Videogames are one of the only types of media where sequels are typically better than their predecessors. A mixture of improved hardware, development capabilities and budgets usually result in a better product. However, there are exceptions to this, where sequels are inferior or offer no improvement at all. PBA Pro Bowing 2023 is one such example.
This is the sequel to PBA Pro Bowling 2021, and you will notice there has been no 2022 version. The series follows its own pattern in terms of releases. PBA Pro Bowling 2021 releases just over a year after the first game, and 2023 releases just under two years from this one.
At first glance, PBA Pro Bowling 2023 may as well be the same game as it looks identical from the main menu, aside a bit of a clean-up. This officially licensed videogame of the Professional Bowlers Association includes professional bowlers and commentators, plus real-life ball manufacturers, pins and lane equipment. For fans as fanatical about the PBA as football fans are with the FIFA games, this is undoubtedly a major release.
Once again, the main emphasis is on the Pro Tour mode. After choosing your bowler ‘likeness’ – from a grand total of four options – you then choose a region in which to compete. The first events you will be taking on will be qualifying events for the PBA Players Championship. In the East region at least, this consisted of five rounds of three frames each with a final score determining whether you qualify or not. Something didn’t feel quite right here though. In total, my score was the accumulation of all fifteen frames together, rather than me posting a separate score in each of the five rounds of three frames. As a result, I was already way off the pace come the third and fourth rounds, and yet I had to play through all the frames before my fate was decided.
There are other match types available that offer far more enjoyment than this confusing accumulated scoring method. Match play is the most enjoyable, pitting you 1v1 against an AI opponent, based on a real-life pro. These also appear to have their bowling stance and method mapped into the game.
One of the biggest differences in PBA Pro Bowling 2023 is the difficulty. This time around, it feels like a much harder bowling game, and I’d argue you are made to not qualify for these initial events until you level up your balls substantially.
Additional balls can be found in the Pro Shop. You start off with two of the worst and every five levels a new set is unlocked. These can all be upgraded with tickets earned from your performance and completing in-game challenges. To really succeed, newer and improved balls are absolutely essential.
Fortunately/unfortunately depending on which side of the fence you sit, this time there are no microtransactions to speed up this process. The gold pins have been removed completely and replaced by a more generous ticket awarding system.
Also gone are the ball modifiers. These were fun power-ups in PBA Pro Bowling 2021 but have been removed entirely for this iteration. Admittedly, they did make the Career mode a bit too easy at times, but it would have been fine to keep them in local multiplayer matches to help keep things fresh. Removing them altogether feels like a step backwards.
All the other modes are still here: Quickplay, Local and Online Multiplayer and Online Tournaments. All should be pretty self-explanatory as to what the mode entails. Online Tournaments allow you to pay a small ticket fee to enter a tournament, with a new one starting every three minutes. Win enough and you can progress through the ranks, starting at bronze and working all the way up to platinum.
Chances are that any tournament you enter will not have any additional participants on the lower rank ones. Many serious bowlers will have already progressed to the higher ranks, where they will be lying in wait for you.
Once again, there are no skill or fun challenges for you to partake in, in a game that is crying out for them. There are over 160 challenges to complete but simply getting yourself in a position to try and convert a 2-4-5 spare is easier said than done. By offering these as simple challenges you can practice some of the trickier splits in bowling, as well as something a bit different. Ultimately, the only thing you can do is bowl ten frames and see your final score.
Despite the removals of certain features, it is the lack of any new additions that means PBA Pro Bowling 2023 feels largely the same game as the 2021 edition. It is a slightly more difficult bowling game than the previous one, but that isn’t enough to separate the two. Bowling diehards may appreciate the additions of more real-life pro bowlers but those looking for a competent bowling game can stick in any number of games with bowling as a minigame and get much the same experience.
Strike it lucky in PBA Pro Bowling 2023 from the Xbox Store