So yeah. Bowling.
I have fond memories of bowling - the real thing, I mean. The sparkling lanes, the (too) heavy balls for my childish 10 year-old arms, the pungent, yet familiar smell of those ill-fitted shoes, the strange attraction of those hand-dryers… Fond, all of that. Very fond.
Understand that I’m a father to a magnificent 7 year-old daughter, and, like her father, she likes to play video games. A good girl, mine is. So I’m always on the lookout for new games to play in tandem with her, like we did Child of Light, like we still do Rocket League (against A.I., of course, c’m’on). So, offered the chance to introduce her to the world of bowling, with cute anime characters that go “Ayaaaa!” and “Humph!” to boot, I was ecstatic.
“Crazy Strike Bowling Ex, huh?”, I thought. “Let’s give that one a spin (Bowling pun! Yay!)...
Booting up the game got both me and my daughter thrilled. Smooth anime characters always make me giddy for some reason, and they have a similar effect on my offspring. And I’m afraid that expectation was going to be the best feeling I’d have about the visuals. The game’s graphics look dated. Like, very dated. Movements are clunky at best, and the textures lacking.
But let’s not judge the entire game for its graphical hiccups, shall we? (And bowling alleys are not known for their visual prowess anyway, amirite?) Then again, that’s only true through MY eyes, it seems: my daughter was, for all intent and purposes, under the spell.
Crazy Strike Bowling EX boasts a lineup of 6 characters, each with different stats (Power, Spin, Control). They’re all cute in their own way, of course, because #Japan, and they all have multiple unlockables for the collector in each of us. While most of these consist of cosmetic accessories (yes, schoolgirl, nurse and maid costumes, ye olde staples, are in there), you can also buy new bowling balls with varying attributes (Size, Weight, Friction) and special enhancements, using the ingame currency earned by playing. All of the unlockables require a certain bowler level to be achieved, from amateur all the way up to World Championship.
I wish you could also unlock more voice lines for the characters, though, because they are few, usually no more than monosyllabic grunts or yelps, and get repetitive quickly. “Ayaaaa!” and “Humph!” will only be charming for so long...
The game has four play modes: Classic Exhibition, Crazy Exhibition, Challenge, and Battle. While Classic Exhibition is your standard bowling fare, the “Crazy” variants adds moving or static obstacles to the lanes, which you have to navigate around to get to the pins. While I was at first curious about this mode, even more so since it appears to be the game’s namesake, I was quickly convinced that I wouldn’t play it very long. The obstacles are more annoying than fun to have around, to be honest, rapidly becoming a pain in the balls (bowling balls, of course). Also added in Crazy mode is a special power that each bowler has. You fill your special gauge as you knock down pins, and when it’s full, you activate it by entering a series of buttons, as shown on the screen. Shenanigans ensue, as one would expect, as your ball becomes lightning, or you fill the gutters with ice (preventing those humiliating gutter shots), only to name a few possibilities. Were it not for the obnoxious obstacles, I can honestly say I’d have enjoyed a little “Crazy”.
Challenge mode proposes situations of varying difficulties, from knocking pins in a certain way, to knocking a certain amount in a given time frame. These are actually interesting to do, if only for a test of one’s patience or perseverance.
Lastly, Battle Mode pits two bowlers against one another, on the same lane. Facing each other. I did have a certain (unfair) skill advantage over my daughter, I’ll admit it, so we didn’t get to play this one for long, and I don’t see how playing this against the A.I. could get fun, either. However, I’m sure battling it out bowling-style with a bunch of friends could yield interesting results.
There’s a decent variety of lanes to play on, each with a different, distinct look, ranging from the classic indoor bowling alley you’d expect, to the winter lane, covered in ice, and a farm lane, with grass-green wooden panels. You also unlock more lanes as you play, and it’s surprisingly nice to see different settings for the good ol’ balls and pins.
But how does the game play? Mmmm… Rather poorly, I’m afraid. The mechanics (sans PS Move) are a good idea, reminiscent of Technos’ Super Bowling, for the SNES, circa 1992 (waaaaaaaaaaay back, yes, I’m Deckard Cain old, so stay a while and bowl). You set the position of the bowler, the direction of the throw, and the spin. Then it’s power and… “centering”? And this is where the game is hurting the most, I’d say: I’m not exactly sure what to call the very last step of the throw, but it’s surprisingly hard to get right. You might be set up for the perfect throw, angle and power and all, but if you don’t press the button on that last step at the very moment you’re supposed to, buh-bye ball. Down the gutter. And it certainly doesn’t help one bit that button presses in the power and “centering” steps have quite the delay in responsiveness.
I had a hard time getting two decently “centered” throws in a row, so imagine how hard it was for the raging kid playing with me - and she plays Rocket League with some success, after all, a much more technical, complex game. Ok, yes, time could take care of this - practice, they say, makes perfect - but it’s still disheartening to feel relief instead of joy when you finally get your first strike. It really, really shouldn’t be this hard, especially if this title is meant to be a family-friendly game.
[Suggestion: a Dark Souls screenshot with a bowling ball in the character’s hands, maybe? With text under it saying “Bowling: Crushing souls since before you were born!”]
Soooo… my verdict, then.
Sub-par graphics, clunky execution and the namesake game mode being somewhat frustrating and dampening the fun obviously impact my final score. This makes it a hard game to recommend outside of those who truly bowling, or if you have a very patient child to satisfy. Unlockables and Challenge mode are the two main redeeming factors, in my opinion. However, Classic Exhibition can hold up on its own, if you can get past the frustration of those delays in button presses.
But for now, I’ll stick to real bowling over the virtual thing and ill-fitted shoes over maid costumes.
[Disclaimer: I played this game with the PS4 controller, NOT the PS Move, despite my best efforts to get one and experience the game as it was, I’m guessing, meant to be played. So I will draw no comparison to Wii Bowling, for example. I may update in the future if I get the hardware in question.]
Article by Rémi