With the buzz for PlayStation Move now in full swing it is worth remembering that, through the technology incorporated in the SIXAXIS controller, the PS3 has had motion-sensing controller support since launch. The original version of SCE's High Velocity Bowling (HVB) was released a year later and it demonstrated one of the most convincing displays of SIXAXIS control available.
With a Move-enabled full price Blu-ray retail version of HVB currently in US stores (with all paid DLC included as well as over twenty characters), it should be noted that this review is of the UK's PS Store version, which costs £6.29. A free download key is available on the UK's PSN to enable Move support, so it is cheap and easy to set up HVB to be ready for Move in the UK. HVB is also available on the US's PSN for $9.99, but only PlayStation Plus subscribers currently have access to the Move patch. It is a perplexing situation, but in simple terms everyone can play HVB using Move, except for gamers in the US who own the download version of the game, but do not subscribe to PS Plus.
Therefore, it is worth considering that gamers have been mastering the intricacies of the SIXAXIS controls, bowling strikes and motion-controlling their way to 200+ scores for three years. By gripping SIXAXIS vertically, with the shoulder buttons facing the TV, it replicates the motion of bowling successfully. The only challenging aspect of the SIXAXIS controls is having to hold R2 or L2 to create spin on the ball, especially as this involves having to reach down to L2 with your little finger.
For both SIXAXIS and Move controls there are four steps to releasing the ball and finding your perfect bowling line, involving setting your target before "bowling" with a smooth motion to hopefully rattle some pins. A green gauge is provided to indicate a 'perfect power' level to aim towards, however if this is passed the meter flashes red and abruptly buzzes at you to scorn your over-enthusiasm and scoff at the subsequent loss of accuracy in your throw.
A casual player can easily take part in the game and may even chance upon a random strike. However, for anyone who has invested time into the intricacies of HVB's controls, competing against a player who takes this approach is about as much fun as playing against someone who repeatedly unleashes leg swipes in Super Street Fighter IV. To truly master this game you must search for a variety of sweet spots to connect with the ten pins, that when hit result in a consistent strike. The only way to achieve this is, naturally, through practice and learning the skill of adding spin to the ball.
However, SCE's San Diego Studio have left this vital element of the controls in the hands of gamers to learn: it is not properly explained during the in-game tutorial and it was not hinted at during their trailer to showcase HVB's Move controls. You apply spin at the end of your swing with a twist of your wrist, rather like adding after-touch in a retro football game, with how far you twist determining the amount of spin applied, indicated by another on-screen meter. By applying spin in combination you can explore the full extent of the controls to become consistent at achieving a high score in the game. It takes practice, determination, is not second nature and can be frustrating, but it is this process that makes the game fun and satisfying to play.
It seems that San Diego Studio has been stubborn in its attention to detail, right down to the oil coating pattern on the lane, so has designed the spin element of the controls to be appropriately demanding. It does not feel natural in the same way as the technique for spinning the ball in Wii Sport's 'Bowling', but it is easier to learn than the SIXAXIS's shoulder button controls. Failure to master the spin will limit your progress and is only advisable if you are sharing your motion controller with three other equally unskilled players, during a local multiplayer game in HVB's 'Let's Bowl' mode.
Online gamers gravitate towards the Gutter Ballers and Beginner Rama sections, but when this includes playing a gamer who bowls eleven strikes in a row, you realise that you're not competing with amateurs. The single player 'Challenge Mode' is broken down into three sections and you must succeed in all three to unlock the next step in the game's progression ladder. 'Head 2 Head' is the most important, because beating its six extra AI opponents unlocks each of their improved stats (Ball Weight, Spin, Speed, Accuracy), and ultimately being able to control Hiro has an impact on your bowling prowess.
However, you must still rank first in 'Tournament' mode (which by the third Gatdula Open involves consistently bowling a 170 score), as well as achieving a blue star participation achievement in 'Trick Shots'. Thankfully participating in 'Trick Shots' is not difficult; perhaps SCE realised that challenges such as curving a ball through the legs of a foldaway steel chair, to spin it back in for a strike, are especially troublesome. 'Trick Mode' is diverse and fun, playing like an entirely new game, but demands more than any other section that you master the spin controls.
Graphically, HVB includes stereoscopic 3D support, has suitably shiny lanes and a mixture of backgrounds, but its character models are awkward and ugly, plus its depiction of clichéd personality stereotypes are not very appealing. The audio effects are strong, but the speech is inane. The mix of boppy 50's rock 'n roll tunes or jazzy lounge music is also cheesy and irritating. If you do not want to feel like you are taking a ride in a Dawn of the Dead lift hit the Select button, turn the music down and then head to the XMB to play along to your own tunes.
Bowling is a fun sport when translated into a video game and PSN High Velocity Bowling is well priced to offer depth to its content, including a fun showdown during a local four player competition. However, it is most compelling when a gamer takes time to master its control intricacies, for either SIXAXIS or PlayStation Move support. By investing time to rehearse applying spin to the ball, it is possible to achieve consistency in hitting the sweet spot for a strike. It is HVB's focus on the player's skill that makes it a bowling game for gamers and it must be mastered to achieve the high scores needed to reign supreme in single player 'Challenge Mode' and in online matches. Its graphics and music will not bowl you over, but the more practice you put in, the more rewarding the game becomes. HVB bowls a good game; the ball is now in Brunswick Pro Bowling's lane to impress.