Brunswick Pro Bowling Review
Bowling isn't exactly the most popular sport on earth, but it should translate well to the game realm. Although you can play it at any time - it's not restricted by what the weather looks like outside - those who love the sport often bowl in their sleep, so the more access the better. Enter Brunswick Pro Bowling, which is supposedly designed for fans and newcomers alike, but the final product is about as bland and monotonous as watching grass grow. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough here to appeal to either group of gamers (causal or hardcore bowling fans), and the reasons are painfully obvious. The casuals have about eight thousand better options on the shelves at the game store, and there isn't anywhere near enough depth to satisfy the hardcore crowd. Granted, it's not a really flashy sport, but we know for a fact there's more to it than this. There has to be.
The graphics are...uh...what the heck are we supposed to say? They're not bad for the PS2 and those pins and lanes are fittingly glossy, but the overall detail is lacking in character and environment design. We only have two ways to analyze and evaluate the visuals: the character customization section before starting up a new career, and during actual matches where we can see the different bowling alleys. But beyond that, what are we supposed to look at? The menu screens? What's the point of that? We can't very well say the graphics are a shortcoming of the game, but much like every other facet of this production, they're largely forgettable. Perhaps they could've used a small overhaul on the character visual format, but beyond that, we don't really have any further suggestions or criticism. Most who turn on Brunswick Pro Bowling will take one look and almost immediately disregard the graphics, which are about as run-of-the-mill as they can possibly get. Yippee.
The sound is almost exactly the same way. We have no idea which of the developers figured it'd be a good idea to include some uber-lame hard rock tracks during the matches, but it really doesn't work. The sound effects are fine, but without anything in the way of voice acting, we're left with the sound of the ball on polished wood, smacking into a bunch of pins. And essentially, that sounds the same every single time, regardless of where the ball is or how many pins you knock down. That soundtrack isn't a bad effort - hey, at least something is there; without it, it'd be almost complete silence - but the music selection is bizarre. Toss in the ho-hum effects and the fact that absolutely nothing else is worth mentioning, and you have yet another ridiculously bland category. I guess we could say the bowling alleys actually sound like bowling alleys, but that's not very difficult to accomplish. And even then, everything seemed a little dull and muted; aren't there more sounds and verbal activity during league play and tournaments...?
Just like with most any sport you're unfamiliar with, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes in bowling than you might believe. The style of smoothing on the lanes, the weight of the ball, the variety of spins, the player's form on the approach; it all factors into the precision game we call bowling. That being said, wouldn't you assume all of this should make at least some semblance of an appearance in a virtual recreation? Well, we assumed the same thing, but you know what they say about assumptions... From the start, we immediately began to wonder, "erm...is this it?" Sure, the Quick Play was admittedly straightforward, but we expected a great deal more from the Career mode, which is almost always the most robust and fully realized option for any player. And while it certainly includes the necessary basics of a "career mode," the rest of this particular option is just plain tedious.
You start off by creating a character, and while that's fine, you're immediately limited because each new player will have the same starting statistics. You can't select certain strengths and weaknesses like you would in other simulated career modes in other games; you can only alter your physical appearance (skin, hair, shirt, pants, glasses, shoes, etc.), and even those aren't very diverse. Even worse, after this mundane task, you're forced into the even more mundane experience of league play, which is amazingly sleep-inducing. You need to work your way through 7 league games - each comprised of 3 matches - before you can enter the first tournament, and just about every match ends up being identical. You can collect money by winning tournaments, thereby giving you access to new equipment in the Pro Shop - like new balls and clothes - but you have to play for nearly two hours before you can earn a single dime! In fact, you have to pay $5 to enter the league games, and it's not even worth that modest amount.
The problem centers on the lack of depth in the act of bowling. You can select your start point, aim, and even the spin on the ball, but that's easy to do. The core of the gameplay revolves around the bowling meter than shows up when you begin the rolling process: basically, it's similar to what you might find in a golf game. You move the analog back to start the meter moving, push it forward to set the accuracy (within the allotted space), and then release after setting the power on the forward swing. But unlike in most golf games, where the speed and target spots of this meter tends to change based on the situation and equipment, nothing ever seems to change much. You'll be able to nail down 100% accuracy and 100% power within only a few minutes of trying, which almost completely eliminates that gameplay mechanic as a realistic and engaging system. After that, all you really have to worry about is the direction, aiming, and spin, but unfortunately, none of that is really necessary, either. There just isn't any excuse for this, and you'll quickly grow very, very tired of toeing the line.
See, when you watch professional bowlers, they all use the hook shot. The ball skirts along the edge of disaster by the right or left gutter (depending on which hand the player is using) and then hooks, ideally into the "pocket." The pocket is the slot directly between the head pin and the pin to the left or right (again, depending on which direction the hook is coming from). Hitting the pocket gives you the best chance at a strike and hitting the head pin is usually a bad idea; it can often yield the dreaded "goalposts" or 7-10 split. Therefore, considering this, it would make sense that we should attempt a good-lookin' hook in Brunswick Pro Bowling in order to maximize our success, but oddly enough, that's not the case. Why? Because a simple straight ball with no spin, aimed directly into the pocket, will often yield perfectly satisfactory results. Heck, we were able to maintain a 210 average doing this, which is just silly. You would think we shouldn't be able to do this, but as indicated before, the bowling meter is insanely easy to master. Hence, who cares about spin and angle?
There's also some erratic behavior in how the ball flies down the alley. We've seen our straight ball tail a slight bit to the left or right, even after nailing the typical 100% accuracy and power ratings on the meter. This made absolutely no sense, and got quite annoying when trying to pick up spares. But we were never challenged by any of the first half-dozen opponents we faced, and we couldn't speed anything up because we had to watch them bowl every time. In other words, after going through six or seven weeks of league play - that translates to over 20 matches - we were having trouble staying awake. We'd fully understand if we just found the sport boring in general, but we actually like to bowl, which means just about everyone will be yawning after a few hours with this one. The player is forced to spend far too much time in apparently worthless league play matches before being able to enter his/her first tournament, and that only adds to the unbearable tedium.
But at least the approach to the sport makes sense. You have to maintain a certain average throughout, as a falling average will decrease your reputation and a rising average will increase your reputation. You will also accumulate a won-lost record that can put you at the top of the rankings in no time, and new balls will continue to become available at the Pro Shop...provided you're victorious. But the scores of faceless opponents rarely provide a real challenge until much later on, and by that time, there's very little chance you'll still be interested. And besides, even if by some miracle you are, not much is going to change. You can battle with the tricky hook ball all you want, but a straight ball seems to be just as effective throughout the vast majority of the game, and that's wrong on a bunch of different levels. Lastly, there's really nothing else to occupy your time if you grow weary of the barebones career mode, and that's because Brunswick decided not to include anything else.
Ever see those trick bowlers on TV? Bowling through chairs, over little ramps, using two or even three balls at once, etc, etc, etc.? That is crazy cool, and we didn't get any of that, here. League play normally includes teams, but we can't recruit teammates or set up a bowling order. All the customizable character extras, except for the ball, are completely and entirely cosmetic. There's Quick Play and Practice, but those are identical experiences, and the career mode isn't much different. It'll take you no time at all to sample everything this game has to offer, and every bit of sampling will leave you with a very empty feeling inside. Brunswick Pro Bowling is...well, it's there. It's a bowling game with no bite, no teeth, and ultimately, no impact. Budget title or not, we can't imagine how this would be a good buy for anyone, even the most die-hard bowling fan. There just doesn't seem to be any purpose to owning it unless you're an insomniac.
So in the end, there are plenty of great games out there, and without any doubt, this definitely isn't one of them.
9/17/2007 Ben Dutka