Virtual Bowling, PS3-Style
Were one to take the game at face value, it would probably look like Sony completely missed the whole reason why Wii Sports' bowling is such a hit: it's intentionally dead simple. Look a little deeper, though, and you'll notice that the complexity built into HVB is the very reason why it's not just a blatant clone of what you'd get on the Wii. Yes, it runs in HD and yes, it sports a considerably more complex control scheme, but above all else, it's actually pretty fun.
The key to the game's appeal is in mastering the elusive art of nailing the perfect approach. Using the SIXAXIS' motion controls, you'll set your bowler's initial starting position, then their angle and then by holding the shoulder buttons you can apply spin to varying degrees. Cock back your arm as the bowler moves forward and then follow through with enough velocity and you'll be rewarded with an extra powerful throw. Even with a few hours of practice, I still hadn't quite gotten down the right combination of spin, angles and release timing, but therein lies the fun. A straight on-strike wasn't terribly difficult, but trying to get a spin to bite and hook in at just the right time proved to be surprisingly addictive.
To help add a little further complexity to the mix, the game also allows you to unlock a handful of bowlers, each with their own particular skills in speed, spin and power, plus their own particular ball, all of which is graded from A+ to F, as well as new specialty balls and new lanes. To unlock a new bowler, you first have to beat them in a 1-on-1 match, Hot Shots Golf-style, and to unlock balls or hidden lanes and characters, you'll have to bowl a best-of series of multiple games or complete the trick challenges. The challenges are actually one of the best parts of the game, as they really do test your ability to aim and hook a ball with some rather creative little jumps and props.
The game is offline only, sadly, as online multiplayer would have been a blast but I'm sure it would have been seen as clashing with Home or something -- or perhaps there will be a Home-specific version of the game released later. Whatever the reason, the only multiplayer you'll get is local with up to three other players.
Being a downloadable title, I wasn't exactly expecting a jaw-dropping amount of detail and to be honest the game doesn't look absolutely stunning -- especially considering the cast of characters looks something like the reject pile from the last Hot Shots Golf localization session. This is, of course, oddly fitting for a bowling game (seriously, have you been to a bowling alley lately and looked at anyone over the age of 30? It's scary), but there aren't a whole lot of personalities that most players will identify with. Still, the game sports some decent textures and a solid framerate (no surprise there), and the sometimes creepy comments from the bowlers certainly fit. The loungey music definitely fits with the neon and stale smoke feel of a lot of the alleys too.
There is one thing that High Velocity Bowling offers that is incredibly welcome, however: custom soundtracks. The implementation is nice and elegant; simply tap the Select Button and pick from your library of songs. You can load up a full folder (organized by any of the stuff in the ID3 tags of your music files, be it album, genre, artist, name, whatever, though there's currently no support for the recently-added playlists, which is a shame), set the game to shuffle, repeat one song or all of 'em, and skipping through them is as easy as pressing L1 and R1 on any of the game's screens. Nothing like chasing a 300 game to the sounds of Hybrid, BT and Ferry Corsten, and I'm praying this sees its way into more games (you hear me, GT5 Prologue, I want my custom soundtracks!).
High Velocity Bowling is far, far better than you'd think it initially seems. I've little doubt that this review will probably be one of the highest-rated of the bunch on most aggregate sites, but I honestly think it's a simple matter of going into the game with an open mind. So long as you can leave that tiny little voice that screams "rip-oooooooff" at the door, you're going to find a surprisingly solid little bowling game here.