Funny as it may be, bowling represents a milestone in my life. When I was about 13, I joined a league at a bowling alley near my neighborhood in Buffalo (Reckio's Lanes—the same place in which Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci bowled in the indie film, Buffalo 66). Every Saturday morning my friends and I bowled, played arcade games and ate french fries with gravy. It was one of the first times in our lives that we were really able to go out and have fun without being reminded that we were kids. At hockey games, our dads were always in the seats behind us. At our baseball games, parents were everywhere. It wasn't until we started bowling at Reckio's that we first truly felt what it was like to be adults. We made our own decisions, we spent our own money and we could swear out loud without having to worry about being grounded. For a bunch of junior high kids, it was very liberating.
It didn't last long for me, however. That same year my family moved to Kentucky. I didn't even get to finish the season, and I was cheated out of the free bowling ball Reckio's gave to all league members at Christmas time. I haven't been in a bowling league since. My parents are an altogether different story. They continue to add to the dust-ridden collection of trophies they started in while bowling in Buffalo, and part of my job at the newspaper where I work involves updating the standings of the local bowling leagues here in Henderson—in which my parents' names pop-up regularly.
I think this epitomizes the reason so many people enjoy bowling. It's one of the few sports anyone can play— regardless of age, gender or skill level. Unlike baseball or golf—in which only a select few can experience the thrill of hitting a home run or sinking a hole-in-one—anyone who's ever picked up a bowling ball knows what it feels like to roll a strike. It's for this reason that video games based on the sport are so hard to do. Who would want to roll strikes in a video game when you can go to the nearest bowling alley and do it for real? A video game has to offer something more —something beyond the normal bowling experience.
Brunswick Circuit Pro Bowling 2 (Brunswick 2) strives for that larger-than-life approach, but it can't get past the fact bowling just doesn't generate much excitement unless you're directly participating. Bowling is repetitious by nature, and there's little this game can do to change that. Making matters worse, this game also adheres somewhat to network television's perception of the sport, which showcases unapproachable personalities doing their thing in ultra-exclusive bowling establishments. The game does all it can to negate these somber vibes by throwing in some much-needed humor—through funky music and odd-ball (over-the-top?) character designs. The game also realizes there are only so many times you can watch a ball roll down the lane before boredom causes your brain to deflate inside your skull. Brunswick 2 makes practical use of its solid 3-D engine, and gets much mileage out of the numerous camera angles and quick replays, which not only cover the action from every conceivable perspective, but also shows off the game's superb physics model.
Brunswick 2 does a commendable job in its effort to energize the sport, but production issues turn an apparent strike into an ugly split. The load times in this game are absolutely ridiculous. Not only must the game load in clumsy fashion between every frame, but the CD is also laboriously accessed even when you're changing the color of a character's shirt! This can put you right to sleep during a single game, never mind an entire tournament. There are also several glitches that stop the game dead in its tracks, and action routinely slows to a crawl from the simultaneous motions of a bowler and the power-accuracy meters. This isn't exactly exemplary of on-screen commotion—it's bowling for God's sake. I expect a little slow-down when I play Gunstar Heroes, not bowling.
One other thing that has to be mentioned are the unappealing graphics, most notably the grotesque character models. I can live with the simply-rendered environments, and the motion-capture is quite good, but the bowlers, visually, are hideous. I admire the bizarre, retro look this game is going for, and it's great to able to construct a bowler of varying size and color, but the create-a-bowler option might as well be a create-the-perfect-dork option. Even with all of the adjustable attributes at your disposal, there's nothing you can do to make a bowler that's even remotely attractive. At first, it's kind of funny bowling with freaks that wear hot pink slacks and Afros, but staring at these uglies for too long can be really depressing.
It may be hard to believe, but even with all of these problems, I still found Brunswick 2 to be a very good bowling simulation. There's no shortage of options or customizable game modes. Among the more notable are the Skins Game, the Skills Challenge and the fun Amateur and Pro Career modes. Of course, you can also compete against friends, and even bowl amidst psychedelia with the Cosmic Bowl option. Bottom line: You know you're playing a comprehensive bowling game when the balls are ranked according to how much oil they displace when traveling down a lane. Brunswick 2 didn't exactly rekindle memories of playing with my childhood friends at Reckio's, and it's certainly no substitute for the real thing, but it's about as good a bowling simulation as one could hope for.