Jonah Lomu has left a wake of human destruction in his path. Bullying through a couple of tacklers and sprinting toward the goal line, he appears superhuman. Several opponents have tasted the dirt and grass of Eden Park, wondering exactly what hit them. Meanwhile, the rest of his team, a mix of rugby union greats, is trailing their superstar teammate as he puts the ball down to officially score a try. At this moment in time, the Lomu All Stars are destroying a solid, but in this case hapless, French side here in the heart of New Zealand. It’s pure fantasy, of course – Lomu doesn’t play anymore – but offers a glimpse into how brutal, fast, and decisive the game can be when played on a high level. Just don’t ask the French to come back anytime soon.
There’s a lot to like about Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge. For starters, newcomers are welcome. Unlike virtually all current-generation sports titles, it doesn’t assume you understand the nuances of the sport or know exactly how to play. If you’re already familiar with the game, great – but if not, that’s OK. Right off the bat, Rugby Challenge makes it easy to figure out the basics with a good set of tutorials and videos that teach you everything you need to get playing. There are four levels – starting with the simplest exercises like running and going all the way to the intricacies of a full-fledged scrum – and they are superb. In a matter of 15 minutes or so, a beginner can get through the tutorials and then head out onto the pitch and feel confident. The difficulty levels are well implemented, too, enough so that we were able to obliterate the competition on Really Easy, beat them handily on Easy, then get into some much closer matches in Normal. We never ventured above that level, but can only assume the tables would have been dramatically turned against us.
Rugby Challenge looks fantastic and plays smoothly, which was surprising considering there are 30 players on the field. Whether playing offline or competing against Australian friends across the globe, everything worked beautifully – except passing. Tossing the ball to your mates on either side is executed with the right or left bumper, and there are far too many occasions when we’d furiously tap them to no avail. Other times, we’d overcompensate ahead of time, and wind up passing to no one at all. Naturally, this led to unnecessary turnovers. Considering every other control works great, whether we were kicking, scrumming, sprinting, or tackling, it’s especially painful that such a crucial aspect of the game is so frustrating.
It stands to reason that most of us that’ll play Rugby Challenge are fans of the sport, and the game is loaded with all sorts of content to make aficionados happy. There’s an excellent library of licensed real-world club leagues and competitions, including Super Rugby, the ITM Cup, The Aviva Premiership, and others. Many (but not all) of the clubs are accurately represented down to the exact player rosters and kits. Perhaps more importantly, the top international squads of New Zealand’s All Blacks and Australia’s Wallabees are fully licensed and can participate in top global competitions like the Tri Nations (although the South Africa squad is not licensed) and Quad Nations (ditto that for Argentina). The World Cup does not officially appear – it’s owned by a competing title – but a clone of the tourney lets you take part in a competition that’s virtually the same. In addition to the one-off competitions, multi-year franchises are available too – although not online. Needless to say, there’s no lack of content.
What’s more, if your favorite team or league isn’t exactly as you’d like them, the customization features are vast and deep. You can edit the finest detail of every player, whether it’s the finer points of their individual skills to the size of their nose - and everything in between. Unique tournaments and leagues can be created using templates from real-world competitions which can be adjusted any way you like. Even the club and international teams are up for grabs. You can even go insane and make the American team good – perish the thought.
The Lomu All Stars we mentioned at the start of this review can be had for 50,000 in-game bucks - currency you earn by playing every aspect of the game. In addition to a few fantasy teams (including a squad of nothing but Lomu at each position) there are some interesting behind-the-scenes videos of how the game was made. We would have preferred the ability to buy some additional equipment, stadiums, or historical clubs; even so, the additional incentive is a nice touch.
It’s been years since we’ve seen a rugby union game hit current consoles, and if you’ve got even a passing interest in the sport, Challenge deserves a look. Whether you’re embarking on a career, playing online, or taking part in real or fantasy competitions, it’s a solid game that represents its sport well. If the passing worked just a bit better, our endorsement would be even stronger. Sometimes, though, eschewing the pass for a straight-ahead run is the best course of action. Just remember to stay out of Lomu’s way – once he gets on a roll, letting him by gives you a good shot at keeping your teeth in your mouth.