Despite the appearance of The Legend of Zelda and a number of other exciting games, when it comes right down to it most Nintendo Wii early adopters had the most fun waving their arms and jumping around while playing Wii Sports. The surprise hit of Nintendo's newest console was Wii Bowling, a bowling game that perfectly showed off what the Wii's motion-sensing controls were capable of. Here is a game that everybody could get behind, it's based on a sport everybody enjoys and manages to get the feel of bowling down perfectly. This is the kind of game even non-gamers could get into; the perfect way for Nintendo to broaden the market.
It was while I played Wii Bowling for the 300th time that I started to wonder when somebody would take this relatively simple mini-game and flesh it out into a full game complete with a career mode and multiple venues. Almost a full year later somebody has done exactly that, Crave Entertainment has introduced a brand new Wii game that adds a level of realism and depth to the otherwise fun Wii Bowling mini-game. This is Brunswick Pro Bowling, the Wii's first attempt at recreating the serious sport of professional bowling. While this new bowling game will probably not replace Wii Bowling's pick up and play ease of use, it does feature all the depth and extra content you wanted from that Wii Sports mini-game.
If it wasn't for the Wii's motion control then chances are nobody would look twice at a bowling game. Let's be realistic, although there have been dozens of bowling games in the past (from Neo Geo Bowling to Ten Pin Alley on the original PlayStation), most games based on this sport are regarded with the same enthusiasm as sitting in the waiting room at the dentist's office. For much of our history bowling video games are nothing more than something to do when you have no other video games to play; that thing you do when you don't want to go outside and play but all your really good games are someplace else. But thanks to the Wii remote that stereotype has been shattered, all of a sudden Bowling is the game to play. Forget about first-person shooting or role-playing, these days everybody wants to put on ugly shoes and get their own heavy ball to throw at some unsuspecting pins. Bowling is suddenly cool again.
On paper Brunswick Pro Bowling sounds like it's going to be the greatest bowling simulator ever made, it takes everything we loved about Wii Bowling and combines it with a lengthy single-player career mode, cool multiplayer support, a bunch of new levels and a graphic overhaul that actually shows off what the Wii is capable of. For the most part Crave was able to get most of those aspects right, but there are just a few problems that keep this game from being the ultimate Wii bowling experience.
Brunswick Pro Bowling is split up into a couple different modes, both of which are pretty self explanatory. Up first we have the Quick Play mode, which allows you to jump into a game without any fuss. This is also the way to get multiple bowlers into the same event, the game offers up to four-player bowling using just one Wii control. Better yet, Quick Play allows you to customize how you want to bowl, giving you two different options and the ability to play wherever you want.
Gamers who want something a little more substantial should check out the Career mode, where you get to create a character and take him/her through a series of games where you play against the computer to win money and ultimately become the greatest bowler the world has ever seen. Unlike Wii Bowling, Brunswick Pro Bowling has you actually going up against a computer-controlled opponent who wants that prize money as much as you. The object here is simple, you are trying to win games and work your way up from the amateur league all the way up to the professional league.
Unfortunately it's in the career mode where things start to fall apart. Going into Brunswick Pro Bowling I felt pretty confident that I could take on the entire bowling community; after all, I was a force to be reckoned with when it came to bowling in Wii Sports. So I skipped right past the practice mode because I knew I had what it takes to earn all kinds of money and be the best in the world. I was wrong. You would think that the first few computer opponents you meet would take it easy on you, what with this being the first time you actually play the game and all. But they didn't take it easy on me ... in fact; the computer-controlled opponent got a strike in the very first frame. And the opponents only got harder as I picked myself up and fought to become the greatest bowler ever.
It didn't take long before I realized that I actually needed to practice my technique before I was going to start winning some of these tournaments. It's in the practice mode when you start to understand the game's major shortcomings, Brunswick Pro Bowling just doesn't control very well. That's not to say that with a lot of practice you can't be punishing each and every one of the computer opponents, but the game has some quirks that keep it from living up to its potential.
The first problem is that your character moves extremely slow and the motion you make never seems to sync up with what the character on screen is doing. For the first few games this actually threw me off, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to bring my wind up back as slow as the character on screen or just ignore him altogether. I chose to ignore him and that seemed to improve my game, even if it is a bit jarring to see your character still animating after you've completed your throw.
Another problem I had was that the motion sensing is nowhere near as forgiving as it was in Wii Bowling. I suppose that actually makes a lot of sense; this is a simulator that is trying to make things as realistic as possible. But let me tell you, the control is a little difficult to get used to at first. I'm not afraid to admit that I was lucky to knock down one pin the first few times I played the game. But with some luck you will learn how to throw in a straight line and get the occasional strike or spare.
But even when you've gotten used to the way the game controls you still have to deal with a few of its other quirks. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to hook the ball without going out of your way. Eventually you may get the timing just right for this and other complex bowling moves, but all this comes after frame after frame of frustration. If you can get past the steep learning curve then you'll find that the game actually has a lot of depth, but I wonder how many gamers will simply throw up their hands (along with the Wii remote) in disgust long before they get the timing just right.
The nice thing about Brunswick Pro Bowling is that you aren't stuck playing the same boring lane in every round, as you progress through the game you will actually discover a bunch of new venues that are, for the most part, actually pretty interesting looking. You may start at some boring mom and pop bowling alley, but soon enough you'll be hitting the lanes in Texas, Japan, Hawaii, Nevada, Ireland, France, Greece and other exotic locations. Even though you're still looking at a bowling lane frame after frame, each of the different venues has a different atmosphere. It's also worth mentioning that the different lanes have different oil patterns (which you can check by holding the "2" button). These oil patterns change up how each of the lanes feel, so it's important to pay attention so that you know where to throw the ball and in what direction.
Perhaps it's because the graphics in Wii Sports are so plain and sparse, but the graphics in Brunswick Pro Bowling are actually pretty good. The character models look decent enough and the lanes are all nicely detailed (with realistic reflections and other effects). Brunswick Pro Bowling won't impress you like Metroid Prime 3 or Super Mario Galaxy, but the visuals won't turn you away from this sports game. Overall the game's presentation is very good; I just wish they could have worked out some of the quirks associated with the control.
Brunswick Pro Bowling had the potential to be one of the best bowling games of all time; it has a deep single-player career mode, good graphics and enough locations to keep you from getting bored. Unfortunately this game is marred by the poor control and unforgiving difficulty level. Hopefully Crave can iron out these problems and deliver a better bowling game a year or two down the road, but for now it's hard to view this as anything but a missed opportunity. If you try hard enough you can still have a lot of fun with this game, just don't go in expecting it to have the same pick up and play quality that made Wii Bowling such a hit.
A year after Wii Sports hits it big Crave Entertainment is here to bring you a deep bowling simulator. While the game looks good and has enough single-player content to keep you going for several weeks, the game's poor controls and unforgiving difficulty pulls the whole package down. Brunswick Pro Bowling is a good attempt, but Crave is going to need to fix some of the problems before I can recommend this game.