Version tested: Wii
Let's get the inevitable comparison out of the way. Brunswick Pro Bowling for the Wii is a bit like the bowling game in Wii Sports, in that it's a bowling game for the Wii. It's not as good though.
Actually Brunswick Pro Bowling is more like Rockstar Table Tennis, at least in theory. It's meant to be a realistic sports sim which is easy to pick up and play, but offers more depth for longer term players. It's not as good though.
In fact, it's not even as good as an evening in AMF Lewisham, although you're less likely to leave with athlete's foot. Or stab wounds. Or the autograph of someone you saw on Jeremy Kyle. The point is, it's not very good.
The problems begin with the visuals. This may be a Wii game but that's no excuse for all the jaggedy edges, terrible reflections, poorly animated characters and balls which seem to float rather than roll down the lanes.
There are 10 environments, all based on real bowling alleys. None of them are based on AMF Lewisham. They look pretty much the same, i.e. badly rendered and uninteresting.
The game's Career mode lets you customise your character choosing gender, hairstyle, body shape and the like. The options are pretty limited. You can't just use your Mii, because this is supposed to be a realistic-looking game. It's a shame the characters look about as realistic as that sculpture of Lionel Richie the blind girl made.
Mo' money, mo' hats
In Career mode, you can participate in bowling tournaments over the course of a year. Wins earn you cash to buy extra stuff such as balls and clothing (all officially licensed by Brunswick) and boost your reputation. You also get experience points which you can use to build up your arm strength, accuracy, stamina and hook control. Again, in theory.
Career mode is no fun for two reasons. Firstly, to play through all the tournaments would take an actual year, or at least would feel like that. This is because you have to watch every bowl your opponent makes with no option to skip. It's all made extra-tedious thanks to the super-slow animations.
Secondly, the bowling mechanic just doesn't work properly. It's a two-stage process which begins with aiming. A white line appears on the lane, and you select which direction it's pointing in using the Wii remote. This determines the path the ball will follow. Which seems a bit odd - shouldn't your arm do that?
Next you need to throw the ball. Holding B you bring the remote up to your chest, then swing and let go. Then you stand still and watch as the character on-screen throws the ball down the lane very slowly, even though you've already finished your move. Then you watch as the ball rolls very slowly towards the pins.
Because your character doesn't perform moves at the same time as you it doesn't feel like you're in control. In fact, twisting the remote as you throw does have an effect, and you can hook the ball left or right down the alley. But it's hard to connect your moves with those on screen, and the results you get are not consistent.
Then there are oil patterns. We had no idea oil played such an important role in bowling, apart from that time someone got bottled with a litre of Mazola stolen from behind the kebab counter at AMF Lewisham. Apparently bowling lanes have different oil patterns, though, and they affect how balls roll. Plus patterns can change over the course of the game.
You can view the oil patterns in Brunswick Pro Bowling by pressing a button on the remote. In the early tournaments, you might see a simple purple rectangle appear on the lane surrounded by a green border. You will have no idea what this means. You will surmise it has something to do with how you should throw the ball, but you won't know how you're supposed to adjust your technique.
The manual's not much help: "Use [the patterns] as a guide to how you should prepare as well as what Brunswick bowling balls to use for that pattern." There's no information on preparation or which balls are best for what. There is some stuff about "forgiving patterns" being fine for straight shots while others require "specific hooks", but there's no explanation of how you perform these hooks.
Practice does make things easier, but it's a case of trial and error rather than working things out strategically. As a result, there's no sense of steady progress or achievement.
The multiplayer mode should be a main attraction of Brunswick Pro Bowling but the gameplay mechanics aren't any less shonky than in single-player, so it's not. Up to four people can play, taking it in turns to roll balls down lanes very slowly and try to care about oil patterns. There's a range of characters to choose from, all with their own stats, but they don't really seem to perform any differently. Multiplayer games quickly become a competition to see who's the best at working out what on earth you're supposed to do exactly. .
To summarise, Brunswick Pro Bowling is not very good. It's too complex for a party game; you try explaining the importance of ball choice and oil patterns to small children or drunk people. It's not rewarding or consistent enough to be a good sports sim, and it certainly doesn't look like one. Sorry Brunswick, but you can keep your officially licensed balls; we're off down the Wii Sports bowling alley. But only because AMF Lewisham's shut.
3 / 10