Rugby is a hell of a sport. Whether you like it or not, you can’t help but acknowledge the sheer physical ability and talent that is required for a world-class rugby player. New Zealand based game studio Sidhe, in collaboration with rugby legend Jonah Lomu, have put their passion and effort into creating a game that helps translate the experience of rugby into a virtual world. They succeeded.
For some reason, rugby has yet to gain the kind of stateside popularity that sports like Football, Baseball, and Basketball currently enjoy and thrive off of. This is strange, since rugby is, in essence, a rougher form of football. Whatever the reason for its lack of mainstream success and popularity, however, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge approaches the player with the knowledge that he or she may know absolutely nothing about rugby. In a very Portal-esque style, the game provides a presentation video that details the basic rules and gameplay of the sport so that you can have a better familiarity with the underlying mechanics of the game you are about to play.
Beyond that, however, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge provides an absolutely perfect training system to teach you the controls and game mechanics. Unlike Rugby World Cup 2011, which simply throws you into the game with ten separate context-sensitive controller layouts without any training, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge realizes that most people in the North American market aren’t going to be as familiar with the mechanics of the game or the controls in a way that naturally comes to people playing other, more mainstream sports games. The tutorial is broken up into four categories: Basics, Intermediate, Advanced, and Professional. The tutorial lessons within each category progress intuitively to teach you everything you would ever need to know to successfully play this game. Each tutorial lesson within each category is graded (bronze, silver, or gold). The better the medal you get, the more Rugby $ you earn.
Rugby $, earned from training and in other ways, is used in the in-game store to unlock three special teams and a lot of “Making of…” images and videos. The images are high resolution, and the videos are very well produced. I spent a great deal of time watching the “Making of…” videos and getting a good feel for how involved Jonah Lomu himself was in the development and production of the game, as well as how invested in the sport and the game the developers at Sidhe were.
That investment and passion on the part of the developers and Jonah Lomu have created what I believe to be, in my limited experience, the best rugby game that money can buy. While the passing mechanic and animation is not quite as smooth as Rugby World Cup 2011, it excels in every other conceivable way. Graphically, JLRC is much closer to being on par with current day graphics than RWC2011 could ever hope to be. Aside from passing, the rest of the animations are smoother and more fluid, as they were captured through motion capture of the developers, Jonah Lomu himself, and members of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. The character models are more defined, and just plain look better. JLRC provides a bigger roster of officially licensed teams to play as, including the official license for the New Zealand All Blacks. Aside from having the licenses, they’ve also included features that show their passion, like having the All Blacks perform their haka before matches.
Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge is, again, the best rugby game you can buy. It is currently only going to be published by MadCatz on Xbox 360 in North America. If you’re a fan of rugby, get this game when it becomes available. If you’re hesitant about the sport, this game will change your mind. If you don’t like rugby, then why are you reading this? You won’t get any validation of your dislike of rugby from this review or this game. Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge is expected to ship early November, so keep your eyes open.
Excellent training and tutorial system
High quality 'Making of...' videos
|Passing could be improved|