NICHE SPORTS GAMES AREN’T EX­TINCT, BUT WE NEED TO BE MORE PROAC­TIVE IN SUP­PORT­ING THEIR DE­VEL­OP­MENT.

Why 2019 can be the year of cricket, rugby, and, er, kabaddi

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - OPINION - Ben Wil­son

This has been an above-par year for sports gam­ing. For all its crit­ics, FIFA 19’s Ultimate Team re­mains a bril­liantly mor­eish time sink. A fo­cused MyCa­reer mode re­turned WWE 2K19 to rel­e­vance. And NBA 2K18, NHL 18, and MLB 18: The Show put in stel­lar show­ings. Yet the most fun two hours I had within the genre in­volved none of these. In­stead, it was a 73-ball cen­tury from Jonny Bairstow in lit­tle-her­alded PS4 ef­fort Ashes Cricket.

Re­leased last Novem­ber, Aus­tralian de­vel­oper Big Ant kept its bat ’n’ ball sim strong with patches and fan­cre­ated team up­dates. Yet the im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from both friends and so­cial me­dia when I es­pouse its joy­ful­ness is “it’s no Brian Lara” – usu­ally fol­lowed by some re­mark about the ten-year wait for a de­cent cricket sim. The prob­lem is those two re­sponses are in­ter­linked. Devotees re­call the Lara se­ries as fault­less, so any im­per­fec­tion in modern alternatives makes it a no-buy.

That is­sue ex­tends across most niche sports. Digi­tis­ing rugby? Be pre­pared for peo­ple to make neg­a­tive com­par­isons to Jonah Lomu. Ten­nis? Peo­ple have writ­ten you off against Top Spin from the out­set. I don’t only mean the pay­ing cus­tomer. Af­ter re­view­ing the rea­son­able AO Ten­nis for this pub­li­ca­tion I dared to com­pare my thoughts to fel­low jour­nal­ists’. Many marked it down for not feeling like Vir­tua Ten­nis – a take that’s both lazy and ir­re­spon­si­ble. VT is an ar­cadey, al­most car­toony, take on the sport. AO aims to be a slower, more re­al­is­tic sim. “This ba­nana? Doesn’t taste like a grape­fruit at all. 3/10.” Since hav­ing kids, I’ve man­aged to keep one area of our house out-of-bounds to in­quis­i­tive tod­dler paws: the study, in which my favourite con­soles from yes­ter­year sit side-by-side. Ev­ery six months I rein­tro­duce Lara to Mega Drive or Lomu to PS1 and en­joy half an hour of throw­back amuse­ment. But that’s it: two decades af­ter re­lease, these games trum­peted as best-in-class ac­tu­ally war­rant 60 min­utes’ play per cal­en­dar year. Fond mem­o­ries cloud cur­rent ex­pec­ta­tions. Ashes Cricket is su­pe­rior to any Lara game.

FACE VAL­UES

A re­lated is­sue is weigh­ing games with smaller bud­gets against those made by EA or 2K. It’s easy to mock Ashes or AO be­cause their graph­ics and an­i­ma­tions fall short of FIFA stan­dards. Yet if we – fans and jour­nal­ists alike – want such ti­tles to im­prove it’s nec­es­sary to look be­yond the cos­metic. Niche sports games aren’t ex­tinct, but we need to be more proac­tive in sup­port­ing their de­vel­op­ment. Can small stu­dios in­vest mil­lions on adventuring into un­canny val­ley ter­ri­tory? No. Can our feed­back help them tweak me­chan­ics to make these games bet­ter in terms of feel, which is what mat­ters? Ab­so­lutely.

The beauty of spa­ces such as Twit­ter is ev­ery gamer has a voice, and word of mouth is para­mount. Ten years ago PS3 sports-driver hy­brid Su­per­sonic Ac­ro­batic Rocket-Pow­ered Battle-Cars emerged to min­i­mal fan­fare and was quickly for­got­ten. Re­skinned and ex­panded for PS4, you now know it bet­ter as Rocket League – an ex­cep­tional genre en­try which couldn’t have en­dured and evolved with­out so­cial me­dia love and feed­back. That’s the power you and I hold. The power that can turn Ashes Cricket’s suc­ces­sor, or Rugby League Live 5, or Extreme Kabaddi 2019 (sadly not real yet, but I live in hope) into a house­hold name, if only we’re more con­sid­ered in har­ness­ing it.

Ben Wil­son’s com­mit­ment to lesser-known sports ti­tles such as Ashes Cricket and Fire Pro Wrestling World has led him to post­pone start­ing RDR2 un­til Christ­mas. Of 2019. He hopes to one day own con­sole sim­u­la­tions of kab­badi, oc­to­push, and Jet-era Gla­di­a­tors.

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