Brian Lara Cricket Review
[Author note: I swear to Miyamoto, this will be the last sports game review you’ll see in a while, promise. Thanks for sticking with the series and please enjoy the next edition of On Her Majesty’s Sega Mega Drive]
I live in fear. See, I have these dreams where I’m running but feel like I’m falling at the same time, desperately trying to escape and stay alive. I feel my tormentor looming on me, its massive presence casting a massive shadow on me, blocking out the dim moonlight. It chases me. Haunts me. I run as fast as I can, left, and right, through the field, trying to avoid the cold, dead, white figures, twisting through, trying to find an exit. I look back – it gains on me, and I yelp. I turn around, but I lose my balance, and topple into one of the figures. I splay out on the ground, and the shadow gets thicker and thicker. Nowhere to run. I can’t do anything but cry. It rushes towards me, the tears streaming out of my eyes, and that’s when I wake up in a cold sweat. This is precisely the effect that Brian Lara Cricket on the Sega Mega Drive can have on you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Cricket’s the stereotypically British game, so how on Earth could I hate it? That is where you would gravely misunderstand; I rather like the sport. Essentially a slower, more nuanced version of baseball, cricket is the sport that everyone in Britain says they hate, but inevitably draws massive numbers when the Ashes series comes around, which is a big match between England and Australia. I even find myself drawn into the action, and I make no bones about the fact that sport and I have a love-hate relationship. So what is my issue with this game?
To be blunt: this is the first game I ever played on the Mega Drive, and it’s astonishingly poor. I bought my own Mega Drive model II last year after having spent years emulating. I remember being like a kid on Christmas Day, getting that box and tearing it open, shaking with excitement. There it was in all its majestic glory, its brilliant black finish shining in the centre of the cardboard box, sitting on a pile of bubble wrap, and, flanked by it, four games! This got better and better. So, without thinking, I tried the one at the top of the stack, Brian Lara Cricket, and fired up the console. After being so excited, my Cheshire cat grin dissipated into a sabre-toothed grimace.
Now, cricket isn’t exactly the most exciting game, but Codemasters have done well to take an already-dull game and make it even more tedious. A match starts with a choice: you’re given the option to bowl of bat. It doesn’t matter either one you pick, as both are unadulterated misery. When you bowl, you’re given the options of where you want the ball to go, how much spin you want to put on it, and how much power you want behind your shot. I can tell you right now that Brian Lara Cricket would be a much better game if even at one of these elements worked. The marker that indicates where the ball will end up slides around like a penguin on a sheet of ice, the ‘spin’ meter moves too fast for human eyes, and good luck trying to overpower the opposing team, because the shot power meter never goes above ‘0’. I’ve tried tapping buttons, mashing them all – nothing makes it even wiggle. Batting is mostly the same; I can barely control the batsman without getting my whole team bowled out in five minutes flat! What we have, then, is a broken game – one where the only way to win is through luck; where winning is a hollow victory, because doing so means you abandoned other games for this miserable pile of scrap.
Nothing can save this game, but at least Codemasters had the decency to make it look good. Players are well defined, very human looking, and move with real fluidity through the lush emerald-green oval fields you play in. If your only dealings with Brian Lara Cricket came from just pouring over screenshots on the internet, you might be fooled into thinking this is a good game. What I also appreciated is how the developers demonstrate everything in the game graphically. By this, I mean that many games of this era explained things with a bit of expositional text in cases of things they couldn’t animate. Here, everything gets animated. From the opening coin flip(featuring QEII’s glorious visage), to the arena itself; even Brian Lara’s large, slightly terrifying face are all included in the game in painstaking detail. If only they spent this much time on the actual game, right?
However, it’s, unsurprisingly, business as usual in the music department. Upon start-up, we’re ‘treated’ to the main theme, a jaunty little composition consisting of steel drums and other tropical instruments. I have to ask, how does this fit the theme of cricket? I know Brian Lara is from the West Indies, and this style of music befits his lineage, but it doesn’t exactly say ‘big cricket match’ – it feels like it’d be more at home in Cool Spot. The rest of the soundtrack consists of – nothing! This is the only song we really get, apart from a few notes played during menus. After that, we get silence during matches, which is convenient, as your anguished screams will be all you can hear instead.
As a final odd point, the actual cartridge for this game is an oddity in and of itself. You’ll all be familiar with the shape of Mega Drive/Genesis carts (I believe the Genesis flavours are larger). This cart is essentially like any other Mega Drive cart; bar for the fact that it’s domed. Seriously, check it out:
Brian Lara Cricket is, if I may steal a line from Alex Navarro, as bad as your mind will allow you to comprehend. Now I’ve actually reviewed this game, a weight has come off my chest, and my dreams will be plagued with one less bad game. Don’t even think about buying this one as a joke – the only joke here is that this one was ever released. This game deserves nothing less than an AVGN-style destruction – and I’m delighted to oblige.