With a video game, as with the proverbial book, it's generally not advisable to judge the contents by the cover. Game titles usually proffer precious little information about the nature of the game itself, opting for an attention grabber or brand identifier over a content descriptor. It's a rare game that lays it all out in the title, yet Brunswick Pro Bowling is one of those games. Let's see, "Pro Bowling" indicates a simulation approach to the sport/game of bowling, rather than an arcade interpretation. "Brunswick" is a venerable brand name in the bowling world, covering everything from shoes to balls to pins. This brand backing likely means that Brunswick is hoping to leverage and increase said venerability through this game, so we can expect a polished, by-the-numbers representation of the professional bowling scene. And that's exactly what we get. The only remaining questions are, how well did they do it, and how enjoyable is it? The answers: Fairly well, and fairly dull.
Brunswick Pro Bowling keeps it simple straight from the get-go. Do you want to hit up league night and launch a career, or do you just wanna bowl? For those interested in the latter, there is quick play. One to four players can lace up their bowling shoes, choose one of the premade bowlers, and get to rolling. For those inclined toward the former, it's not quite as speedy as all that. First you must design your character, choosing gender, hairstyle, clothing, and body type from existing palettes. Facial expressions range from focused to irritated to downright glum, and the slow speed at which you will cycle through these, or any, menu options will ensure you get a good look at them in all their unremarkable splendor. Complete this ponderous process and it's off to league night for some head-to-head competition.
League nights pit you against a random computer opponent in a three-game competition. Win two or more games and you'll be declared the winner, earn money, and improve your reputation. Money can be expended at the pro shop on--what else?--Brunswick gear, which can give your bowler's attributes a boost. These attributes, such as stamina, accuracy, and arm strength, actively influence the quality of the shots your bowler can make over the course of the league night, and you'll gradually notice this improvement. Attributes increase over the course of your career, but the bonuses afforded by Brunswick gear are a helpful boost. You'll need to trudge through a fair amount of league play in order to earn the money and reputation needed for tournament. Winning tournaments will earn you access to more advanced leagues, where you rinse and repeat your previous experiences against tougher opponents.
The act of bowling has been distilled into a few simple parts that make sending the ball where you want it to go fairly achievable. As you gaze down the lane, you set the angle and position of your release, as well as the amount of spin your ball will carry. To send the ball a-rollin' you'll use a sickle-shaped meter, pulling down on the analog stick to determine your accuracy, then pushing it forward to determine the strength of your release. Whether your ball actually goes where you want it to is also mitigated by your bowler's attributes and fatigue level. This breakdown of the mechanics of bowling suits Brunswick's simulation style quite well. If you roll a bad ball, you can actually make quantifiable adjustments to your approach and see those changes reflected in your next roll. Bowling strikes is therefore a matter of trying to replicate the same set of conditions every time, while picking up spares will often require a little more finesse, especially since it's next to impossible to roll the ball straight. Strikes and spares can be pretty satisfying, despite the lame congratulatory animations, but it won't be long before that's what you expect from yourself and the thrill will wane. It is then that the crushing sense of endless repetition will descend upon you, as you tweak the same five variables over and over again trying to achieve the same result.
The overall presentation sticks with the lackluster theme, offering predictably styled colorful clothing to outfit your bland characters while they bowl in a bland alley. The PS2 graphics are unimpressive all around, and even the animated roll of the ball down the lane and the crash of the pins feels pretty flat. The music loops through a few pastiches of different music genres and, while fairly innocuous, does nothing to enhance the experience. At least the PS2 version is a mere $15 at retail, so at least you won't break the bank if you decide to pick this version up.
On the whole, Brunswick Pro Bowling presents a fair facsimile of professional bowling, which itself is pretty unexciting. If you take umbrage at that assertion and actually enjoy watching the PBA on ESPN, then Brunswick Pro Bowling offers the kind of bowling sim you'd likely enjoy. If, on the other hand, the only pro bowlers you can name are The Dude, Walter Sobchak, and a guy who calls himself "The Jesus," you'd best leave this one alone.