An attempt to digitally recreate the game of Bocce Ball / Petanque, this game fails to get close to the pallino. The Finger Guns Review.
Over the past few years, there have been a lot of low budget games that have attempted to digitally recreate a sport. Pix Arts have been one of the most prolific developers in this space. They’ve created and published games based on Skittles, Curling, Clay Pidgeon Shooting and a Tin Can Alley among others. Back in 2019 they published the game Bocce on Nintendo Switch which has subsequently made its way to Xbox and now, pertinent to this review, PlayStation 4.
The issue with many of these games is that they fail to take the opportunity to do something with a video game version that the real world sport could never be possible of. In that regard, these games often fail to be a fraction as fun as their real world counterparts. That’s certainly the case with Bocce. It’s dreadfully dull and frustrating compared to the real ball game.
Playing by the rules
At least in terms of rules and systems, Bocce gets it mostly right. The rules are simple: one player or team tosses the pallino (sometimes called a jack). The players then thrown or bowl their balls in an attempt to get as close to the pallino as possible. Points are scored by the player who can get their ball the closest and will earn multiple points if they manage to get more balls between the pallino and their opponents closest ball. The winner of each game is the first to reach 7 points. It’s the same simple ruleset that has been played ever since the Roman Empire ruled half the world. Those rules have been accurately recreated here. Almost.
Unlike in the real game, points can be awarded in Pix Arts’ version of Bocce when the balls are still moving. I’ve watched as balls have changed places at the end of a round as they continue to feel the momentum of a previous shot. Sometimes, these movements could have completely changed the face of a round. That’s not taken into consideration here. Where the balls are a few seconds after throwing, regardless of any momentum the ball is carrying, is where they are considered to be at the end of your turn. That’s frustrating to say the least.
Unfortunately, that’s just the start of where things start to go wrong, despite what you might read on the various store descriptions. In fact, it feels like Pix Arts might be getting close to false advertising territory with Bocce. The PlayStation Store description includes “Ultra-realistic physics” and “Hyper-intuitives controls” (that’s their typo, not mine). Neither of these things are true.
To play the game, you move an arrow around from your starting position (either standing or sitting). The longer you make the arrow, the more powerful the shot is. You choose the direction and power of the shot, press a button and the ball gets thrown. Sounds intuitive right? In practice, it’s far from it. For example, the direction of the arrow doesn’t accurately portray the angle the ball will be thrown. It feels like the larger the angle you choose away from directly ahead, the larger the deviation. The power of the throw doesn’t feel accurate either. You can’t even activate the throw until you’ve reached a certain level of power, something that isn’t indicated.
There is also apparently a way to add spin to the Bocce ball but that’s something that’s left totally unexplained and is so unintuitive that even after 2 hours of play, I couldn’t figure out how to use it. Either it’s a glitch and this is broken, the indication that this has been applied is non-existent or it’s such a convoluted system that it needed a much better explanation.
A right balls up
Those “Ultra-realistic physics”? Complete crap. As is customary, the Bocce games here are played on a gravel pitch. Some of the ball moments from the AI defy reality. I’ve seen balls back spinning while moving forward through gravel. I’ve seen balls rolling around for 10 seconds after they’ve been struck. It’s anything but realistic. It’s just very poor, even from a game where you’re simply throwing balls in a small area. Don’t get me started on the collision physics. Some balls that get smacked by another fly off at high pace while others stay completely still. It’s unpredictable, which undermines one of the core tactics of Bocce.
The flaws with Bocce continue too – let’s talk audio. There’s no music in this game at all which crates a very weird atmosphere. It’s like playing a ball game in a library. There are some sound effects though, all of which are disappointing. The crunch of gravel when the ball lands is the same no matter how high or fast it lands. The clack of two balls connecting is the same.
What’s even weirder is the crowd noise; if you pull off a good shot, you’ll get a round of applause from an invisible crowd and if you fire well wide of the jack, they’ll chatter with concern. Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. If you perform a decent shot, even though it’s not a point winning shot, you’ll still get a round of applause. It’s like clapping when someone hits the crossbar in Football or when someone almost pots a ball in golf. It comes across as a pity clap at times.
Bocce or Botch?
Another aspect of the Bocce store listing that’s a complete crock is the promise of “beautiful sceneries”. There are 6 different locations to play in in the game and I don’t think the word “beautiful” could apply to any of them. I think a more apt description would be “a collection of store bought assets hastily thrown together without much thought or design”. In some levels, there’s very obviously textures missing from objects too as they have just a bold solid colouring. Everything is flat and lifeless.
In terms of actual content, there’s no campaign, story or formal structure. The game can be either played in single player against 3 different difficulty types or it can be played in local 3 player multiplayer. To give the game its dues, the AI does become challenging in its latter modes. Bocce is most fun when played with another human though, when you’re both playing using the same handicaps thrown up because of the poor controls and physics. You’d be better off buying a real Bocce kit and heading to the park than playing this game.
To summarise, I’d describe Bocce as the least enjoyable way to play with some balls. It looks shoddy, sounds awful, has unpredictable physics and a lack of content. It’s functional at least but when that’s the best thing I can say about a game, you know it’s a massive disappointment.
Bocce is available now for the PS4 (review version), Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Pix Arts
Publisher: Pix Arts
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, a copy of the game was purchased. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.