What's not to like about bowling? The feel of manoeuvring the ball in your hands as you launch it down the lane, the crack of the pins, the fun of going out with your buddies or your team, trying on a pair of communal shoes – ok, not that last one. It was only a matter of time before Crave's Brunswick Pro Bowling series made it to the 3DS, but can it recapture what makes the sport enjoyable?
The name of the game here is realism. The physics engine at its foundation lets you analyse the lane's oil pattern and choose from a selection of balls with alternate characteristics that will hook and curve in different ways as they travel toward the pins. It's complex enough to satisfy a pro, but you can still get by easily if that stuff goes over your head.
There are two control options: a classic arcade-style setup and a stylus-based mode. The former is simple but preferable, having you position your bowler on the line before angling with an old-fashioned timing method. An arrow swings slowly from the left to the right, and you have to hit the A button at the correct moment to point in your direction of choice before you set the power. As your avatar sets out for the throw, you can use the Circle Pad to adjust the hook, which responds sensitively enough to make this a challenge while still proving satisfying. Though it feels somewhat out of place in a game that seems to pride itself on a down-to-earth simulation of the sport, it's a lot of fun, combining simplicity with arcade-like dynamism and finishing it off with the strategy of offsetting your throw with a hook.
The other option, Stylus Mode, simply underperforms. You'll manually set up your bowler's position and angle, then draw a line along an arrow on the bottom screen to aim and hook your ball while the speed at which you do so determines your power setting. It just doesn't feel organic enough, especially when it comes to the hook. In real life and in the sport's motion-controlled game variants, you perform this by twisting your wrist and arm a certain way while throwing the ball. Simply drawing a line to direct it feels hollow, and it's difficult to accomplish with much precision. If only FarSight had come up with an option combining stylus aiming with Circle Pad wrist-twisting for the hook, or some similar variation, the game would feel much more satisfying in simulating the sensation of bowling.
You can dive right in with Quick Play, practise with custom pin line-ups or enter Career Mode, with its league challenges, tournaments and rivals to defeat. There's a sense of progression and continuity here, especially as you earn money to spend in the Pro Shop on Brunswick-licensed gear and clothing, balls and wrist guards. It adds a good sense of customisability to the game to have the option of unlocking these items, and really helps out in the replay value department. There's also the Spares Challenge mode, which has you knock down increasingly tricky arrangements of pins and makes for an entertaining way to pass the time. Some ways to play allow you to compete or bowl on the same league team with up to three friends, but you'll have to share a 3DS and hand it off between you as there are no Download Play or multi-cart wireless options, an unfortunate downside.
The game includes six venues that authentically recreate real alleys, though none particularly stand out from the group. Also true to life are the corny videos that play whenever you score big, but they're horribly compressed here. Some features of previous Brunswick games are unfortunately absent as well, including character creation and bowler fatigue.
The graphics are actually pretty impressive and detailed, and the 3D effect is subtle but helps create a sense of realism. There's unfortunately an odd dark tint to it all, however, even on the highest brightness setting. The music is unmemorable and repetitive, and would it have killed the developers to add some sound effects from the other lanes and bowlers around you? A little atmosphere could have gone a long way. We must also state that the menus are somewhat cumbersome, with long load times and some odd switching between stylus and button control. A good example of their unintuitive design comes with changing out your ball and toggling the view of the lane's oil pattern before you step up to the line. You'll click a button to go to set up, then another within that submenu to perform the two actions, your ball appearing out of the way on the top screen with only a number to represent its stats instead of letting you know which is which in greater detail, as in the pro shop. But what makes it feel so odd is that each menu choice is mapped to a button on the 3DS. Why you have to go into a submenu to have the ability to press X or Y to change your settings is beyond us, and having to pause to navigate through this can really take you out of the game.
Brunswick Pro Bowling combines realistic physics with an entertaining arcade-style control method, but the stylus-based alternative is lacking and the game feels somewhat hollow without a scheme that better simulates the feeling of actually playing the sport. All in all it makes for a decent package, with its sense of progression and Pro Shop items to buy, but it's ultimately nothing special.