When it comes to simulating sports in video games, there is always a fine line for developers to tread between realism and accessibility. Hardcore fans of a given sport can criticise games that fail to live up to the real thing, while more casual players just want to be able to jump into an experience and start playing. Brunswick Pro Bowling caters more to the former, showing little desire to straddle the line. Forgoing a simple arcade experience for a brutally demanding simulation, the game sometimes borders on masochistic, its motion controls taking so much into account that any loose-wristed throw or delayed release earns you a slow moving ball that won't knock back more than a few pins. If you're lucky, it won't meander into the gutter.
The two control options for the game, SIXAXIS and Move, both have you setting up the angle and position of your throw before using motion controls to pitch the ball down the lane. Gripping the SIXAXIS horizontally certainly feels more real-to-life than the vertical Move controller, but the Move is better at picking up your spin and registering the speed of your throw. Much like the bowling in Wii Sports, you hold the trigger down while swinging back the controller and release it as you swing forward again. There are also different sized bowling balls, each one having a different weight and spin to it. Even the smallest mistakes in timing can ruin your shot though, and if you release the trigger too late or add spin too your throw too early you'll pay for it.
The difficulty of the game can sometimes make the whole experience feel rather unmanageable, making it hard to discern what you did wrong to earn a gutter ball and what you did right to get a strike. In its effort to deliver a true-to-life sport game, Brunswick forgets that some players don't have the patience to stick out such a steep learning curve. While the uncompromising controls certainly add difficulty, they will also turn certain players off, and Brunswick is definitely not a game you can cheat. There is no way you'll be playing this one from the couch.
Your best bet is to find a few shots that work for you and stick with them, refining them into better, more reliable throws. When you are able to pull off a strike, it earns you a grand feeling of accomplishment, knowing that your time of release, angle and spin came together perfectly. To make scoring strikes and spares all the sweeter, the game treats you to one of those classically tacky animations that run on the monitors above real life bowling lanes. Upon victory, a screen pops up in the corner to show you a congratulatory clip of UFOs zapping away pins, people shooting rocket balls down the lane or a sky diver being saved by his "spare" parachute.
Another subtle aspect of the sport Brunswick takes into account is lane slickness, which is represented via an infra-red-like view that shows the player the oily layout of the lane. These slick spots are crucial when aiming up shots, and add a nice element of strategy to setting up throws. The slippery centre of the lanes allow you to send a ball cruising in the direction you desire whilst spinning, only catching on the wood once its off the oil. If all goes well, the lane catches the spin of the ball, veering in the direction you planned. Pulling this off takes some practice, but finally getting it to work is quite rewarding, especially if you've been practising the shot for a half hour in Quick Play mode.
Quick Play mode lets you jump into a round with one to four players, and controllers can be either shared or each player can be designated a controller, Move and SIXAXIS alike. Online Matches plays much like Quick Play mode, only you don't watch each other bowl, the score updating as you play instead. Aside from these two modes, the game also includes a Career Mode that lets you choose from a bevy of bowlers with pre-packaged stats, with some bowlers having good power, and others better aim or spin control. Improvements to your selected character can be purchased with money won from winning tournaments, and that cash can then be used to unlock new, higher paying tournaments by paying the “entry fee.”
One mode that really adds longevity to the title is the Spare Challenge mode. This segments pits you against difficult pin positions and tasks you with picking up the spare in as few attempts as possible. It can be played alone or competitively, and some of the shots are extremely hard to pull off. This mode serves as a good way to practise your spins and acclimate yourself to the oily layout of the lanes, and is a good way to change up the experience after a few regular rounds with friends.
The graphics aren't bad, and the players look smooth though somewhat generic. It would have been nice if the players became transparent when bowling, as their bodies block the view of the lane: as the game takes the angle of your throw into account, it can make aiming problematic. The settings do a good job at capturing the universal cheese that are bowling alleys: dark wooden scenery, pool tables, jukeboxes and bar stools – even techno bowling – is all there. The game fills out the background scenery with random rustlings and ambient chatter from patrons too, replete with an incredibly unmoving light rock soundtrack.
One of the Move's most alluring characteristics is the promise of true 1:1 movements, and sadly with Brunswick this does not materialise. It would have been nice to have the option to twist the controller left and right and see your bowler's hand do the same, but the game instead employs a strict gesture-based control scheme that feels a bit too demanding for its own good. The difficult controls can be overcome though, and those who stick out the steep learning curve are rewarded with a surprisingly deep amount of strategy. There is loads of content for players to explore too, the most challenging of which is sniping out loose points in the Spare Challenge mode. If you are looking for a challenge, or simply want a bowling game you can't cheat, this one's for you. If you already have a bowling game in your library you're happy with, or if you simply want to have an accessible bowling game to fire up when company comes over, you may want to look elsewhere.