Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge Preview (PS3)

You have to hand it to the guys at Alternative Software. Despite being the 'unofficial' rugby game of the world cup, they've managed to pull off quite a coup. Their licenses include the All Blacks, the Qantas Wallabies, the USA Eagles, the Tri Nations, Aviva Premiership, the list goes on. It'll come as a surprise to many that this title boasts a wealth of authenticity, quickly confirming the fact that it's unofficial name is only skin deep. In reality, Jonah Lomu's Rugby Challenge tackles it's competitor more directly than many would expect.

That's one good looking pitch...
While fans of the home nations may be disappointed by their lack of licensing, there's plenty here to pick up the slack. A plethora of fully-equipped club sides are donning their real kits and players; a fact that was rammed down our throat when we somehow ended up facing the All Blacks as the considerably less scary Sale Sharks. Luckily for us, our presentation started by running through the game's tutorial. It's obvious that the developers want players to experience the action on the field first hand, and as quickly as possible. The tutorial certainly serves as a good way to scrub up on your rugby knowledge, and more to the point, acts as an accessible entrance for those who know little about the sport. If you can't decipher your scrums with your thumbs upon first sitting, fear not, the tutorial has you covered with videos and explanations on how to work the game to your advantage.

Heading onto the pitch, Rugby Challenge manages to create an enticing formula that'll please rugby aficionados and newcomers alike. In fact, in our short time spent with the game, it's fair to say that it'll fall under the 'easy to learn, hard to master' mantra that so many simulations accidentally bypass. We were making progress in the field almost instantly, learning where to place our players in order to successfully catch a punt, and passing the ball through the team with ease. It's remarkably simple, and allows players to string together some decent moves with a few pushes of the shoulder buttons (LS for a left pass, RS for right). With that said, it was immediately clear that we weren't fit to take on the might of New Zealand's finest. Needless to say, when the infamous haka got going, the white of our shorts quickly became soiled. Sadly, things got worse when the match actually started.

Other than passing, the rest of the match day formula won't take a genius to work out. Getting into a ruck is hassle free, as you quickly tap X to gain the support of extra players. It's easy to see which team is dominating by the colour of the circle that surrounds the participants, with the first one to fill the gauge winning that battle. From what we've played, this is the most fiddly section of the game, and the part that'll take longest to get used to, as it doesn't quite match up against the seamlessness the rest of the title flaunts. Smashing home a conversion couldn't be more basic, as you simply take into account the wind direction, line-up, and fire a powerful shot at the posts.

There's little doubt the most difficult part of the on-field antics is defending, as expert timing is needed to pull some of these juggernauts down. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get the hang of regaining the ball, our players usually ending up on the ground a few seconds before they actually needed to move. Still, it's an interesting learning curve, and something that makes us want to invest time in sharpening up the obvious bluntness in our technique. When you consider this game includes a 13 season-long career mode, they'll be plenty of time to gain the vital skills needed to succeed.
Run Forest! Run!

Alongside the sturdy action on the pitch, Rugby Challenge wants players to create their own vision of the gentleman's sport. Options to create a player (or an entire team) have been included, meaning you and your mates can replicate a Sunday outing right down to the leg brace Big Dave has to wear. Throw in the fact that 4v4 online multiplayer is included, and you have yourself a package that not only crunches into 505 Games' Rugby World Cup title, it spear tackles them straight to the ground. With a few tweaks left to be made, Jonah Lomu looks to be returning in great form, ready to outlive the upcoming world cup campaign, and indeed, the threat of its fierce opposition.

Most Anticipated Feature: Being able to create Team Rugby Death Balls.

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