When talking about a game of the calibre of Brian Lara Cricket ‘96, it’s best to begin with a few things that it is not. Firstly it is not Graham Gooch World Class Cricket (also known as Allan Border Cricket to more fortunate inhabitants of Australasia, or even Jonty Rhodes Cricket to our South African cousins), although the two are so similar as to be virtually identical. Secondly, it is not the greatest cricket game ever made, that particular honor belongs to Shane Warne Cricket ’99. But that is pretty much it as far as formalities goes. If you have been feeling a particular emptiness of late, perhaps one you have attributed to the soulless milieu of contemporary existence, or your inability to dance to your own personal boomboom (something someone much smarter than us once told us is particularly important), maybe what you have really been missing is a little Brian Lara Cricket in your life.
I make no secret of the fact that I loved this game back in the day. In fact, much like with Shane Warne Cricket, I went out of my way to buy a new console, in this case a Megadrive, purely to play it. Any game that convinced me to even temporarily unplug my Super Nintendo must have been very bloody good indeed. And Brian Lara Cricket was definitely that. It was so good that I would on occasion even play with English county teams, despite the fact I knew nothing about them and that they were full of Englishmen. And in my early years I loathed Englishmen. An inclination that the passage of time has done little to arrest.
So what was so good about Brian Lara Cricket? For anyone looking at the game for the first time now it must be difficult to be convinced of it’s appeal, particularly since time has not been favorable to it. But much like with Lindsay Lohan, this was once the most desirable item going. And unlike Lindsay it still retains some of its charms today. In the process of reviewing the game I clocked up a rather embarrassing number of hours on the copy I picked up from eBay (yes, everything was completely above board, no need to get the lawyers involved…). Meanwhile I wouldn’t give Lindsay five minutes these days. Probably less out of fear of catching something.
But, quickly moving on, what is most engaging about Brian Lara Cricket is just how well it plays. Sure bowling is the usual button mashing mess we loathe, and batsmen are planted to the crease like David Warner facing spin, but there is a still a great deal of depth there. You actually (shock, horror) have to play properly to succeed, which involves playing the ball on its merits and leaving the ‘tonk’ button for emergencies only. Batting becomes very engaging when a simple mistimed shot spells doom rather than a top edge over the slips for six. Careening along at run rates of 10 or more an over are not all that common. Not unless you enjoy seeing your wickets tumble with equal rapidity that is.
The game does has its issues of course. Some of the shots seem particularly difficult to play. The animation on the horizontal bat shots leaves a lot to be desired and means you are on far safer ground waiting for the straight one and driving down the ground. Advice that would also serve Australia well in the upcoming Ashes. Maybe instead of training they could all just sit down and play this; it couldn’t hurt. Fielding is likewise pretty poor. The zoomed in view means trying to intercept a ball that seems to break all laws of physics by accelerating faster the further it is from the batsmen, is largely an exercise in futility. But whatever, nobody ever played a cricket game to enjoy the fielding. It’s like watching the IPL purely for Danny Morrison’s commentary.
But aside from these admittedly minor quibbles, the game is positively dripping with charm, from the decidedly English atmosphere of proceedings, so realistic you almost expect someone to shove a barely warm Cornish pasty into your hands and nick your wallet when you try to thank them, to the jaunty title music. The Australian version (confusingly titled Shane Warne Cricket) goes so far as to include a rendition of Waltzing Matilda to get you in the mood. There is even the most delightful white picket fence surrounding the ground. All the better for keeping the common riffraff away from things. But perhaps the game’s best asset is how quickly it plays. Screw your over the top TV style presentation, this is just all about the cricket. No mucking about between deliveries means you can get through a full game in pretty short order. The game returning to the menu screen between overs is an unwanted intrusion, but one easily tolerated given how well everything else works.
And therein lies the source of Brian Lara Cricket’s success; its simplicity. It doesn’t offer anything other than a solid game of cricket. Back then that was all the technology really could hope to provide, but in the barren wasteland that is contemporary cricket games (like everyone else we have pinned our hopes on the upcoming Ashes Cricket 2013 to revive the genre) it’s an approach that is seldom emulated. That’s why Brian Lara Cricket has held up so well; there has not really been anything since that you can measure it against. Super International Cricket provided stupid over the top fun, Shane Warne Cricket ’99 is probably the best simulation of the sport ever made, whilst EA Cricket is, errr, worse than anthrax. Amongst these Brian Lara Cricket stands alone. A simple, accessible, fun game of cricket. We still bloody love it.