Game Review: High Velocity Bowling (PS3)

Authored December 2007, Originally appeared at GameSpot

This downloadable game implements SIXAXIS motion controls to simulate the motions of real bowling. Although this game will suffer many (and many ignorant) comparison to Wii Sports Bowling the games are really in two different (bowling) leagues.  Where Wii Sports excels at being a “kiddy” game High Velocity Bowling takes a much more realistic tack and provides many more options for deeper play.  A large selection of balls and throwing styles are available.  You can even review the wax pattern on the boards if you wish.

The Inevitable Comparison

The game is both more complex than Wii Sports and simpler in some ways. In short the method of play in Wii Sports is 1) postion your bowler left to right using buttons 2) hold the button and swing the controller, letting go of the button when you want to let go of the ball. The speed of the swing controls the speed of the ball while the “twist” of the controller controls the spin of the ball.

In High Velocity Bowling there are three steps: 1) position your bowler left-to-right by tilting the controller 2) aim your ball left-to-right by tilting the controller 3) when your bowler starts their approach swing your arm, the force of your swing determines speed of the ball (which is released automatically). You can control spin with the trigger buttons on the controller.

This does means that the controller is held in a novel way: you wrap your hand around the middle of the controller. Thumb is on the “X” button (“Down” button for lefties) while your pinky and index finger rest on the triggers. This configuration seems odd at first but is remarkably comfortable after a while. Very small hands will have problems however (my five-year-old daughter has trouble, but my nine-year-old son has none).

Personally I find this scheme easier than the Wii (much easier for controlling spin), but not so much that makes any real odds. The controls are tight and well balanced without being “twitchy”.

More Fun with Friends

There are some missed opportunities. For example you need to press a button to “Switch hands” (from right to left handed) when simply noticing whether you pressed “X” or “Down” to set your position would indicate that easily enough. Also the scheme for setting up multiple players seems more cumbersome than it needs to be and we’ve still not discovered how to use multiple controllers.

In what’s becoming a PS3 hallmark the game makes use of impressively realistic physics. The graphics, in general, have a light-hearted 1950’s neon style that fits with the tone very well. Character animations, sound effects and music are adequate, but nothing special. Of note is the fact that you can (a first for the PS3) choose to play any music from your hard-drive (but frustratingly not from network media servers) instead.

You start off with two, utterly average, bowlers and a couple of balls (different balls have better spin). You can earn other bowlers by beating them and several more are available for purchase from the PSN store. Other challenges let you unlock new clothing and balls. The bowlers come with mini-biographies and a small collection of reaction phrases which serve to give them nicely distinct, but not remotely deep, personalities.

There are a bunch of single player challenges ranging from beating other bowlers, to multi-game tournaments and even “trick” challenges recreating some of the crazier bowling tricks (ramps, chairs on the lanes, the “Flying Eagle”, etc). It’s easy to spend several hours engrossed in just getting the subtleties of the controls (learning to throw a reliable spin takes a while, just like in real life).

Final Thoughts

Of course the real fun is playing with others and despite the clunky game set-up interface this is a blast. Nothing super special mind you – this is realistic, physics-based bowling played by bowling rules – but still a blast.  We’ve been playing a game or two – my wife, son and I – each night for the past week after my daughter goes to bed. A game with three people takes about 15-20 minutes tops. My son, the current champion, is averaging about 150-170 a game.

As noted there are alternative bowlers (many with a marked adult sense of humor) available from the PSN store front.  In addition there are new alleys, ball-packs (many with holiday themes) and trick-shot packs released regularly as well.  This has truly been one of the better-supported games, in terms of DLC, available on the PS3.

The game does everything it sets out to do well although not always as well as it might. But none of the problems really affect gameplay and while you’re playing it’s truly fun to play. Considering the depth of the subject matter (this IS bowling after all) and the cost there’s a surprisingly amount of depth here as well. In the bargain it demonstrates a novel (and I hope soon to be mimicked) use of the SIXAXIS.

Especially considering the cost this is really a no-brainer purchase. It’s a good way to spend a dull afternoon and a great party game.

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