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International Cricket (NES) artwork

International Cricket (NES) review

"Reaching out to a niche audience within a niche audience "

International Cricket for the NES…. Right…

I don’t believe that I’m going to be reaching out to a huge audience here. Developers, Beam Software, made some fantastically innovative games in their time -- like forth-wall breaking Nightshade and keyword-driven RPG Shadowrun -- but they started their console lifespan catering for the peculiar sporting desires of their fellow Australians. Aussie Rules Football came first but, to an Englishmen like myself, that will always be a girly version of rugby played in super tight shorts (no matter how many e-mails I get telling me otherwise) and I can’t in all seriousness cover that sober. International Cricket was released next, but neither games saw production outside of Australia. Nintendo’s 8-bit box would also never see any other titles covering either sport.

These days, though they hardly carve a fraction of the marketplace your Madden-this and FIFA-that’s do, cricket games aren’t the rarity they used to be. EA and Codemasters wage a rather one-sided, if not staggered, war over the sport on the consoles, while PC cricketing has various super-realistic titles for elitists to be smug over. I’m not going to pretend that a title released over two decades ago can hang with the new wave of ‘exciting’ cricket games; that would be hugely redundant. I am going to say that if the NES could only have the one cricket title available, it could have done a hell of a lot worse.

International Cricket knows that it has limitations, and works well within them. Bowling is semi-automated, letting you pick the length of the bowl and whether the ball goes off-or-near stump (cricket talk for which side of the batter the bowler aims) then the bowler just gets on and does it, pertaining to his stats and style. Medium or fast pace bowlers just lob the ball down the crease, while spiners will skid the ball off the surface in attempts to confuse batters. Getting results is all about varying length and pace, much like in real life, and you can spend ages getting the batter used to a series of short balls that bounce up to waist height before sneaking in longer deliveries delivered directly to his stumps in order to try and fool him. Or you can just keep lobbing quick, hard balls in and expect to get most AI controlled teams out in fewer than 50 runs.

Playing as the fielding team especially brings International Cricket’s unfortunate limitations into sharp focus. You can customise the position of your fielders, but they move without any semblance of pace, shuffling around lethargically. Should a ball be hit into the field and need to be chased down, their complete lack of speed is only one of three crippling issues. Another is how the computer will automatically assign you the nearest fielder to the ball, but will allocate him to human control off-screen half the time. Therefore, by the time you realise who you have control of, odds are, you’ve already started shuffling him off in the wrong direction. The bigger pitfall, however, is that the cricket field is tiny. Hit a ball, and it will roll away for a boundary long before the sloth-like fielders have time to react. Hit a ball up in the air, and all but the most laughable of mishits will score you a six.

Beam has done their best to work with what they had. Automatic fielding and marking where a falling ball is going to land can be turned on and off in the game’s option screen (just plug your ears so the dreadful music here doesn’t drive you slowly mad). The fielder’s mobility is greatly helped by a scrambling dive Superman would be envious of, but there’s just not enough room going spare to make it particularly viable. This is all played by bravely animated teams sporting their country’s uniform colours of choice, set against fields so green they’ll burn your eyes with emerald fire. Seriously – check it:

What really makes up for this, though, is the unintentionally great batting.
Modern cricket games (Read: anything released after International Cricket) try to be a little more complex in how a player can bowl at batters. Instead of picking a set bowl and leaving it up to the AI bowler to follow up, they’re instead presented a little cross-hair or pointer that they can place on the ground to plot the ball’s course. While this undoubtedly increases the options available for bowlers, it also means a human-controlled batter always has a heads up to what kind of delivery he’ll be facing. The antiquated trappings presented in this 1992 game does away with this pre-warning and instead challenges the batter to watch the flight of the ball, and try and plot his shot in the second or so it takes for the delivery to reach him.
Taking shots is all about the timing. Too early, and the ball will catch the edge of the bat, and probably fly into the slips for an easy catch. Too late, and you face being bowled out, or becoming victim of an LBW. Balls will spin and swing, meaning that a batter moving off-stump to try and land a better connection of a wayward ball may find themselves flummoxed by the bowl’s movement. It can all get surprisingly tactical should you abuse the two player option; it’s all wasted on the indifferent computer AI.

As such, International Cricket is an interesting footnote in history, made obsolete when Beam released Super International Cricket on the Super Nintendo just two years later. Not only did the 16-bit upgrade improve on just about every aspect of its predecessor, but managed to ship outside of Australia. As such, it’s a title that remains unlikely to warrant a revisit, remembered, perhaps fondly, by only the select few who had access. A niche market inside a niche market – it was always doomed, really. Perhaps it’s fair to say it deserved better, but its only relevance now is that of a historical relic. It’s an okay title; it made the best of what it had to work with, and eventually became the foundation for something better.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 16, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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