While we love our cricket at 51allout, there are certain things about the game that drive us mad, such as Nick Knight and reviews of books that take longer to write than the actual book did. Something else that we can add to the list are computer games about cricket. While football has been nailed in videogame format by the likes of Championship Manager, Pro Evo Soccer and Kevin Keegan’s Player Manager on the SNES, nobody has ever really perfected the cricket game in quite the same way.
And so, being men of a certain age, we’ll do what we always do in this situation: sulk and complain about things on the internet. Over the coming months, years and decades (James’s review of Wii Cricket is provisionally scheduled for 2042) we’ll have a look at some of the cricket games that we can vaguely remember from the mists of time, hopefully playing them (if the petty cash tin extends to buying a new ColecoVision for the office) and generally laughing at their rubbish interpretations of our favourite sport. And where better to start than all the way back in 1983, with the excitingly titled…
Back in the very early 80’s, computers were seen as something of a novelty, like hilarious chart-topping Australian band Men At Work. Like Men At Work singles, games came on cassette tapes, took what seemed like days to load and were bloody awful. There’s no better example of this than the Spectrum’s first cricket game, Test Match Cricket (or, as it was sometimes enigmatically known, Test Match). It was actually one of a pair, the other being One Day Cricket. Even back then it seemed a little ridiculous to have to own two games (albeit on two sides of the same tape) just to change the number of overs per side and the number of innings, but it’s probably not that different from Nintendo’s relentless ripping off of anyone dumb enough to buy multiple versions of Animal Crossing.
In terms of actual gameplay there really wasn’t much to Test Match Cricket. Interaction was basically limited to picking who was going to bowl the next over and whether or not to run when bat met ball, making the whole experience rather dull, like being invited to training only to find that your only job is to fetch the ball when it goes into a nearby field with that really angry horse. You had to do the same for both teams, so if you wanted an element of competition you’d have to find someone else with nothing better to do for a few hours, something of a challenge when everyone at school seemed naturally drawn towards punching us in the back of the head all day.
As a very young man, the concept of building an innings was a bit foreign. Hence every time one of the players hit the ball, even if only to the nearest fielder, the natural inclination was to leg it and hope for the best – like Knightmare, the only way was onwards; there was no turning back. The end result of this was regularly seeing a side bowled out for 30, with eight or nine runouts. Had we possessed some sort of ability to see sport from the future, perhaps via an almanac that we’d acquired though a very complicated story involving travelling back in time and copping off with our mum, we’d have named every player on the England side O Shah. This biting satire of future events would almost certainly have increased our popularity amongst our notoriously fickle infant peers.
(Actually, as part of our research for this article we discovered that if you give every player on a team the same name, the game crashes. Hence a team of eleven Steve Smiths remains an elusive dream.)
It’s probably fair to say that playability wasn’t really a major consideration during the design of this game. You couldn’t actually do any sort of tactics, such as deliberately bowling beamers at Australians, and you couldn’t even tell your batsmen that they might want to get on with it during the final overs of an innings. The whole thing was rather uneventful back in 1983 and, having dug out a Spectrum Emulator to play it again now, it’s clear that (like for Sam Fox) the ravages of time have not been kind. Plus it brought back some painful memories from the school yard, memories that our subconscious had managed to suppress for the best part of three decades that are now spilling out all over the place, like blood from a nose punched by a very aggressive young lady who misinterpreted our attempts at striking up conversation as some sort of slight upon her person, setting the tone for the next twenty years.
So there we are, a somewhat inauspicious start to the feature. However, better things surely lie ahead. Is there a game that you’d like to see reviewed? If so, get in touch via our email or the comments section below and we’ll get one of the work experience boys to
steal track down a copy so that we can cast our critical eyes over it, before slating it for being old.