While cricket may have spawned a few video game duds over the years, we’ve also been treated to some of the best sports sims ever made. Super International Cricket set the standard early on with some fine form on SNES, Brian Lara Cricket on PlayStation rounded off ’90s era crease battling with style and Ashes Cricket proved a decent bit of mo-cap and some precision bowling mechanics could make a world of difference on current-gen hardware.
The latter, developed by Melbourne-based outfit Big Ant Studios, helped shake off the buggy inconsistency that had dogged cricket games for well over a decade, and with Cricket 19 it’s looking to take the good run of form back out onto the field. With a bare-bones approach to licensing – you’re only getting the official England and Australia kits for this year’s Ashes showdown, although Australian Switch owners get legit domestic teams as well – it’s more like cricket’s answer to PES; a refined and nuanced recreation of the sport that’s more focused on giving you a frightening number of options as both bowler and batsman than tacking on officially-licensed bells and whistles.
But don’t let the raft of choices you have with a ball or a bat scare you off – Cricket 19 builds on all the things Ashes Cricket did to step away from its predecessor (the needlessly frustrating Don Bradman series), including offering control schemes for seasoned pros and more casual adopters. The analogue stick-focused batting is still there, should you want to make a last minute adjustment a make a hit off the inside of the bat, but carrying over a simpler approach using the face buttons gives Cricket 19 more of a ‘pick up and play’ vibe. The inclusion of faster rulesets alongside the more traditional multiday tests of the Ashes (including T20 and ODIs) only helps to drive this factor home.
The improvement in production values and presentation is the first thing that whacks you in the face like an errant wicket. While it’s not quite up to the pomp of NBA 2K19, seeing players stroll onto the field while commentators – the UK edition has James Taylor and Michael Slater on the mic doing a decent, if slightly phoned-in performance – before standing for their respective national anthem really makes a difference. Everything from swooping camera angles to special highlight reels really sell the effort Big Ant has put into this often overlooked element of sports simulation.
Animations, on the whole, are impressive (thanks mostly to the mocap that was done for Ashes Cricket back in 2017), while the natural movement and realistic posture of each player make all the difference when you’re reacting to a fast-moving leg cutter or tapping the ball back to the nearest fielder. Sadly, on Switch performance can be a little erratic. Those pre-match visuals often chug a little, with something as simple as a weather vane coming into view turning the game into something akin to a paper flipbook. Thankfully, actual on-field gameplay is smooth for the most part, although too many fielders on-screen at once can force that frame rate to drop in places.
Of course, where it really counts is at the crease, and here Cricket 19 shows its pedigree. From a gameplay perspective, it isn’t a huge step forwards from Ashes Cricket, but there’s been a handful of welcome enhancements. The most important are the vast changes to the game’s AI. Most sports sims live and die by the population of their online communities, due in part to abysmal skills of the CPU. Cricket 19 addresses this issue across the board, and it makes for some truly memorable matches, especially in Career mode. Bowlers now seem to analyse your performance, throwing balls that exploit a certain weakness. If you’re spamming aggressive swings at the boundary, a fielder will likely be waiting to catch you out the next time you do.
On the flipside, AI batsman are more pragmatic when they need to be, but are just as willing to be pushy in others. They’ll grab singles here and there, but really drive hard for fours and sixes when the light starts to fade. It’s a refreshing approach to an often bungled feature that’ll really appeal to cricket fans that just want to play solo. The Career mode also now includes a set of passive upgrades that improve the speed of a bowler’s topspin or the reach of a batsman when sprinting for the crease. They’re unlocked at a snail’s pace, but they help quantify your progress across what is a substantially long mode.
Outside of Career mode, there’s the creative Scenarios mode, which tasks you with completing challenges based on classic encounters between the world’s leading cricket nations. Think you can beat the West Indies with less than 46 runs conceded? This is the mode for you. Best of all, with support from the community, there’s the potential for a substantial amount of user-created content further down the line, should the Switch community properly seed. On top of this there’s an in-depth training mode that does a brilliant job of breaking down every facet of what can be quite a complicated ruleset. There’s even a creation suite where you can design everything from your own bat to your own stadium.
It would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that Cricket 19 is one of those titles that is sold in a physical package but doesn't actually contain a game card; upon opening the box you are instead greeted with a download code. While this naturally has zero impact on the game itself, it's worth noting if you're a keen physical collector and like the idea of owning the game on an actual cartridge.
Cricket 19 brings the full cricket experience to Nintendo Switch for the very first time. This port can sometimes struggle in the performance – a few too many pre-match cutscenes likely being one of the main offenders – but gameplay is mostly slowdown free, letting you focus on juggling a ton of options in every corner of the field. The sheer number of modes on offer is astounding, and while the lack of consistent official licences is frustrating, the potential for community-driven support in Scenarios mode (and online) proves that the Switch continues to be a worthy platform for full-on sports simulators.