In the roughly 15-minute demo of Pin City I played at PAX East 2023, I hurled my bowling ball over fires, through tunnels and into halfpipes.
Put simply, it looks like Studio 217 is making sure the game lives up to its ‘VR bowling with a twist’ subtitle.
Inspired by the mechanics of mini golf, the object of Pin City isn’t just to rack up the highest score possible in each frame, but also to figure out the best way to get your ball to collide with the pins at the end of your lane without being thwarted by any number of obstacles.
In a normal bowling alley, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. In Pin City, it is. Popular mini-golf obstacles block your ball’s way, adding an arcade-like twist to the sport. Similar to What The Bat? and What The Golf?, Pin City starts out simple: a normal bowling alley with a normal lane and ten pins. The more frames you play through, the more chaotic things get. Eventually, you’ll be defying gravity or jumping over fire with your ball. You might even get outside of a typical bowling lane!
With rules this loose and goofy and a foundation this fun, the sky really is the limit for Pin City – once they can ring in the actual throwing mechanics of the game, at least. Wii Sports, the first game to really nail motion-controlled bowling in a video game, gave a sense of weight by limiting your character’s range of motion to essentially the arc your arm takes when rolling a bowling ball in real life.
Pin City, on the other hand, has a greater challenge. At every point in the game, Pin City allows players to have a full range of motion with their head and hands, meaning that it’s harder to get a feel for the right throw. When I spoke to the developers, they were very upfront about the challenge, telling me that their biggest priority at the moment is getting the rolling part – specifically the weighty feel of the bowling bowl – just right. While I don’t know the studio’s ultimate goal for Pin City, I do think adding some limitations for throws might allow for the rest of the game to shine more.
As I was getting my VR bowling sea legs, I accidentally threw my ball in just about every direction because I had some trouble understanding its weight and feel. After all, the Quest 2’s controllers aren’t nearly as heavy as a bowling ball. Even after getting the hang of things, I still found myself struggling as the lanes continued to evolve.
While I personally didn’t explore much beyond Pin City’s main attraction, the developers teased that other parts of the bowling alley are explorable and interactable. You can move your character around the lobby using teleportation-style movement and interact with various parts of the environment. It’s an idea that holds potential if explored further. Bowling alleys have a very iconic, consistent aesthetic to them and it would be interesting to see minigames explore some of that vibe and culture.
After talking with the developers about the game’s inspirations, I became even more excited about where this game could go. With DNA rooted in a range of games, from Walkabout Mini Golf to Boom Blox to What The Golf?, Pin City has some big shoes to fill. Moving forward, the key will be nailing the feel of the virtual bowling ball. But after trying the game out and listening to the Studio 217 team discuss their creative and mad-cap ideas, I have faith in this small team and I’m excited to see where they strike next.