Ashes Cricket 2009 Review
Posted by Thomas Bowskill
We don't like cricket... but we don't love it that much, either!
With the recent Ashes series over, the sport of cricket is buzzing with popularity, so it’s no real surprise to see the Wii get its first ‘proper’ cricket game. Codemasters have taken it upon themselves to create Ashes Cricket, but have they done enough to faithfully recreate the sport on the Wii? We put on our mitts and pads and found out for ourselves...
Probably the first thing to set down here is that, no, Ashes Cricket does not take advantage of the Wii Motion Plus – those expecting a truly accurate experience may well walk away disappointed at the lack of true realism. You’ll still be swinging the Wiimote all over the place, just without any true degree of realism. Playing as one of several international teams, you’ll bowl, bat and bowl some more around some of the world’s most famous clubhouses.
Learning to play the game is the first on the cards with Ashes Cricket. This is achieved by going through a dull, slow-paced and uninformative tutorial that really doesn't help beyond getting the basics right. Players are presented with text-based explanations and still pictures of what to do, with no background music or audio commentary, and are then expected to pull off the required action, which is sometimes unclear. For instance, when it came to spin bowling, we very nearly had a series of dislocated shoulders trying to suss out the arm movements we were meant to be doing. It’s not just the descriptions that are lacking, either: there's no distinct advice on where to bowl, how to bat and what are the strengths and weaknesses of different types of bowler – in short, you’re not really told how to play beyond throwing and hitting.
You can essentially divide the controls into two distinct areas: bowling and batting. When batting, you aim your shot by pointing on screen and holding to select what direction to hit in, trying your best to ensure your swing will cover the area where the ball is delivered to. Of course, this means the direction you swing the Wiimote has no effect on the shot’s trajectory; likewise, the power of your swing is dictated by pressing either for a conservative shot, for an aggressive loft shot or swing without pressing buttons for a regular shot – the player’s physical swing is not the main factor here. After the shot has been hit, you can press to make a dash for the run, and will either call the runners back or make them dive for the run (usually yelling "nooooo!" in the style of an action movie through the Wiimote speakers). It’s worthwhile mentioning here that the fielders never miss when throwing for the wicket, so runs are a riskier business than in real life.
Being on the fielding team is probably the most basic of all functions in the game, as the process is totally automated: the only involvement the player has is in rearranging players on the green, so all you need to is bowl. First off, you choose what type of bowler you want (Fast, Spin and Medium being your principle choices here), and you then can choose to 'shine' the ball by jerking the Wiimote up and down (this makes the ball harder to deliver, but gives it more spin), then select where to bowl by pointing on screen and pressing – which sometimes exhibits alarming inaccuracy. After fixing the aim, you then have to bowl the ball like a true cricketer... until you realise a flick of the wrist is a lot easier, that is. Hold to throw a slow delivery, for a fast one, or press nothing delivers at normal pace. Time three bowls right, and you have the option for a 'Perfect' ball – which is a slightly trickier one for the batsman to deal with.
In terms of the main content, you have the choice of an Exhibition Match, 'Scenarios' or the chance to sink your teeth into a full Ashes Test Series, ironically probably the worst part of the game. Scenarios are good to play as they involve what is usually a relatively short (but taxing) challenge to pull off, and Exhibition Matches are fun due to their downscalable nature (i.e. you’re not in for 90 overs), but the full-on Ashes mode is one only the true enthusiasts will enjoy: a 90-over test (that's 540 balls per innings) and being faced with the task of doing all the bowling and batting, is not a nice prospect – over an hour of bowling at times! And five tests to a series!? No thanks! It is much better to create an Exhibition Match with a lower over count, unless you really are into the monotony of bowing for over an hour…
Whether you're going for the full tests, a scenario match or an exhibition, you will find a lot of things to be frustrated with. First and foremost, is that when you swing while batting you must make sure that you do so before the ball actually comes near your batsman – a very unrealistic process. Conversely, once you do learn how to swing, it can become almost too easy to smack the ball for 6. Then there’s the AI batsmen; those robots who have the uncanny knack of those who rarely make errors. Even changing the difficulty mode does little to affect their abilities as, from what we can gather, all the difficulty affects is how good the fielders are. So increasing the difficulty actually doesn't make the game 'harder', it just means both teams score fewer runs through catches – the opposition batsmen still hit your balls precisely with great regularity. Sometimes it becomes so frustrating when bowling that you end up like feeling you're a spectator in the game whose actions determine nothing, rather than an active participant.
Fortunately for the player, there is a feature where the Captain offers 'advice' on how you are playing. Comments from our beloved Captain (dubbed Captain Obvious here at Nintendo Life) include: "they're knocking us all over the park", "you let one slip by" and "keep it up, we could do with more overs like that". Well, we'd like to say "keep up the good work, Captain – it sure is helpful!" To access this divine wisdom, the player simply needs to press .
The game's not helped much by the visuals, either: from simple things like the ball disappearing in replays, character likenesses only vaguely resembling the player in question, to larger issues like players being able to teleport the ball into their hands for catches, there is a lot lacking. Also, some teams have a very limited selection of players to choose from, making the selection process practically pointless in most teams bar England and Australia (who wants to play as the losing team though!?) Still, there are a few famous voices – Ian Botham and Shane Warne amongst them – who offer their cricketing wisdom from time to time, which puts a bit of polish on. We can't really fault the commentary, either – although, as expected, it does have the tendency to loop a lot.
However, for all the dullness of the single player experience, there is a multiplayer option that can make provisions for a jolly good time. While there are still the same flaws of out-of-synch swing times, ridiculously good or atrocious fielding (depending on the difficulty setting) and a fumbley shot direction control, there is something of a level playing field here, making it quite fun to play, although mainly due to human errors. Playing against another person keeps the matches even – the CPU plays a very tight game, with few errors compared to a human player, and also reduces the long and arduous nature of the innings. 90 overs with a human batsman and bowler? Impossible! Still, it seems that there's not really a balance here with how cricket actually works – scoring 74 runs with 10 of them being 6es really doesn't fit in well with how cricket should be played!
At the end of the day, Ashes Cricket gets a 6 – the best score in cricket, but only just above average in our books. With no direct competition though, fans may just have to settle for this one - worthwhile if you're a cricket nut, but you might be better off looking at games like Wii Sports Resort if you're not. Make no bones about it, Ashes Cricket is good fun if you have friends willing to join in with you, but flaky controls, a tedious single player experience and the jerky, unrealistic feel to the game stops it being anything other than run of the mill. This is a six, albeit one that doesn't quite knock you for six, but still gets to the boundary thanks to the saving grace that is the multiplayer mode.