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ForeVR Bowl Review: Great Take On Sport That Isn't VR-Ready

ForeVR Bowl does everything right on paper, but its winning design feels a step ahead of current VR possibilities. More in our ForeVR Bowl review!

Taken on its own merits, ForeVR Bowl is excellent. It’s incredibly polished, uniquely personable and gives you plenty of reasons to keep playing. In fact, in a lot of crucial areas, developer Forevr bowls a perfect game. But there’s a key problem, one that’s intrinsically tied to VR itself.

At their best, VR sports offer near-seamless facsimiles of the real-life game inside a headset. Eleven Table Tennis‘ pitch-perfect physics and feather-light touch make it almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Thrill of the Fight gives you the satisfaction of throwing a haymaker without the risk of getting a black eye yourself. To ensure your brain doesn’t have enough time to separate the virtual from reality, these games are often based on quick reactions and lightweight interactions.

Bowling isn’t either of those things.

ForeVR Bowl Review – The Facts

What is it?: Bowling in VR. Simple as that.
Platforms: Quest
Release Date: May 27th
Price: $19.99

Hit the lanes in real life and you’ll know that weight is crucial. Picking up a ball, judging its heft and calculating how that will affect your swing is what the sport is all about and that’s something you fundamentally can’t do in VR. Every ball feels identical, there’s no tactile feedback to tell you how a twist of your wrist will alter the ball’s trajectory and no momentum in the pendulum swing of your arm as you line up your next shot. Quest’s tracking can struggle with more dramatic underhand motions, too, meaning you’ll sometimes get unintended and unwelcome results from your throws.

There are ways around these issues, of course. You could opt for much more accessible, automated throwing like in Premium Bowling, or the whacky ruleset of Sports Scramble. But those alternatives are cop-outs if you’re looking for an authentic bowling experience which, admirably, is exactly what ForeVR wants to be.

And so, instead, it goes the numbers route; hover your hand over a ball and you’ll get the stats on its weight and speed. Heavier options, the game tells you, will get you a straighter throw, whilst lighter alternatives can better spin and curve to nail awkward angles. It’s as sensible an alternative you could ask for, and the game tries to layer in depth elsewhere by placing an emphasis on aim, technique and options. There are 100 balls to choose from, for example, and you can pick oil patterns for lanes. It even gives you tips on the speed of your throws.

And, after a few hours of play, you might well find yourself settling into a certain playstyle. But, even with all of that considered, it’s hard to find much consistency in your technique when you’re essentially working with thin air. The connective issue that’s so crucial in a lot of VR experiences just isn’t really there.

As a result, it’s better to approach ForeVR Bowl as an iteration on Wii Sport’s motion-controlled minigames than a full embodiment of the genuine article. And, hey, you might be able to make peace with that. The absence of realism doesn’t have to mean the absence of fun, and once you accept its limitations there’s still plenty of that to go around. Crucially, ForeVR Bowl can be enjoyed in up to four-player multiplayer online where, just like the real thing, the mishaps and commiserations really start to come alive. It captures the hilarity of terrible aim and the surprised elation of unexpected strikes.

ForeVR Bowl Review – Comfort

ForeVR is a great experience from a comfort perspective. There are only small areas to navigate and teleportation works perfectly well. It’s an easy reccomendation for first-time VR users.

And it’s got real character, too. The starting bowling alley environment looks great but you can rise through ranks to unlock new levels like a lunar lane. Each carries tons of details that flesh out the environments. Even the licensed soundtrack surprises with appearances from certified alley anthems like Eye Of The Tiger and The Final Countdown. The game’s star feature, though, is easily the ball designs, which take full advantage of VR.

There are 100 designs to unlock in ForeVR Bowl, first by reaching the right level and then by buying them with cash. Each has different stats but they’re all pretty inventive creations, too. Some have skulls embedded in them, others entire galaxies. Some leak liquid as they roll down the lane and others explode on impact. These are all purely cosmetic differences but they’ve clearly had a lot of thought put into them and the possibility of unlocking more options makes each new round that bit more tempting. That said, it does take a lot to both level up and earn cash, making it more of a grind than was probably necessary.

ForeVR Bowl Review – Final Impressions

ForeVR Bowl is ahead of its time and that’s kind of a problem. It’s a genuinely fantastic effort from the team at ForeVR, with plenty of personality and a feature-rich foundation. But VR itself simply doesn’t feel ready for the authentic bowling experience it aspires to be. The lack of weight in your hand and momentum in your swing makes it hard to nail down consistent technique and the game’s stat-driven approach doesn’t feel intuitive enough to really replace it.

If you want a more instantly accessible experience then Premium Bowling offers just that. But accept ForeVR’s limitations, approach it as more of a casual experience and there’s still a lot of fun to be had with friends here. I just suspect ForeVR Bowl won’t find its real worth until VR technology catches up to it.

For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our ForeVR Bowl review? Let us know in the comments below!

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