Johnah Lomu’s Rugby Challenge: Ruck, Scrum, Knock-On, Grubber, Try, Etc.

These are all strange words that, until I played Jonah Lomu’s Rugby Challenge, I could not even begin to tell you the definitions of or even hint at their origin. However after watching many matches of the Rugby World Cup (congrats New Zealand) I was pretty entertained with the sport and decided I would try and find a good Rugby game to enjoy and teach myself the rules.

Tellingly, EA has not released a rugby game since 2008 – although there appears to be a new 2012 version due soon. Rugby Challenge is made by Sidhe – a New Zealand dev team – and you begin to notice early on that it is fitting for a bunch of Kiwis to make such a title. The same feel and pace of the game is mostly there. The graphics are pretty standard for the current generation. I’m partial to the soundtrack. I guess the real shining praise is that, as an American who has just started paying attention to the sport, I now feel roughly confident with the basic rules of the game and I’ve played two whole seasons already.

But as this is not made by EA, you can certainly spot the lack of polish. These may be due to budget constraints, but they warrant comments nonetheless. The players often look strange and regularly nothing like their counterparts. Prior to playing, the only players I was familiar with were Francois Trinh-Duc and Sebastian Chabal. Neither of these players really look like themselves in the game and the awkward eyes and hair certainly don’t help. That being said many of the players look just fine, so Rugby Challenge seems to have the same player model/texture issues as FIFA11.

The other big gripe I have are the animations. Some of these are really well done and you can get a good sense for the physicality of the game when you see some of the wonderfully-animated tackles. However two things stand out here – passes and sprinting. Often times when the ball is passed it will travel in an awkward way out of the players hands – sometimes clipping through them or just looking genuinely unbelievable in its trajectory and behavior. But without a doubt the most disrupting aspect is the way players change direction. There are practically no animations to reflect this. A runner can turn on a dime or cut behind an approaching defender with no visible representation or loss of speed – similar to the early days of Madden. There are two right stick options that allow a juke and a stiff-arm (fend) but these are very formulaic. The same care that went into making those moves look good needs to be given to the way players move at speed. This really hurts the game as the pass-and-run aspect is where rugby feels its most fluid and pleasing to watch/play.

I understand that looking at the game through the EA glasses may seem unfair, but in the current market any sports game will have to contend with the monster that is EA Sports. As it stands, I would take Rugby Challenge over any other rugby game, but that might be only because I haven’t played any others. It’s a good game, I’ll keep playing it for now and would definitely recommend it to rugby fans – but Sidhe has a lot of work to do if they want to get as competitive as the Pro Evolution series.

P.S.: Can we get a instant replay function? Please?

 

Shaun Watson

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