Review: Freeverse Flick Bowling 2
In Freeverse's new Flick Bowling 2 ($3) -- an update to the very good 2008 title Flick Sports Bowling, a time-traveling kidnapper is used as a conceit to move your chosen male or female character through bowling alleys set in different time periods: Cleopatra's ancient Egypt is first, followed by Genghis Khan's China and then Napoleon Bonaparte's France, before an unexpectedly rapid return to the present -- and the option to buy more stuff, including a $1 visit to Greece in the time of Helen of Troy, the first of presumably several character and background packs that the company will offer over time. As jarring as time travel may be, it's nothing compared to the recent experiments in nickel and diming that have followed the introduction of In-App Purchasing: because of a desire to try and squeeze players for everything from additional characters to different bowling balls and even the use of the iPhone's camera, Flick Bowling 2 is a shell of what it could have been -- another vaguely described, incomplete game that will see its brief life extended only through subsequent updates and purchases. It's enough to make players wish for a time machine to go back and prevent In-App Purchasing from ever happening.
The core of Flick Bowling 2 is an extremely simple but fun enough game of bowling: you swipe horizontally to position your uncustomizable male or female character, then vertically to roll the ball down the lane. A slight curve in your upwards swipe adds spin and thus a curve to your roll, making straight-down-the-center strikes uncommon but possible with precise motions; several different weights of balls are offered as options before each roll. Flick Bowling 2’s six initial opponents aren’t hugely challenging, but do put up enough competition to require somewhere between 6- and 9-pin clearing before you finish the game. Unfortunately, when we played through story mode—a less than 30-minute process—the game crashed before we reached the final kidnapper and his cosmic alley stage, annoyingly offering no resumption of the interrupted game when the app reloaded. Thankfully, the individual opponents we’d beaten were unlocked for a free play mode, and as selectable competitors for a two-person hand-off or Bluetooth multiplayer mode; only the story mode needed to be restarted from the beginning.
Though Flick Bowling 2’s concept was obviously ripped off from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Freeverse could hardly have found better source material to borrow from; only The Big Lebowski—referenced in one of the game’s time-traveling cut scenes—could possibly serve as an similarly compelling backdrop for a story-themed bowling game, and then, trying to sell Knox Harrington and Da Fino packs probably wouldn’t be as compelling as ones for additional historic figures. The time shifts enable each of the game’s stages to be a completely different, 3-D modeled environment with uniquely textured pins, quality background music, and an opponent with distinctive if not fantastic animations: the brutish Genghis Khan, for instance, throws his ball overhand onto the lane, while an “evil” mustached version of the game’s female lead Jen has more grace. But Freeverse doesn’t go as far with the characters as it could have: Napoleon isn’t given to throwing animated fits, nor does Cleopatra offer anything more than lightly suggestive text banter. The character models are more impressively textured and detailed than animated or voiced.
Some of Flick Bowling 2’s fine touches are impressive: the Chinese Great Wall level, for instance, looks more raggedly, realistically built than it might have with less talented modelers, and the pins are amusingly textured to look like the inexpensive porcelain teapots found at Chinese restaurants. But by comparison with the first Flick Bowling, Freeverse has taken much of the literal gloss—shine effects—out of the lanes, and has done something so ridiculous with the bowling balls that it may well serve as a long-term example of the In-App Purchase system gone wrong: the company now actually charges $1 for additional textured bowling balls to select from, activating a glow effect as they roll down the lane. If that wasn’t bad enough, another $1 purchase is offered if you want to use your iPhone’s camera or photo library to texture your own ball. Any temptation we’d have to say “just charge $5 up front like the original Flick Bowling and include these features” is mooted by the sheer ridiculousness of trying to charge $2 for such stupidly trivial additions, at all. By Flick Bowling 3, will Freeverse be disabling the lighting switch in the bowling alley so that it can charge a fee to turn it on?
Ultimately, Flick Bowling 2 demonstrates that developers still have a lot to learn about pricing their games in the age of In-App Purchasing: whatever sales boost the game may get from its initial $3 price point will fall off when people discover how brief and shallow their purchase really was, and that revelation may well turn to anger when they realize that the developer is attempting to extract additional dollars to transform something barely longer than a demo into something that’s still not as long-lived as a complete game. Had Flick Bowling 2 emerged with more stages and the same features—including different balls—as its predecessor, it would have been easy for us to strongly recommend to our readers. But in its current form, it’s hardly worth the asking price, and in need of its own temporal roll-back to a time before selling half-finished games to early adopters was considered by some to be a good idea.