I must admit, I never thought I’d see Cricket Captain land on the Nintendo Switch. The Football Manager Touch series does fine, but this is a whole other kettle of niche. In theory, cricket should work nicely for a manager game. Cricket is a sport of statistics and tactics, as well as a combination of individual brilliance and good teamwork. In theory, cricket has all the qualities that make the Football Manager series so compelling. Unfortunately, in execution, this game offers very little of interest.
As a manager game, Cricket Captain never gives you direct control of game-day action. Instead, you’re responsible for managing your team, hiring and firing players, and maintaining the club finances. Then, during a match, you do get to select some tactical options (such as where to bowl the ball or how aggressively to bat). The game will play out with those decisions having some impact on how things play out.
The developer’s intent is pretty obvious. The idea behind Cricket Captain is to get players thinking about the ebbs and flows of a match, and adjust tactics on the fly. In real cricket, if a batter is set and sitting on 75+ runs, bowling to them like they’re facing their first couple of balls is asking for punishment. Meanwhile, go out too aggressively with the batting at the start of an innings and you’ll find the team bowled out quite quickly. Cricket is a game of patiently building towards a result, and Cricket Captain’s engine does simulate that.
The problem is that it doesn’t do it in a particularly nuanced or interesting way. You look at Football Manager and, sure, it can all seem overwhelming to a new player, but this is offset by that impression of overwhelming depth and eventually gives way to a sense that the player has the most finite control over a million tactical options.
By contrast, Cricket Captain never finds another level. Initially, it’s accessible enough that players can get stuck in and enjoy the fact that they’re actually managing the tactics of the team on the field of play. But after a couple of games of doing that, players are instead going to find the lack of finite control over the team to be frustrating. It doesn’t take long to tune out of Cricket Captain, recycling the same approach to play, and, likely, putting a movie on or watching something more interesting on TV as you wait for matches to play out.
Furthermore, because the tactical depth of Cricket Captain is so shallow, one of the side effects is that you’ll often feel like results are arbitrary. There’s not that much you can do about results, see. If your team is performing badly, it’s not like you can step in and make a full suite of tactical changes and bring some players in off the bench to cause a turnaround, as is frequently the case with Football Manager. With THAT series, you always feel like the result is at least somewhat of a reflection of your ability to develop tactics to counter the tactics of your opponent. But with Cricket Captain, often you’re going to feel like it didn’t matter what you did, the result was going to play out the way it did no matter what interventions you throw at it.
It doesn’t help that Cricket Captain 2023 has a dismal interface and presentation, and it amazes me that the developers have never tried to improve this in the long time that they’ve been making these games. We all joke about Football Manager being a “spreadsheet” game, but the developers do a reasonable job of designing the UI and UX so that it doesn’t feel like one to navigate. In contrast, Cricket Captain looks like a dry spreadsheet, and while it’s navigable, it’s not enjoyable or pleasant to look at. The only relief you get from that is when the replay engine gives you a brief video clip of big shots or wickets, but these clips are anything but cinematic, and feature generic blob characters swinging at balls stiffly. Every “key moment” clip in Football Manager is one you watch intently because it gives you insight into the performance of your team… and they can be just plain exciting when it’s the last moments of a tight game and you just know the “key moment” clip has cut in because a decisive moment is about to happen, one way or another. With Cricket Captain it’s more a case of “oh, okay then.” There’s no tension or atmosphere in this thing. Even in the finals.
It’s easy to excuse Cricket Captain on account of it being an “indie” title, but this developer has been churning these out for many years now, and whatever tweaks they’ve been making in that time is barely noticeable. Frankly, this plays exactly the same as I remember Cricket Captain 2011 did (that was even one of the earlier DDNet reviews!). Well over a decade ago. I’m sure there have been some AI tweaks and some kind of additional depth worked into the way the back end coding handles statistics, but the experience has been unchanged and those “under-the-hood” tweaks haven’t added nearly enough to justify it.
I never thought I’d see Cricket Captain on the Switch. Cricket Captain 2023 should have stayed on platforms where I wouldn’t have been tempted to pay for it. What a waste of money.