Every few months or so, I'll look at my phone and get the urge to fire up some cricket. Sometimes it's action based, but every now and again I keep wondering whether there's a good management sim around. Having spent plenty of hours in Australian Cricket Captain, not to mention way too many hours in cricket games generally, I'll look for something in that genre.
But, sadly, cricket sims on all platforms are still woefully out of date. And that became even more painfully apparent when, courtesy of Google's algorithms, I came across the latest iteration of the Motorsport Manager series.
Why can't cricket sims be this good, I wondered.
Motorsport Manager, which developers Playsport Games launched on the Switch last week, is a series of simulators based on various levels of professional motorsport. You're tasked with managing a team from the lowest level of competition, directing what drivers and staff you hire, the parts you build, what sponsors you take on, as well as race strategy.
It's always been a solid, fun romp, even if it lacks the extra touch official licensing would bring. But what's always been the feather in Playsport's cap has been the look of the tracks during race day. They're like islands floating in white space, little diasporas reminiscent of the style used by Wartile to bring its levels to life.
The general flow of the game, from the first mobile iteration to the third, is largely similar. After progressing from the initial tier of racing, you'll be given a choice of tournaments to compete in. Each has different rules and properties: one might be a series of races with refuelling enabled, while another might be an endurance series where you manage six drivers. Eventually you'll end up in Playsport's equivalent of Formula 1, balancing parts between two cars, the attitudes and skills of their drivers, and the mechanics and engineers that contribute to the success behind the scenes.
The third version of Motorsport Manager on mobiles, MM3 has updated a lot of the visual aesthetics. It's not graphically as powerful as the version you'd get on PC - there's no crowds, and the cars are simple numbers in coloured circles - but the UI is very, very slick.
It's the kind of mobile game that's great to binge. All this past weekend, I found myself sneaking races in at the most unusual of moments. In between games of Overwatch, in between episodes of Scrubs on the couch, on the train to work, the toilet, you name it. Individual races only take about five minutes to knock out, if you're racing on the fastest speed.
There's plenty of numbers to continue grinding up. Your engineers will get better at manufacturing parts over time, but parts can cost millions of dollars to produce - and money spent on building a part now is money you can't invest into next year's car down the road.
Like previous years, there's also bits of RNG to deal with. Each mechanic you hire has a stat that more or less gives them a currency you can spend during qualifying. The game puts out two or three cards, each of which might refer to tuning your brakes, fixing up a particular part, or some other element of optimising the car's performance.
Each card can improve the car by a certain amount, and the greater the risk you take, the higher the reward. The maximum you can get is basically a full second shaved off each lap time, which is enormous in any circumstances, but if you bugger it up you'll lose all the progress you made.
Another light element of RNG is the young driver program, which you can buy into at the end of every season for a few million dollars. Essentially, you pick three drivers from a roster that breaks down their potential, attitude, ego and work ethic. They'll improve or recede over the course of the season, and you get to choose from time to time what driver to pump improvement points into, which can be used should you choose to recruit that driver at the end of the program.
It's all laid out incredibly well, even if the mobile versions of Motorsport Manager by default are designed to be more of a light simulation than a truly gruelling challenge. A Hard Mode is available in the options, which forces AI teams to make smarter investments in parts and better pitstop strategies, and I'd recommend turning that on once you've got a couple of seasons under your belt. You can also increase the race difficulty separately to that, which makes rival cars more of a challenge.
What I love about all of it, however, it how nicely and neatly it's laid out. Unlike the management sim that I think about buying every few months, Motorsport Manager 3 looks like a modern, mobile game. It's slick. It runs like a dream on my phone. I've never felt the need to pay for a single microtransaction throughout an entire career. And while it doesn't have that punishing level of difficulty that, say, older racing management sims might have (like Grand Prix Manager, if you remember that), I'm also not going through every race feeling like I've won only because the RNG gods decided not to smite me this time.
I spent years staying in the lower tiers so I could have the financial backing needed to smoke the competition, and that's exactly the result I'm getting.
It's the sort of presentation and style that I wish cricket games would adopt. Sport and management sims are a match made in heaven, but nobody seems to have actually bothered to put the time and effort into bringing cricket sims into the 21st century. They still look like barely dressed up Excel spreadsheets.
Motorsport Manager 3 at least gets that you eat with your eyes first. The actual management is just deep enough to be a perfect distraction too, which is a real plus. You can grab it on Android or iOS now for $6.49/$5.99.