I’ve got to be honest with you. Before playing this game, my experience with rugby was limited to managing my college’s female club team, and watching Invictus. I was always intrigued by the sport, though rugby is nowhere near as popular in the states as it is overseas. Even though I was surprised when I heard Tru Blu Games was bringing Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge to North America, I was looking forward to giving the game a go. Despite my passing knowledge of how rugby is played, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge gave me just what I was looking for: a taste of the real sport, and a nice learning curve for newcomers.
Before getting into the action, I needed to acquaint myself with the finer points of rugby. Fortunately for me, Rugby Challenge comes complete with a slew of tutorials for players new to the fold. The basics, as well as some advanced tactics, are covered, and the tutorials gave me a good sense of how to play the game with a winning strategy. Despite showing me how the sport was played, the tutorials did little to help in the way of teaching me when and how to utilize these tactics best. Though I did get a handle on some of rugby’s intricacies, my experiences online proved just how little I knew about how to play. We’ll get to that in a moment though. Offline on my own, I was able to handle myself fairly well on the lower difficulties. Ratcheting up the challenge proved frustrating and fruitless, as even when I was playing with the best-rated team, it was incredibly difficult for me to advance into the opposing territory.
For the most part, Rugby Challenge controls very well. Tru Blu has done a nice job translating all the various aspects of the game like scrums, line-ins, and tries to the controller. While I did have a bit of trouble executing a scrum properly, that was no fault of the game’s. I just wasn’t able to do the mini-game as consistently as the computer or human opponent I faced. Passing did lead to more turnovers than I thought should happen, which is a bit of a shame considering just how frequently you do it. Sometimes the player I was controlling wouldn’t pass when I hit the button, so I’d press it multiple times. He would pass eventually, but because I hit the button a few times, the receiving player would toss the ball away instantly, which often led to an unforced turnover. The awkwardness of the passing game stood out even more considering just how smooth everything else went while I was on the field.
Offline, there are more than a decent amount of season and franchise modes to play around in. Almost every team in the game is licensed with real players, which is great even though I would never have known without looking real team rosters up. The different club and international leagues give fans plenty of options when it comes to picking a favorite, and you can even play both a club and international season together. Sadly, there is no World Cup option, but that shouldn’t deter too many people from playing. Online, you can really only play single games with, or against, up to four people per team. However, the multiplayer team is limited to playing on the same console. You also can’t see who your opponent is before picking your own team, which is completely bizarre in this day and age. Even if you wanted to try out lesser-rated teams (like the abysmally rated USA), there’s no real point because your opponent is likely playing as the highly touted All Blacks or South Africa. Once online, the game runs incredibly smooth. Getting back to my earlier point about the tutorials not really preparing me for the real game, the online contingency right now consists of players overseas. Since the game isn’t out in North America yet, I was given more than my fair share of beatings from much more skilled foreign players.
No matter whether you’re playing online or offline, you’ll always be able to earn Rugby Dollars, the game’s currency. You can use the money to purchase special all-star teams and making-of videos, but it would have been nice if there were additional creation items or stadiums to unlock. Rugby Challenge looks rather nice, and the animations are fluid, if not a bit repetitive. There are only a few different types of tackles and passing animations, and it would have been nice to see some more variation. Some clipping problems rise up on scrums or any other time large groups of players gather on the field, but for the most part the player collision was rather good. I’ve got to praise the commentary above all else in the presentation. While it was great to see the actual Haka performed by the All Blacks, the commentary was always on point, and in my time with the game, never really got old. That’s a big accomplishment for a sports title, as turning the commentary off is typically the first thing I do.
Even though my knowledge of rugby was extremely limited before playing Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, I now understand why this sport is so popular. There’s a lot to like about the pace, brutality, and skill involved, and all of those aspects are replicated quite well in Tru Blu’s title. Though it’s not perfect, Rugby Challenge is a solid sports title that both longtime fans and newcomers can appreciate. It’s unlikely that rugby will ever overtake football, hockey, or baseball in North America, but the video game does provide a nice change of pace from your standard sports video game experience.
Release date : 2011-11-08
Publisher : Mad Catz
Developer : Sidhe Interactive
Gameplay : Sports
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