Summer’s here, bringing with it that classic sport with balls and bats.
Since most of us who play instead of watching it are on sandlots instead of in stadiums, there’s also frequently rule tweaks to account for conditions/players/etc. The version we’ll be playing on what we’ll call Mark’s Virtual Sandlot includes a few simple basics:
• Everybody bats each inning. No strikeouts – players bat until they get a hit or are out.
• “Imaginary baserunners,” but simplified to avoid arguments about how many runners there are and/or which ones scored. Instead, if the batter can run to second base in a straight line past the pitcher it counts at a run. But, to reward killer shots, the batter can score additional points by returning to home and back to second as many times as is safe. Furthermore, a hit beyond the fence scores six runs while a grounder that escapes the field counts as four.
Much as this sounds like Calvinball, it’s the batting sport of choice for real men. It’s what James Bond would play if he were an overpaid athlete instead of an alcohol- and women-abusing assassin.
Ballplayers outside the United States probably already know the punchline for the iPhone/iPod/iPad game about to be reviewed. A hint for those still wondering: It’s the second-most popular sport in the world, topped only by the evil socialist version of football. Hint number two: It’s what you’ll hear among a crowd who’s clueless what I’m talking about.
Just the mention of the the word “cricket” is likely to send scornful gamers fleeing in search of a “real” sport. But those sticking around will find that, much like soccer, a good virtual simulation of the game can be both entertaining and offer insight into why “those” people are such fanatics. Not to mention figuring out exactly what Arthur Dent did to save the universe during the Ashes series at Lord’s Cricket Ground at the end of “Life, the Universe and Everything.”
IPL Indiagames Cricket T20 Fever is the newest of numerous cricket games for iOS devices. The $4.99 app offers season-length tournaments featuring all eight teams and their players in the Indian Premier League, whose storied history dates all the way back to 2008. Lest the ill-formed think this is some bumbling backwater organization from an impoverished nation whose greatest artwork is the lavish carvings on the endless mounds of cow manures in fields (seriously – I found them more impressive than the tourist-overrun Taj Mahal), consider this (gramar-corrected) paragraph from Wikipedia:
“In 2010, IPL became the first sporting event ever to be broadcast live on YouTube in association with Indiatimes. Its brand value is estimated to be around $3.67 billion in its fourth season. According to the Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries, IPL is the second highest-paid league, based on first-team salaries on a pro rata basis, second only to the NBA. It is estimated that the average salary of an IPL player over a year would be $3.84 million.”
Hardcore cricket players will have to determine for themselves if T20 Fever is pongo or out for a duck. This review is from the perspective of a famim who doesn’t know an oval from a box.
The T20 part, for instance, refers to “a new, fast paced, form of cricket limited to twenty overs per innings, plus some other rules changes, specifically designed to broaden the appeal of the game.” Despite my considerable recent time getting acquainted with the sport, I’m still not certain how that applies. I’m guessing it’s roughly equal to someone totally new to hockey appreciating the finer differences between Olympic and NHL rules.
The two-sentence review summary for those wondering if it’s worth wasting more of their time reading this than they already have: Those who really do think soccer = socialism will get little return on their investment beyond finding new ways to make fun of socialist “baseball.” Those open to learning why cricket is so wildly popular – or are fanatics of this particular league – might find this app worthwhile, but there’s much better and cheaper options (some free) using the same game engine that will be detailed as well. (Note: One of the free options is a trial version of this program, so keep that in mind when wondering it it’s worth trying at all.)
T20 Fever is not the greatest app for novices trying to learn the rules of cricket, so a few basics. Baseball fanatics will need to start thinking of pitchers as “bowlers,” catchers as “wicketkeepers” and apply the rules mentioned above (and maybe wear “Howzat?” t-shirts). There’s obviously more rules besides those since, as 007 puts it, “cricket is a much more difficult and skillful game” than baseball. One example, just to dip a toe in the water, is two batters are up at the same time (think of one at home plate and one at second base for now). Believe it or not, this makes more sense when you learn the batters’ area (definitely don’t call it a “box”) is in the middle of their field. An outstanding way to learn the rules in a few minutes is by watching a series of short videos at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:This_is_cricket.OGG.
The non-interactive tutorial explains and illustrates the basics of batting and bowling actions, but allowing the player to practice these skills as well would be a lot more useful. Instead, you just tap a “next” button a few times until a “you are a quick learner” message appears at the end regardless of whether you understood or even read the instructions.
It’ll also be your initiation into probably the game’s most irritating aspect: a nearly non-stop barrage of in-game ads (often in delayed “loading” screens between routine actions) for a product I will never buy again. I could excuse the intrusion if this were a free app, but $5 starts edging close to premium pricing, especially for a sport that’s relatively obscure when it comes to videogaming. That might be a reason Indiagames needs to squeeze every rupee from it they can, but the alternative titles I mentioned above are considerably less intrusive in this regard.
Options in the game-select menus allow toggling of cutscenes, instant replay and sound. This is also where players select teams, stadium location, one of three difficulty levels and the number of “overs” (a series of six legitimate pitches) that determine the length of the game. Something huge that will be missed by devotees of sports video game franchises from Madden all the way back to Football Manger in the early 1980s is roster management. No drafting or trading players, salary caps, injuries or other off-field activities so vital to all professional sports these days.
So T20 Fever lives or dies on its on-field action. Unfortunately, my sense is it’s too awkward to lure novices and not in-depth enough to satisfy hardcore players. The latter is a hard judgement to make by someone whose far from an expert, but your inability to control your runner and fielders after a hit are a good indicator. Again, using a baseball reference, imagine all you do after a hit is tap a “run” button once and a “don’t run” button if you want him to stop at the base he’s approach, and doing nothing but watch your infield/outfield when the other team gets a hit.
Batting will likely be far easier than bowling for first-timers since the only quick reflex really necessary is timing that swings your bat (and the speed of the oncoming ball is notably slower than Major League Baseball). The interface is a little awkward since sometimes you press a tiny prompt button and sometimes anywhere on the screen to advance the action past various cut scenes. It took a number of pitches before I managed to connect for the first time, but like any bat-and-ball game improvement comes with time.
Those debating the merits of cricket over baseball probably won’t find T20 Fever useful from the batting perspective since there’s not a lot of action/strategy besides picking hitters in the right order to face bowlers and knowing when to tap the “don’t run” button if you can’t score additional runs safely. There is also a “loft” button that toggles between ground and air hits, with the former being safer and the latter offering a chance at those six-run out-of-the-field shots. (Cricket players might argue the nuances of my opinion, but I can’t see them winning over new coverts to the sport, which this review is about).
Bowling and fielding is a different story, which some newbies may have already realized upon hearing the batters are positioned in the center of the ballpark. A couple other things to mention is the batters run past each other simultaneously after a hit (so the “other” guy bats if they can only score one run safely) and after every “over” the bowler (or often a new one, since various fielders take turns at the position) throws in the opposite direction.
Much as someone playing “socialist” football probably is clueless about the difference between a goal line defense and a prevent in the “American” version (they do sound similar in concept), newcomers to cricket will mostly find the various formations little more than dots scattered in various haphazard patterns. There’s a fairly large number of preset deployments for various batters and situations, but whether savvy cricketers will miss being able to customize fielders’ positions is beyond my ability to judge. For everyone else, if figuring out the right strategies against each batter doesn’t make you appreciate the complexity of cricket it’s doubtful much else will.
It’s not hard to argue bowling is a more intricate skill in cricket than pitching in baseball, since for starters you can throw the ball into the dirt. Obviously good control is necessary since errant throws will allow opposing batters to score runs while your wicketkeeper chases down your mistake. Also, speaking of that weird “wicket” thing, there aren’t any strikes for getting a throw past the batter, but hitting the wicket behind him means he’s out.
To bowl a ball you 1) tap where you want to position a marker your bowler will throw at, 2) select a fielding position layout, 3) tap a speed-bar icon and 4) tap a rapidly moving arrow to set direction. Everything after that is automated and, again, whether handling the actual fielding duties is something experienced cricket players will miss isn’t something I can fairly evaluate.
One thing newcomers to the game are likely to feel is each batting/bowling stint is extremely long compared to baseball, possibly making the game monotonous. Keep in mind cricket is not a nine-inning sport, with matches typically lasting one or two innings (and a lot of them have designated “tea” and other breaks, partially because a series of matches are often played in succession).
T20 Fever offers quick matches, challenge modes and full tournament play. There’s nothing that lets you examine rosters (and thus the strengths/weaknesses or its players), so a short tip to newcomers is the Chennai Super Kings are the best team and the Pune Warriors India are the doormats.
If this sounds enticing enough to make the sport worth trying, here’s the part that might make it more so: Indiagames also makes other previously released titles that are much better bargain. A couple in particular are:
• Australia vs. England Test Series (free trial version): The curious will lose nothing but time with this app offering free “quick matches” that are nearly identical to T20 Fever in every aspect (the only difference is this has a swing meter to aid the timing of the batter, which is why I’d recommend it instead of the trial version of T20 Fever). That doesn’t include the different number of overs and other things affecting the rules, but newcomers will notice this about as much as the clueless would notice the difference between college and pro football. If this can’t sustain your interest for a match there’s no reason to pay money for anything more substantial.
• Cricket World Cup Fever (99 cents): Definitely what I’d recommend for those deciding cricket is indeed a worthy challenge. Offers more teams from around the globe and more rule customization options for one-fifth the price of T20 Fever. Otherwise I can’t discern the difference between the two, although I’m sure some expert could set me straight on the finer points.
Yes, there’s other cricket games from other developers and no, I didn’t spend any time evaluating them. Like baseball, there’s a variety of realistic simulations and quick-thrill titles such as batting challenges (along with dart boards and other things removed from the actual field).
For those wondering if any of these titles was enough to get me hooked on the sport, the short answer is not really. But I’m also not a huge baseball fan so it’s to be expected my enthusiasm for bat-and-ball sports in general might be muted. It’s actually that lack of enthusiasm for baseball that made me try cricket since taking a negative attitude toward something unfamiliar purely on spec is a lousy thing to do (plus the fact I now live in Europe and figure it’s useful knowing something about what the locals are following). It’d be fair to say T20 Fever gave me an understanding and appreciation for the sport, if not an overwhelming enthusiasm to watch or participate. I do wish I’d encountered one of their older and superior titles first, even if regretting the spending of four extra dollars is pretty absurd given the real miseries in the world these days. But it would have paid for tea and biscuits while I was writing this…
IPL Indiagames Cricket T20 Fever
Requires: iOS 4.2 or later
Size: 25.3 MB