With so many bowling games out there, Farsight Studios’ PBA Pro Bowling 2021 tries to make a name for itself by leaning on the realism factor. While I can say that it has been a more technical experience compared to the likes of the dozens and dozens of the more “arcadey” offerings on Nintendo Switch, that doesn’t mean you’ll be completely alienated if you do decide to try this out. In fact, this supposed-to-be-sim bowler is more arcadey than I expected, for better and for worse.
PBA Pro Bowling 2021 puts you in the slick shoes of real-life professional bowlers. Assuming you’re familiar with some of these athletes, you can select between a small variety, though the bowling experience isn’t really altered regardless of who you play as. Rather, what truly does makes the difference in gameplay are the two control modes: Simulation and, yes, Arcade.
A helping hand
Arcade mode features simplified control, where launching the bowling ball is done by simply flicking the right analog stick. You can even alter the trajectory of the ball during its rollout for a higher chance of getting a strike. It seems that the key to strikes is nailing a hit just off to the side of the center at the correct angle; although, while I would try to repeat this tactic, strikes came every so often rather than continuously. You can also buy additional balls, all of which have varying stats. So, you may play better with one ball over the other.
Simulation mode removes all of the extra considerations by reducing your throws to a simple power meter, and you will lose the ability to change the ball’s direction while it’s rolling. However, what really sets these two modes apart are the power-ups. Yes, that’s what I said.
PBA Pro Bowling 2021 features three power-up balls in Arcade mode, each designed to make it easier to get a strike (or spare). However, their effectiveness varies. The first is an electro ball, which pulls pins towards it; a strike is not guaranteed. Next is the split ball, which can transform from one ball to two; accurate timing is essential to hitting any pins, however, making this the hardest to use. The last and most effective power-up is the bomb ball, which will obliterate all the pins at once, even if your shot is bad.
Once a power-up is used, it’ll need to cool down for several minutes before the next use. However, you can speed things up by using gold pins. How do you acquire them, you might ask? Well, with good ol’ microtransactions, of course!
Remember when I said earlier that PBA Pro Bowling 2021 had more arcade elements than I expected? This is really what I was referring to.
So, money can buy happiness?
To both my minor surprise and dismay, PBA Pro Bowling 2021 has some subtle pay-to-win mechanics at play. When you go up directly against an AI player in some of the matches, you’ll soon find out that they’re good — really good. Even from the earliest games, these players were nailing a significant amount of strikes. So, in order to make any real advancement through the career mode, you’ll either need to “git gud” really quickly or simply use the aforementioned bomb ball to rack up some strikes, turkeys, and hambones. Admittedly, gold pins can also be acquired by playing, though you won’t obtain a significant amount until much later on. This makes playing in the career mode more of a chore than you might imagine with its palpable difficulty curve.
Additionally, in its current state, there are some technical issues to PBA Pro Bowling 2021 that need to be ironed out. For one, getting to the main menu from the home screen takes noticeably long. The opening intro with the simple logo of Farsight Studios hangs and lags for about a minute, and then it seems to take an additional 30 seconds for it to fade out and finally land on the main menu. On top of that, the game’s resolution in docked mode is noticeably fuzzy, which is not really an issue per say, but an unfortunate gripe.
Slick, but only somewhat
Despite using “pro” in its name, I’m walking away from PBA Pro Bowling 21 feeling okay at best. It’s certainly not a bad game, but the difficulty curve and pay-to-win mechanics hamper what otherwise is a solid bowling title. However, there’s a decent selection of other bowling games on Switch like Strike! Ten Pin Bowling and the bowling minigame in Clubhouse Games. These titles aren’t as feature-rich as PBA Pro, but they’re certainly not lacking and overall offer some satisfying gameplay. Gauge where you are on the bowling fan spectrum when you go to purchase one of these titles.
A review code was provided by the publisher.