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Cricket Through the Ages Review - Arrow in the Knee!

Cricket Through the Ages

PC/SWITCH

Release Date: 3/1/24

Free Lives/Devolver Digital




As someone who’s spent his whole life aggressively uninterested in sports, I admire when a game like What the Golf comes along and makes a complete mockery of them for some cheap laughs. When done well, it can be a hilarious, clever way to jump between goofy activities just rapidly enough that the shallow mechanics underneath stays sufficiently fresh. Admittedly, I liked but didn’t love What the Golf – for as clever as most of it was, some frustrating levels made it grow a little exhausting by the end. But overall, I’m glad I played it. Cricket Through the Ages, on the other hand, the latest sports-related playable satire to attempt to turn mechanical jank into a feature rather than a flaw, gets no such compliment.


So – while I say Cricket Through the Ages has a similar vibe to What the Golf, I should clarify that it’s somehow much narrower in scope in terms of its gameplay. Cricket Through the Ages has a campaign of sorts, which takes you through some silly playable scenes, as well as more extensive quote-unquote “cricket” matches that outline the entire history of cricket in a totally not made-up way. The setup is really fun and narrated with the exact level of tongue-in-cheek pretention that the absurd premise demands. There were a handful of physical comedy bits that got me actually laughing out loud, which is why it’s such a shame that it mostly varies between kind of decent and absolutely dreadful to play.

Each so-called “age” of cricket has a distinct level to conquer, with its own rules to follow to eke out a win. While some levels mix things up a bit, the overwhelming majority of the gameplay is some variation on holding the left trigger to swing your arm around, and letting go at the precise moment that the situation demands, depending whether you’re the pitcher or the batter. So, to be clear, a majority of Cricket Through the Ages is a bunch of levels where you hold a button to windmill your arm and hope that physics and timing cooperate with one another. And spoiler alert – often they do NOT cooperate with one another, and losing a match then having to repeat it can get pretty frustrating when the primary reason for your loss is the horrific controls.



Look, maybe I’m about to sound like an old scrooge here, but even for games that wear their jankiness as a badge of honor, we have to have some level of minimum standard for controls that makes it feel like you’re actually controlling a character rather than feeling like you’re randomly poking a person-shaped pile of collapsing spaghetti noodles. So not only was much of the gameplay too simplistic to hold my attention, but it was also much too janky to have been much fun in the first place.


Cricket Through the Ages makes some attempt to distract you from its shallowness by interrupting levels with strange interludes, like having both players fight each other with umbrellas during a bout of rain, or having you throw bowling balls instead of cricket balls just for the lulz. I get what they were going for here – but to be honest the execution is awful. Things that are worth a brief chuckle like the ones mentioned above get repeated seemingly dozens of times, and doing poorly in them can set you back or even lose you a match, which is much less funny than it is annoying when the reason for you losing is controls that are deliberately unresponsive.


I should mention that Cricket Through the Ages is a game that can be played with one player or two players and let me be the first to tell you that if you’re getting this game for single player, you’re making a terrible mistake. This is a two player game through and through if you want it to be even passably fun. People’s tolerance of this is bound to vary, but my personal opinion is that the first half of Cricket Through the Ages is an absolute trial in patience if you’re playing by yourself. Wacky physics and AI that often seems to completely derail within seconds of a round starting can be chuckle-worthy at first, but having to play these sequences ad-nauseum and need to beat the AI to progress more than slightly ruined the fun. Playing against another actual human improved the experience pretty substantially, but even so the shallowness of it all shines early and often.

Past that first half, the game actually does a bit of a recovery with a World War 1 themed level that had a more concrete goal of bayonetting and grenading your approaching enemies while you try to be first to their goal line. This one was actually a really good time once I got a feel for the controls, and while still pretty shallow and prone to some annoyance, at its best it reminded me of a watered-down version of a game like Sportsfriends or Nidhogg.



Later levels are less consistent, but at least bring an interesting enough format that I constantly debated whether I was having fun or not. The Olympic games, for example, mix things up by ditching or re-contexualizing much of the one-button repetitive swinging we were doing before, and throwing you at a wide array of Olympic events and giving you a few chances to get a medal in each. But somehow, the number of these Olympic games that was really clever versus kind of atrocious is just about neck and neck. Like once I figured out the archery game, it was actually pretty fun. But the climbing game took at least three years off my life. But the gymnastics section was cool and felt like it actually required some skill. But then the rowing section made me want to delete the game from my hard drive. Even if the level as a whole went quickly enough that it was… I suppose… fine?... over all, the whiplash in quality between minigames was plenty noticeable.

Thankfully, at least the presentation here is pretty good. I don’t think the minimalistic sound design is out to win any awards, but the silly ragdoll animations, variety of locations and fun narration are charming and made me want to enjoy the game a lot more than I actually did. There are some bugs though - On one occasion the game didn’t score correctly, saying I required 19 points to win a match but actually requiring at least 24. And for some reason, despite the game allowing two players to share the same controller, attempting to do this on the Steam Deck was mysteriously impossible for me. It runs great on Steam Deck otherwise.


There’s not a lot more for me to say about Cricket Through the Ages because there’s simply not much to it. At all. I honestly, truly hated it at first, gaining no joy whatsoever from the experience other than the briefly cheeky cutscenes. But ultimately, with some of its better levels considered, I didn’t completely hate it. I really didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it either, and I’m not going to pretend there isn’t an audience for this, because I’m sure somebody, somewhere is going to be streaming it and loudly laughing every time that damn bowling ball gag shows up.



But in its current state, there is virtually nothing to recommend here. This is the version of What the Golf that your mom says you already have at home. It’s the friend who’s only ever told one funny joke and now repeats it all the time hoping to get the same laughs. But really, it’s mostly a damn shame. Because there are elements of a good game here, one that’s both funny and fun to play. But those elements are weighed down by constant frustration, mind-numbing repetition, the feeling that the game is somehow still too long even at less than two hours to get through its levels, and the general vibe that the game is, at times, laughing at you rather than with you. Its couple levels of fun and few moments of hilarity are great when they hit, but the pursuit of these silver linings is like digging through a bowl of dead bugs to get to a handful of M&Ms at the bottom. You might actually quite enjoy M&Ms, but by the time you get to them you may have lost your appetite.


Pros:

-Charming, silly presentation

-Offers 2-player coop

-Runs well on Steam Deck


Cons:

-Controls are aggressively awful

-Simplistic gameplay

-Frequently too frustrating to be fun

-Inconsistent quality of levels

-Beats its own jokes to death


MEDIOCRE: Cricket Through the Ages bills itself as a game whose wackiness and jank are part of the fun, but despite a few bright spots, it completely collapses under its own limited ideas, lack of ambition and terrible controls.



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