With a video game, as with the proverbial book, it's generally not advisable to judge the contents by the cover. Game titles usually give 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 and 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 right from the get-go. Do you want to hit up league night and launch a career or do you just want to 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 or irritated to downright glum, and the slow speed with which you will cycle through these, or any, menu options will ensure you get a good look at them in all their unremarkable splendor. Once you complete this ponderous process, 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. If you win two or more games, you'll be declared the winner, earn money, and improve your reputation. Money can be spent 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. And throughout the course of the league night, you'll gradually notice this improvement. Attributes increase throughout 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 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 rolling, you'll use a sickle-shaped meter, pulling down on the analog stick to determine your accuracy then pushing forward to determine the strength of your release. Whether your ball actually goes where you want it to or not is also mitigated by your bowler's attributes and fatigue level. This breakdown of the bowling mechanics 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 because 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.
With the exception of menu navigation, the PSP version forces you to hold the handheld vertically. The elongated frame this provides mirrors the length of the alley. The lovingly crafted ball and pin animations also look quite nice. This presentation is easily the best of the three platforms, despite its general dullness in all other areas. The music loops through a few pastiches of different music genres and, while fairly innocuous, does nothing to enhance the experience. It's also worth noting that the PSP version is only $20, so at least you won't break the bank if you pick this one 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.