Date: November 23, 2021
Developer Serenity Forge and publisher Way Down Deep have taken a new approach to dating sims with their game Date Night Bowling, by letting you do more with your date than talk. In fact, you won’t really be talking to your date at all — you’ll be too busy throwing popcorn in their mouth. Despite its title, the focus of Date Night Bowling is really the bowling, in which Serenity Forge hopes to bring back the feel of the classic arcadey bowling games such as Super Bowling. The result of this is that it feels like you’re playing two different types of games at the same time, but it does enough things right to make it a fun experience.
The story of Date Night Bowling is straightforward. You pick your character and the person you wish to date in the beginning, and you meet them in a bowling alley to play one game. Throughout the game, you try to build a bond with your date in between rounds by doing things such as complimenting them and filling their drink. At the end of the game they will either want to see you again, or decide that you two don’t have chemistry, depending on how much you end up bonding. However, even if the date goes well, the story ends here. If you pick the same characters, they just reset and go back on their first date.
There are two different game modes you can pick from: Date Night Bowl and Casual Bowl. Date Night Bowl gives you the full experience of the game, while Casual Bowl takes out the dating aspect completely, turning it into just a bowling match. Once you pick your mode, you can choose between 1 player, 1 player vs. AI, or 2 player. Something to keep in mind is that for most of the ten characters (except two), you will have to play a game as them in 1 player to unlock them to play with others.
The bowling aspect of the game is fairly customizable. Each character has a Spin and Power rating, and you can choose the weight of the ball, the hand you bowl with, the difficulty, and how much oil will be on your lane. The game plays much like a classic arcade bowling game. When it’s your turn, you pick where you will bowl from and which direction you want to target, then two bars will come up just before you throw to determine the direction the ball spins and how powerful you throw it.
Bowling feels smooth and straightforward, and it’s satisfying when you do well on it and land strikes and spares. It would have been nice if somewhere in the game it would explain what difference ball weight and lane oil choices have, but serious bowlers should be able to figure it out through trial-and-error.
The dating sim side of the game is much simpler. Once you’ve picked your date, your goal is to build a bond with them throughout your bowling game. This is accomplished by playing a series of minigames that happen in between each round of bowling. There are no dialogue choices you have to make, and you don’t have to pick between people outside the start of the game. The minigames are the sole way you raise your bond with your date.
The game you play is random, and can range from feeding your date popcorn, to getting them the right shoes, and even cleaning your teeth while they’re not looking. Depending on how well you do in the game, you will get a bad, OK, or great rating, and your bond with your date will increase accordingly. All of these games are really short, and the animations for a few of them make the games feel sillier than was probably intended, but for the most part they’re all unique in how you complete them and serve as a fun break between the rounds of bowling.
Even when you play a game against an AI or a friend, the bowling and dating elements of the game don’t interact at all. You’re constantly swapping between the bowling and dating sim sides of the game, and neither one has any effect on the other. No matter how well you bowl, it will have no impact on how well your chemistry with your date is, and your bond with your date will not affect your bowling. This made me feel like I was playing two completely different games at the same time.
The retro graphics in Date Night Bowling are great, and fit the tone of the game very well. The music is fitting as well, and I felt that the main screen music was very catchy. There are three different filters you can have for the game: Retro, Pixel Perfect, and Smooth. Each one gives the game a unique look. On top of that, you have two bowling alleys you can choose to play from, each having a completely different setting and song playing. This allows you to give yourself the vibe you want while playing the game.
Overall, Date Night Bowling is a really short, but fun game. It doesn’t have any kind of engaging story or character development, but it’s not trying to have one. This is meant to be a fun experience like an old-school bowling game, and it succeeds in doing that. However, if you’re not a fan of bowling games or the dating sim genre, this isn’t likely to change your mind on either.