It’s funny, you wait years for a rugby game and then two come along at once. Well, I’m only reviewing this one today, and it bears the name of a Rugby legend, Jonah Lomu. With the excitement (and in my case, bitter disappointment) of the World Cup over, I can look at this far more clearly and critically than with my Rugby fever glasses on.
All the big teams of the various rugby leagues are featured here from the Ospreys (big fan right here) through to Edinburgh and Gloucester and all the South African, Australian and New Zealand teams you could name. International teams are all present however they are not correct, no sir. Due to licensing agreements with rival RWC 11, players and kits for certain national teams are replaced. They can however be found in their respective clubs, which is interesting. Don’t expect to tell who the players are on visuals alone though, they all look like a horrible mix up of John Terry and Matt Cardle (remember him). Saying that, their animation is good and each player feels like you’re throwing around some pretty big blokes in a park. A tackle sees you go down, hard, and a high tackle is just painful to watch; it drops your player like the proverbial sack.
But visuals are only one part of a game, and underneath some fairly lacklustre graphics the Rugby Challenge gameplay is very good indeed.
Passing is intuitive with the shoulder buttons and tackling is a simple tap of the x when in close proximity to the ball runner. But don’t think you can just wade in and start hurling All Blacks left and right. Oh no. There’s far more depth to Rugby Challenge. Tutorials are a must, learning how to ruck and scrum are vital if you’re to compete against a fairly robust AI. Understand what the little circles and lines mean and you’ll be set. But knowing your team’s strengths and that of the opposition play a huge part in being successful on the pitch. If the opposition have a heavier pack you’ll find it difficult to contest scrums, whereas a team with fast backs will play havoc with your kicking game.
Playing the lower tier teams such as Georgia and Russia will not provide you with much of a challenge , but it will give you the chance to learn the game without being annihilated. For example, I now know that I’m rubbish at lineouts but good at scrums and decent with a tap to set up a try. Button mashing is also not advised in this particular game. Too many taps of X when you try to offload the ball will see a knock on. One too many taps of the shoulder button and you’ll see your carefully crafted set piece end in a lineout. Precision is the key to this game, endless passing will lead you nowhere, only clearly planning out your next move will lead to success.
Commentary, as is usual for sports games, is awful. Grant Nisbitt and Justin Marshall really lack any enthusiasm in their voiceovers and sound like they’ve just woken up. It would have been incredible to have Brian Moore and Jonathan Davies, but I don’t think there would be enough room on the disc for Mr Moore.
All in all this is a great game for rugby fans, and it’s clear that it’s been made by people passionate about the sport. As I can count the number of good Rugby games on one hand this goes some way to giving fans what they truly deserve. I can’t wait for the sequel, Mike Tindall’s Rugby Challenge, with mini games such as Dwarf Tossing, Ferry Jumping and trying to keep your player upright as he stumbles back home to his hotel. Well, a man can dream, and it would work great with Kinect.