Review: Smash Bowling 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Smash Bowling 3D
Developer: Big John Games
Publisher: Big John Games
Genre: Bowling
Release Date: 08/08/2013

If there’s one thing that seems to have been proven true from the NES era on up, it’s that a developer has to try really, really hard to gimp a bowling game. For the most part, if you’ve played one bowling game, you’ve played them all, and outside of the occasional inexplicable abomination, that has been the norm. Well, until Wii Sports Bowling came along and became the exception to the rule, that is.

Now here comes Big John Games and Smash Bowling 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. Is it a royal mess? No, not at all. So what does it offer in the way of innovation, aside from the 3D of course, to differentiate itself from the last 30+ years of bowling games?

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not a damn thing.

It’s just more of the same, that’s the point I’m trying to get across here.

When you first boot up the game, you are tasked with creating a profile, which tracks your stats, overall progress, and achievements. You can select a name for yourself, but that’s about it. You can’t choose a body type, or alter your face, what you’re wearing, or any of the other customization features that have become common in more recent bowling titles. The only customization available in this game is selecting the alley you want to play in (which only changes the backdrop, it has no actual effect on gameplay) and what ball you want to use (all the balls are the same size and weight, so again this is just for looks). In total, there are 14 different alleys and 20 different balls, but most of these you unlock via the aforementioned achievements.

The best I can say about the graphics is that they are inoffensive. The game doesn’t look bad, it just does nothing to make it stand out. The menus are bland and boring. The ball looks like a ball, the alleys look like alleys, and the pins look like pins. You don’t see your player during gameplay. There’s no cool, spiffy stuff that pops up when you get a strike. It’s all very barebones. The 3D effect adds depth to the lane, but it doesn’t really enhance the gameplay. If you’re not holding it at just the right angle, it does have a bad ghosting effect, but it still doesn’t detract from the experience, since you choose your angle, strength, curve and such on another screen.

Sadly, the same blandness applies to the music and sound effects. The music is very “early 90’s Casio synthesizer.” You’d have to go back to the Atari 2600 to get much more bland than this. When you bowl, it sounds like a ball rolling down the lane. When you hit the pins, it sounds like it should. That’s all there is to say really. It would have been nice to have had some voice clips of hecklers trying to throw you off, just some good wicked drunk a-holes trying to psyche you out to throw some much needed humor into the game, or maybe 80’s style Wild World of Sports play-by-play guys to add some commentary. Alas, what you hear is what you get.

There are two different play styles to choose from. You can use the touch screen, but this really takes all the challenge out of the game. Once you select where on the lane you want to drop the ball, you’re then given a screen where you essentially draw the path you want the ball to take. Your speed is determined by how fast you draw the line. Now it will gauge this as either too fast or too slow, but once you figure out what it considers just right and where the sweet spot is (for me it was just to the right of the first pin), you can get a strike or spare on every frame, without fail.

The second mode is using the buttons. This feels more like a traditional bowling game and is somewhat more satisfying. You have to use meters to determine your speed, aim and spin. So there’s more of a level of mastery at play here. With the stylus I was bowling strikes within the first three frames I played. With the meters, it took longer to get good scores.

The biggest disappointment comes with the play modes. All you have is a career mode, but I can’t really say it even earns that title. There is no progression. Yes, you unlock new balls and alleys, but as I stated above, this has no effect on gameplay. The gameplay never gets harder, never changes. It plays like a tournament but you’re not playing against any computer controlled AI players. You just keep playing, and the game tracks your stats. That’s it. There is no “beating” the game. And there’s no local or online multiplayer. There’s not even a challenge/puzzle mode that adds ramps, obstacles, or trick shots. You just play your frames over and over, occasionally earning a new alley backdrop or a new ball that adds absolutely nothing. Once you’re hitting strikes on a regular basis and you’ve unlocked all the alleys and balls, you’re pretty much done. The only way to add competition really is to let a friend create their own profile and just try to top your score stats.

Short Attention Span Summary
Smash Bowling 3d is not a bad bowling game. It’s just not an overly good one. At best, its a passable, inoffensive time waster. There is a certain modicum of fun to be had here, but what’s on offer will only take you so far. This is the kind of bowling game you might pull up for a few scant minutes while you’re stuck on the toilet, or in those few minutes between when a nurse leads you to the examination room and when the doctor actually shows up, but it’s definitely not the kind of bowling game where a quick “waiting on your lady to put on her lingerie” session turns into an all-nighter and dirty looks the next morning, oh no. There’s just no addictive “it” factor to it at all. In all honesty, there are numerous bowling games on iOS, Android, and 3DS that will give you a lot more bang for your buck. If you need your bowling fix on 3DS, stick to Brunswick Pro Bowling, or even a genre bender like Undead Bowling. Either one offers a lot more fun and variety than this plain jane title does.