I’ve been stuck in a hotel room for a couple of hours, slamming out some morning stories, responding to emails and finishing as much work before the day’s schedule overwhelms me. I hadn’t showered, but I knew I had a spare 15 or 20 minutes. Just enough time for some coffee, maybe an egg or two, and a chat with a friend.
But as soon as I get down to the hotel buffet and a table with my friend, he looks up and laughs. I already know what he’s going to say.
“Did you fall asleep playing cricket on the Switch last night?”
You know the answer, of course. Ever since the Switch was announced, I’ve been pining for a proper cricket game. Australian studio Big Ant released Big Bash Boom last year, but that was more NBA Jam than the Football Manager of cricket sims.
And there was no reason a proper cricket game couldn’t make it over to Nintendo’s portable console. I wasn’t asking for a remaster of Shane Warne Cricket 99 or even Super International Cricket, but out of the increasingly good cricket games finding their way onto mobiles, surely there was a developer out there who could get something more exhaustive onto the eShop.
It’s no surprise, then, that the same studio behind Ashes Cricket — a game that’s caught the eye of Google CEO Sundar Pichai — would be the first to make something happen on the Switch. Following the success of Don Bradman Cricket 14, the Melbourne studio has continued building on the core tech, with Don Bradman Cricket but also licensed projects like AO Tennis.
If you’ve played any of the previous Don Bradman titles, then you’ll recognise the vast majority of the game’s DNA. The biggest difference this year is that they’ve hacked off every corner and texture to make the game playable on the Switch.
Which is both a blessing, and right now, a real curse.
I was catching up with friends for burgers the other night. There’s a fairly well known bar near Sydney’s Circular Quay that does special burgers every week or so, with their latest being a double schnitzel butter chicken monstrosity.
The double chicken situation wasn’t listed on the menu. And maybe I’d have noticed it before ordering, had their not been a massive TV showing the West Indies onslaught against Australia.
Eventually Australia won — as my grandmother’s adaptation of the phrase went, definitely not by hook — but not before subjecting the nation to a garbage top-order effort that made the West Indies ODI squad look like the world beaters of the ’80s and ’90s.
A bowler would run in. They’d bang the ball halfway down the pitch. It’d climb to about head height, directed somewhere at the neck. Naturally, the Aussies would have a go, and they’d get out.
“You’re fucking kidding,” I blurted out while waiting to order a burger.
No matter. Because at least I knew, that night, I could rectify matters — by blocking the bloody ball instead.
There’s something cathartic in being able to rectify a real-life mistake. That’s even truer in Cricket 19, with a suite of challenges that mirror match situations from various Tests, T20 games and ODIs. You can make your own if you like, courtesy of the scenario builder.
The Ashes Test series makes for obvious challenge fodder, but there’s also some of the smaller sides highlighted (chase down the largest ever total in a T20 as Ireland). It’s been a customary part of video games since Shane Warne Cricket 99, and it’s good to see it make a return here.
Beyond that, there’s little difference in content between the Switch build and what you get on consoles. (The PC version, like Big Ant’s previous games, won’t be released until later.) You’ve got access to career modes for male and female cricketers, a full suite of domestic and international leagues, offline, local and online play, all the usual formats (fast 5, T20, 50 over games, three day, four day, five day matches) as well as the ability to customise the conditions, format and length to your preference.
Upgrades from previous Don Bradman / Ashes Cricket games are included as well. The Switch is getting patched later than the other versions — it took about a week and a half before the day one patch, which improved loading times (which are still fairly slow, especially in handheld mode), graphical errors and menu navigation, hit the eShop.
Otherwise, the difference is really in the controls (JoyCon versus a standard gamepad) and the performance.
And we need to talk about the performance.
Loving cricket is an exercise in patience, as a fan and a player, amateur or otherwise. That extends to its video games as well. There’s not exactly a glut of alternatives, even with the immense backing of cashed up boards like the BCCI.
So you learn to accept certain flaws. A lot of them, really.
Let’s be clear. Cricket 19 is definitely playable on the Switch. I wouldn’t be falling asleep contentedly if it wasn’t.
But that line between playable and painfully janky is real fine, especially if you’re playing in handheld mode.
There’s a definite bluriness to the whole presentation in handheld mode, which makes things more complicated than you’d think. Without that clarity and crispness around small details — like how far away a fielder is from a ball — it starts to affect gameplay a little. Occasionally the whole screen will flash, sometimes when you’re waiting to bowl, and often when you’re loading or waiting for a fielding transition.
The most obvious is when batting. Without the benefit of the ball outline, it’s nearly impossible to see the ball in Pro Mode — that’s when you’re playing from the view of the batter’s eyes — until it’s halfway down the pitch.
To be fair, that was all Chris Rogers could see. He finished with an average of more than 50 for Australia. But let’s assume most people are not, in fact, as coordinated as an international level Test player.
The bigger problem in handheld mode is the performance. Even after the initial day one patch, there’s a substantial amount of graphical glitches and instability. I can’t sort my career stats by year because it crashes the game. Replays look like they run at about 15fps. The loading times are still pretty substantial in handheld mode — over a minute, and loading while docked isn’t great either. And it’s not clear if the game was properly tested away from a PC monitor, because all of the UI text is basically impossible to read. Hell, some of the UI text is tiny on a 65-inch TV.
A lot of the nicer transitions — camera movements, slow-motion and just finer timing of the ball — are wholly unpleasant when the frame rate is already hovering around 30fps. Sometimes the camera doesn’t even respond when the ball goes off screen, leaving you staring at your player and the stumps.
There’s other structural quirks, fundamental problems every small developer faces when you have to cut corners to get a game to ship. Fielding isn’t one of the prettier parts of cricket — if you’ve played it long enough, you’ll recognise when fielding gets doled out as punishment. But it’s an area that Big Ant’s games have never really nailed the balance between. Fielders would either have supernatural abilities for catching — their hands were more like black holes in Don Bradman Cricket 14 — or be spectacularly useless, ignoring the situation around them while you run 2’s and 3’s.
What’s more concerning is the sound my Switch makes when playing Cricket 19 in handheld mode. The cooling makes such a whirl that I started wondering if I needed to send the console in for repair. It actively bothered Tegan late at night when I was trying to sneak in a few overs.
“Is your Switch OK,” she muttered, before nodding off again.
Probably? But I also can’t remember a game that pushed the Switch so hard that I actively started wondering whether it needed a repair, which says something.
What you get out of Cricket 19 depends on what you bring coming in. For cricket fans who skipped the last couple of Big Ant titles, this is easily the best in the series. If you’re a sports fan that’s interested in cricket, you might want to hold off until the game has had a bit more refinement with post-launch patches.
If you’re a cricket fan on the Switch — you’re in luck. You’ll have to be tolerant, especially if blocking isn’t your style. To combat the lower resolution in handheld, I’d recommend exclusively batting with the Pro Mode, only because it’s the best option for removing as much clutter as possible.
But also — can you imagine saying something like that about any other Switch release in 2019. Imagine saying: “Hey, make sure you play this way because it might be too murky to see what you’re doing otherwise.”
Your mate would wonder why you were recommending the game in the first place.
That’s indie development, and development for a game that’s a niche within a niche within a niche that doesn’t make a lot of money.
So you have to be patient. Like actual cricket.
Not a great recommendation to people who aren’t fans of the sport, but maybe a video game isn’t the best introduction for that. You’re better off grabbing a tennis ball and bouncing someone in the street.
And if you are a fan of the sport, and you’ve got a Switch?
Say goodbye to your spare time.