Smash Bowling 3D, the latest from Big Bass Arcade developer Big John Games, feels like a proof-of-concept for a potentially great bowling game. While the bowling simulation is fun while it lasts, the bare bones presentation and lack of variety in game modes ultimately bring down the experience. Big John Games has touted Smash Bowling 3D as an expansion of their growing line of "sports" titles, and while this is a promising first step, a more complete package will be necessary if they hope to corner the eShop bowling market.
The player will be prompted to create a profile the first time the game is started. Profiles track players' progress, "career statistics" and trophies. Profiles are not customisable beyond names. It would have been fun to be able to select an avatar or select a favourite alley and ball; the lack of profile options is made all the more noticeable when selecting "Edit Profile" and being presented two options: rename or delete.
There is a little more variety when actually playing. Two very different control options are available. The first uses the Touch Screen and presents four shot setting sliders to set with the stylus: Position, Power, Aim and Spin (for non-bowlers, “spin” determines the angle of the ball after being thrown). After setting up the shot, a top-down view of the ball appears on the touch screen with a line based on the shot settings. Tracing the stylus on the line determines how well the ball is going to adhere to the shot selections. The touch controls work adequately, but the player is often told “too slow” or “too fast” when tracing the line, with no explanation of why or demonstration of the correct speed.
Button control, meanwhile, is more immersive. Players still determine the position, power, aim and spin, but position is selected by the D-pad with the other options meter-based. This method proved more fun, since it felt like more “playing” was involved. Finding the perfect shot and landing a strike is quite satisfying.
Players can choose which alley they’d like to play in and select from several different balls. While only a few alleys and balls are available at first, more are quickly unlocked as the player hits strikes, picks up splits and meets various other requirements. There are a total of 14 different alleys and 20 different balls, and many of them are unlocked in tandem with achieving trophies. The different alleys have unique backdrops, with a few based on Big John Games' past titles, like Thorium Wars, Coaster Creator 3D and Kart Krashers, that will no doubt make gamers smile.
Ultimately, though, the differences in alleys and balls are strictly aesthetic. All balls have the same size and “weight,” and alleys only vary by backdrop. And Career, Smash Bowling’s primary mode, isn’t a full campaign with a set progression — players simply choose the alley and ball and play through a game. Career statistics are recorded, but there’s no gameplay pay-off. Local turn-based single-3DS multiplayer should extend the playability a bit.
The visuals and music are inoffensive but unmemorable. Background music is generic, while the graphics are bland and don’t do much to push the 3DS’s capabilities. The use of 3D deepens the alleys significantly, but can also be disorienting if not looking directly into the screen’s sweet spot.
Smash Bowling 3D is not a bad game; there's just not much to it. With deeper gameplay and more attention to detail this could be a very successful franchise. Players will have fun collecting trophies and unlocking balls and alleys, but the experience is over too soon. Big John Games has proven that they can create strong experiences for the 3DS, and this is the start of a solid, promising new franchise.