Jonah Lomu transcends the sport of rugby. Whether or not you know what a try, scrum or lineout is, Lomu is a name that is likely to be familiar to you. Aside from perhaps a few footballers (that’s soccer, for those of you who spell favour as ‘favor’), few sports stars can claim such an achievement.
In the case of Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, this is an achievement that’s likely to play a big part in the success of the game. Having missed out on the majority of the Rugby World Cup by releasing this Friday (14 October), the game needs something to draw players in. Of course, a lack of competition in the rugby game genre will also help.
I’m not a huge rugby fan. I know the rules, I used to play it at school and I’ll watch games if they’re on television. But, for example, I wasn’t bothered enough to get up at the ungodly hours required to indulge in the Rugby World Cup. Therefore, I entered the world of Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge needing a bit of a helping hand.
So it’s handy then that there’s a tutorial. And it’s even more handy that it’s rather handy (you use your hands a lot in rugby). Split into four tiers, each containing eight or so segments, the tutorial walks you through the basics in bite-sized chunks – giving you a chance not only to learn the controls, but brush up on the basic tactics of the sport. Covering things such as drop-goals, conversions, kicking into touch, scrums, rucks and offsides, its exhaustive nature does a good job in preparing you for what’s to come.
However, no matter how good a tutorial may be, it’s not quite the same as playing an actual match. I’d suggest you start off on the easiest of the difficulty settings because Johan Lomu’s AI can be as punishing as the big man himself. On ‘Normal’ the smallest mistake will be pounced upon, forcing you into playing safe and concentrating on gaining decent field position rather than executing mazy runs. Once you’ve got the gameplay down this becomes a good thing, but it’s daunting (overwhelming at times) during your first few games.
Things are not always made easier by your own teammates, who often fail to take advantage of possible scoring opportunities. For the most part things work fine, but the only-pass-backwards nature of rugby does result in some awkward moments of hesitation – your players pausing and standing still rather than exploiting the lateral space.
Perhaps this could have been solved by the inclusion of preset plays, either those you design yourself or a pre-programmed set to select from. If you’ve ever played American sports games such as Madden, NHL or NBA 2K then you’ll know what I’m talking about and how effective such an approach can be when dealing with difficult AI (both friendly and otherwise).
What can’t be complained about are the visuals. Animations are crisp and varied, the frame rate stays smooth no matter how frantic the action becomes, and collisions look as crunching as you’d hope/expect. The realistic visual take on tackling makes things are especially satisfying for a relative-virgin of the sport, providing much needed moments of pure impact when things are going badly.
The same positives can’t be levelled at the general presentation elsewhere, however. Menus are some of the bleakest I’ve ever seen, standing in stark contrast to the glitzy, all-singing, all-dancing onslaughts we’re used to from modern sports games. Then again, maybe their muted nature is something you’ve long craved. The commentary could also do some tweaking. Scratch that, a lot of tweaking.
There’s also a lack of official licenses for the majority of the major clubs and tournaments. For example, there are no World Cup or Six Nations options – although there are equivalents. Some tournaments do make an official appearance, such as the Tri-Nations. However, South Africa are not licensed, an omission which stands out like Rooney in all All-Blacks kit – especially when you consider Australia and New Zealand appear in full.
Other tournaments such as the Aviva Premiership, Quad Nations and Bledisloe Cup also appear with all the accompanying bells and whistles, albeit without many of the proper kits and players.
It’s worth pointing out that an editing system has been included that allows you to rename players, clubs and create tournaments of your own. There’s no limit to what you can do here, so creating a squad of maxed out players is a viable option (and one I took up).
The bulk of the game is housed in career mode, in which you take a player from newbie to star. You can choose to play exclusively at either club or international level, as well as indulge in both. Compared to more established sports game series’ things are a little lacking in terms of the off-the-field activities. Seeing as rugby games have been few and far between for so long now, we’ll let it off. Next time (whenever that is) we’ll expect more.
If you’re a rugby aficionado then you’ll probably be picking Johan Lomu up simply because of the lack of choice. However, while not perfect, this is no rush job and worth a look for those who consider themselves causal fans of the sport. It’s by no means perfect but, for a series that has been gone for so long (and one that many presumed dead), there’s a lot to be impressed by.