Say you had a bowling game strongly rooted in realism that goes through the trouble of including life-like physics, online play and even replicating lane oil patterns for an extra bit of strategy. Now, say you wanted to make it as difficult as possible to actually play. What would you do?
You do a poor job of bringing that game to Kinect, that's what.
Brunswick Pro Bowling has already made an appearance on whatever hardware will provide quarter, including Wii and PlayStation Move, and its appearance on Microsoft's console allows it to explore an altogether different type of motion-based play. Unfortunately, it does an abysmal job of taking advantage of the hardware in pretty much every single aspect it's used.
We'll tell you right now that if you want to enjoy yourself with this game then just grab a few friends and don't do anything outside of Quickplay. Tournaments, rival challenges and whatnot are all buried under a sea of terrible, horrible interface decisions.
Take menu navigation, for instance. While it sticks with the tried-and-true cursor snap and hover over to confirm that many a Kinect game has come to use, we've never had quite as difficult a time with it as here. It doesn't look like FarSight did anything at all to change the layout or design of the menus from its other-platform siblings, as the screens tends to be jam-packed with buttons. The cursor will frequently lag behind where you want it to be, and when it does eventually snap to a selection it may or may not be the one you wanted. Inexplicably, your selected bowler hangs out on the side of the menu with a dead-blank stare mimicking your every move like a creepy marionette doll, which mostly consists of waving your dominant, bowling ball-grasping arm around like a goddamn idiot.
It may sound unfair to hammer this point so much, but it's quite important because you'll spend what feels like 90 percent of your time with the game fuddling about with menus and selections instead of actually bowling. Once you do break through to the lanes, the menu still won't leave you alone. In what we can only imagine to be an intentional way to pile on the frustration, there is no way to auto-skip computer opponents' turns — before each and every one of their first throws, you have to keep the cursor over Skip and wait. Not so bad on paper, but since the computer is apparently a very eager bowler and begins to throw usually just as you've locked in the cursor, making it a scramble against time not to have to sit there for the AI's turn. Some of the tournaments feature up to eight bowlers at once, which amounts to a lot of skipping.
Alright, so the bowling then. When it works, it's simple enough to do and can actually be kind of fun. A small radar helps you to position yourself in the center of the lane, and stepping to the sides shifts your character's lane approach. You can also point your non-throwing arm to bring up an arrow that lets you adjust your angle. When it comes time to throw, you swing your arm back and then forward, and you can put a bit of spin on it by crossing your body with your arm, similar to how you would in real life. The only real problems that arise when bowling are a matter of sensitivity: pointing to adjust the angle feels too loose, so you occasionally have a hard time lining up your shot just how you want it, and since actually releasing the ball is up to the software to figure out there are times when your character pretty much just stands there holding the ball like a dumbbell after a throw and completely shattering immersion.
There are some nice little touches that capture the spirit of the lanes, like the cheesy little clips that play whenever you strike or spare, as well as the inclusion of things like neon bowling. For those seeking more strategy and depth, there are numerous oil patterns to bowl on as well that determine how the ball behaves, which is actually pretty interesting to tinker with. Physics feel spot-on as well.
Sadly, that's about it for nice things we could muster up to say about Brunswick Pro Bowling. The characters are generic and slightly weird-looking, there are about three songs looped ad infinitum all equally dull, and then of course there's the plethora of unavoidable, soul-crushing menu problems. There can be small amounts of fun wrung out of multiplayer with human opponents (we were unable to find a single match online, so don't count on that), but it's the kind of fun you get from watching a bad movie together.
Bowling has been something of a motion control litmus test ever since the Wii — and pack-in Wii Sports — hit the tail end of 2006 with its super-simple take on the sport. That game worked so well as a motion vehicle because of its close-enough paraphrase of "swing arm, release ball" that anyone could pick up a Remote and have immediate fun. Brunswick Pro Bowling for Kinect, on the other hand, is an emotional rollercoaster devoid of fun that starts in optimism, takes a quick turn through confusion and anger only to end in a whimper, all the while doing a terrible job of playing to its hardware's strengths. We suggest you stick to Kinect Sports.