It’s no more exciting than watching bowling on ABC Sports on a Saturday afternoon. But there is a lot of game on the disk for $29.99, so bowling purists may get more out of it than I did. Honestly, I think your money would be better spent on the new retail disc release of High Velocity Bowling. It’s ten dollars more, but you get all the DLC ever released for it on one disk. Just keep in mind, currently only Playstation Plus members can play High Velocity Bowling with the Move, so in that regard, Brunswick wins out (for now).

10. Miscellaneous

One thing that really annoyed me about this game was the menu system. There’s no other way to say it. It just looks like someone drew it with erasable marker on a glow board. It’s horrible. It’s not really complicated, but just the way it looks makes working your way through the menu system like trying to follow a three way conversation written on the bathroom wall of a Denny’s. If you were going for realism, why not just use a mock up of the scoreboard systems at actual bowling alleys? I didn’t know whether to start a tournament, or call Joanie up and find out what a good time she REALLY is.

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

Brunswick Pro Bowling has everything that its competitors don’t, but it still pales in comparison. It’s a soulless, lifeless, phoned in game that does the very least it can do to recreate the actual bowling experience. It’s a perfectly functional but a bland, slightly ugly affair; the Maggie Gyllenhaal of bowling games. If you have a Wii, stick with Wii Sports Bowling. If you have a PS3, get High Velocity Bowling instead if you will. Only get this one if your real life bowling experience is playing in an empty alley by yourself. Then maybe you’ll feel right at home.

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