Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge (or All Blacks Rugby Challenge in New Zealand and Wallabies Rugby Challenge in Australia) features 1,500 players, 93 teams and 31 stadiums. Some of these are licensed, including all 14 stadiums that will host the forthcoming Rugby World Cup; others are close approximations such as the ‘South West London’ stadium rather than Twickenham.
Everything can be customised, from renaming stadiums to creating an entire team of custom players. If you play rugby in a local team you can recreate yourself and your entire team to play in the game. Each team member’s attributes can be altered. So, if you have a mate who can run like the wind but fumbles every other pass, he can be recreated perfectly.[videoyoutube]Before delving into the game, it’s best to check out the tutorial section. A two minute training video covers everything from the number of players in the team to the rules and four levels of hands-on training are available.
The basic level does what it says on the tin – how to move and pass – and the intermediate training will teach you how to pull off various types of kicks. The advanced level brings in scrums and rucks with the final professional level teaching you tips and tricks such as dummy passes and sidestepping.
The main menu gives you a choice of Quick Match, Online and Career. A nice touch is that when the game is loading, rather than a static loading screen, you and up to 3 other AI players are displayed on screen and you can practise your moves before the main match.
To say the Career mode is long would be an understatement; you can play for thirteen seasons taking in all the various tournaments and three world cups. Even with the individual game time set to five minutes it will take a good while to play through.
During the career, your players will age and you will have to manage your team effectively, bringing in substitutes for injured players or those sent off. How the team play can be affected by their morale, if you are doing well in a tournament they will play better – get too many red cards and morale will drop.
The usual options are available for online gaming, including private matches, invites, quick matches and leaderboards. Another nice touch is that everyone who plays online will have a reliability rating. This means ‘rage quitters’ will be flagged, so before you start the match you can check your opponent’s rating and if they have a a low score, cancel the game rather than waste your time.
One aspect I found particularly clever are the rucks. When one occurs, a large circle appears around the two players starting the ruck. The circle is divided in two, each half representing a player. To successfully win the event you have hammer X to bring your other players into the pile up. As your teammates join in, the circle gradually fills in with the colour of your team and when it’s fully filled, you win the ruck. It’s rather like a mini quick time event and line outs also have a similar feel as timed button presses are required.
Sidhe have created five rugby games before Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge and it certainly shows, I picked up the basics of the game within moments and my brief hands-on was very enjoyable, so much so that the PR people had to ask three times before we stopped playing.
Rugby Challenge faces some stiff competition from the official 505 Games Rugby World Cup game but when you look at the figures, Rugby Challenge wins hands down. It supports up to four players per console allowing 4 vs 4 online (505 only has 1 vs 1), it has more teams, more competitions and better customisation.
The title is scheduled for Q3 this year on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC and the team hope to have it out before the start of the Rugby World Cup. A PS Vita version of the game is also in development.