Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but while a game experience faithful to its source may lure fans to the virtual reproduction, hardline adherence doesn't necessarily make for enjoyable gameplay. The latter is certainly the case with Cricket for the Wii, and when you're not wrestling with the rubbish control system, you'll be assaulted by bland visuals, incompetent AI, and stilted audio commentary.
Motion controls permeate every aspect of Cricket for the Wii, (Ashes Cricket 2009 in Europe) and the promise of twisting an arm to alter the flight and turn of your leg break or swinging the Wii Remote to simulate driving the ball through the covers is sure to have every lounge room cricket nut salivating. But while they do a reasonable job successfully mimicking the real-world arm movements of bowlers and batsmen, the game's control system is weighed down by inaccurate gesture mapping and repetitive movements.
The game is divided into three modes: Ashes, Exhibition, and Scenario. Ashes offers five-day, five-match tests between Australia and England using the current real-world player roster. Exhibition allows you to play one-off matches with your choice of the eight available sides in six to 50 over contests. Scenario mode offers seven challenges to complete per nation, which includes hitting a set number of consecutive sixes, taking a required number of wickets within a period of time, and batting out the end of innings to secure victory. Ashes and Exhibition play are straight matches, while Scenario provides some much needed variety. Unfortunately, in the case of the latter, the small country roster and similar nature of the challenges means it doesn't offer much replay value once completed.
The long length of Ashes matches means it's not necessarily feasible to play four innings in a single sitting. While you can save and resume matches at will, the fast-forward simulation option found in the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions is missing here. This option awarded you an average score for the innings and let you skip straight to the thing you love doing most--either bowling or batting. The fact that it's missing seems at odds with the casual friendliness of the game.
Multiplayer is one of Cricket's strongest components and allows two players to swap the strike, alternate bowling, or battle against each other as their favourite represented international teams. Four-player matches are also supported and pair two players on each team; though the non-striker batsman and the rested bowler are left waiting for their turn. Multiplayer succeeds because it mostly circumvents the game's unpredictable AI and provides a much more level playing field than playing solo against the CPU. Cricket doesn't support online play, so you'll need friends and a handful of Wii Remotes if you want to vie for the virtual cup.
As the bowler, you're given the option to shine the ball by vigorously shaking the Wii Remote for a few seconds to build up a power meter before each delivery. It's never required, but doing so offers you additional swing or spin to complement your bowler's style. Once you've decided whether to shine or skip and are ready to start your run, you'll need to hover over and click a cricket ball superimposed over the middle of the screen. This frees up your cursor and allows you to steer around the pitch by tilting the remote to determine the line and length of your intended delivery. Unfortunately for those who are pedantic about their ball placement or have shaky hands, after just a few seconds, the game locks your marker in place and begins your approach to the crease. The console and PC versions of Ashes Cricket 2009 allowed you to move your cursor until the ball left your hand to help you bamboozle batsmen, but unfortunately, this feature hasn't made the transition to the Wii, forcing you to bowl the delivery wherever it lies. Your only other option is to do nothing when prompted to bowl and take a one-run penalty for a no-ball.
Not bowling is an easy way to avoid being belted to the boundary on a loose delivery (and makes for boring multiplayer when no one wants to bowl duds), but it is completely at odds with the rules of the sport because failure to release the ball would be called dead in any real-world game. It's a surprising liberty and punishment for a game that attempts to mirror the sport so closely but often results in long drawn-out overs and frustrated batsmen. If you do manage to get the bowling cursor in a spot you'd like to bowl and lock it in, it's not uncommon to see the marker shift slightly either left or right of your intended spot. A few pixels here and there may sound inconsequential, but they represent the difference between a tight, scoreless bowling line with LBW (leg before wicket) chances and being flicked off the leg or off stump for runs.
Batting is just as frustrating, and because it's like bowling, there's no alternative control scheme available for button presses instead of gestures. Every ball faced will require a matching controller shake to be hit. Control is limited to either defensive or aggressive shots by holding the corresponding A or B button as you swing. Striking the ball sweetly necessitates swinging at the correct time, though you'll need to juggle player confidence and luck because new and rattled players have a smaller strike zone for successfully hitting the ball.
Despite switching developers, receiving a name change, and launching several months after its next-generation counterparts, Cricket is very much based on Ashes Cricket 2009. While many of the bugs that plagued those versions have been fixed, a new crop of issues rear their head here. AI inconsistency still remains and alternates among belting you around the park for overs at a time, fumbling in the field, and bungling chances at wickets. Fielding is a completely passive experience as well. Catches are automatic, you can't designate an end to return the ball to, and there's no control of your bowler once the ball has left your hand even if you're the nearest fielder to the action. Teammates will pick up the ball facing the opposite direction and drop simple catches, but they can inexplicably manage direct hits of the stumps from almost anywhere on the field. That is, once they're done struggling to pick it up--jogging rather than running and confusedly making a path to play fetch. The only nifty aspect of being out in the grass is the custom fielding placement option. Don't like where a player is standing? Switch to the overhead field view, pick up a player, and plop them in a new spot. Placement presets are available, but if you're bowling a line hoping the batsmen will sky an edge, it pays to be able to put a man exactly where you think it will go.
Cricket's audio and visuals are just as disappointing as the gameplay. Only the Australian and English sides are licensed, though their likenesses are anything but accurate, and the same vague look-alikes are available for the other competing nations. Player animations are for the most part quite natural, though the ball magically warps from ground to the player's hand, and there is some horrible interlacing tearing on panning shots which make it all but unwatchable. That's when the ball doesn't disappear during replays. Small touches, such as bowlers marking their starting point, rocking on their heels before they begin their run, and craning their necks as sixes soar over the rope, help to give the game some flair, but they feel like rearranged deckchairs on the Titanic in an otherwise mediocre game.
Former cricket greats take up the microphone to offer commentary, but they come across so wooden that it sounds like a script-reading session at gunpoint. Rambles about the importance of spinners to a team and appropriate pitch preparation are dull and repeated far too often. The fact that banal anecdotes are cut off midsentence and do not resume after the announcement of a four is an unintended saving grace. It's not uncommon for commentary to be out of step with onscreen action, and far too often, it's suggested the ball rocketed to the boundary when it was more like watching snails inch through molasses.
Cricket attempts to replicate its namesake sport for Nintendo's family-friendly console. But, while its endeavour makes the natural matchup between the device and the sport, frankly, if you're willing to bowl the potential 1,080 deliveries (assuming there are no sundries) to play a test match in full, you'd be much better served picking up a real bat and ball and heading to the park. At least, that way, you'll have some fun.