The difficulty curve is part of the same problem. At first, and particularly in the Wii version, my innings spent as a fielder seemed to go on interminably, while innings spent as a batsman went by almost in an instant. Whatever my bowlers did with the ball, it seemed impossible to get the batsmen out whether bowled, caught or run out, while my batsmen seemed barely able to swing without getting caught. After a while, I started to forget about hitting the stumps, and just concentrated on setting up scenarios where I might get a catch. Once I did that, things fell into place and – suddenly – the opponent score line went from around 92 for 3 to 64 for 9.
Even with three difficulty levels, The Ashes 2009 seems to sit on a knife edge between mercilessly difficult and stupidly easy on the fielding side, while batting can turn into a question of who can get the most fours and sneak the most singles without getting caught or run out. The AI stamps mercilessly on risky doubles, and you’ll soon note that while you can and will make timing mistakes that result in being bowled-out or LBW, the computer player is rarely – if ever – caught doing the same.
The Wii version, meanwhile, just feels too superficial to be satisfying. Without all the advanced control options of the Xbox 360 version, you’re left with a rather more basic test of timing and – as the overs wear on – you feel less like a player and more like a spectator. It’s entertaining enough for a quick match with a limited number of overs, but I can’t see anyone wanting to put days or weekends into playing it.
In short, we’re still in “if you like cricket, you’ll like…” territory here, and the Wii version isn’t going to change that. The 360/PS3/PC incarnations will, I think, be more appealing to the cricket fan, even if the scorelines depart from reality, and played with friends online or offline, there’s enough potential for a long, satisfying, tactical game. If, however, your interest in wide legs and mid-offs is likely to wane once the Ashes is over, then there are better ways you could invest your hard-earned cash. The Ashes 2009 is good, but it’s not quite as brilliant as this year’s series deserved.
Despite some graphical shortcomings, this is a fine cricket game for leather and willow enthusiasts. Sadly, it doesn’t quite have the wide-ranging appeal of a truly great sports game.