The Average Gamer

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge – Preview (PS3)

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge - LogoThe great man himself finally has another rugby game bearing his name. Jonah Lomu, for those that don’t know him, is the legendary New Zealand All Black winger who burst onto the rugby scene back in 1994. He was an absolute monster of a man standing 6 ft 5 inches tall and tipping the scales at nearly 20 stone. During rugby matches it usually took several tacklers just to slow him down. He single-handedly destroyed England in the semi-finals of the 1995 Rugby World Cup and proceeded to trample all over England again in 1999 World Cup. He even continued to play rugby following a kidney transplant in 2004 after suffering from a chronic kidney illness throughout his career called nephrotic syndrome. The man is simply a legend.

The first Jonah Lomu rugby game was released back in 1997 on the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC and it was the best rugby game ever made at the time. One of the most memorable moments from the game took place after unlocking Team Lomu and watching as the terrifying sight of 15 Jonah Lomus took to the pitch. Playing the game as Team Lomu made you almost unbeatable. Now, 14 years later we have a brand new Jonah Lomu game and just in time for Rugby World Cup 2011. This game is in direct competition with the official Rugby World Cup 2011 (RWC 2011) game from HB Studios.

The World In Union

Developed by the New Zealand outfit Sidhe who are responsible for the Rugby League series of games, Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge is the official rugby game of the New Zealand (All Blacks) and Australian (Quantas Wallabies) rugby teams. In fact the game is called All Blacks Rugby Challenge in New Zealand and Wallabies Rugby Challenge in Australia. All the player likenesses, rugby kits and stadiums for these 2 teams have been included along with all 14 World Cup Stadiums. 17 other rugby stadiums from around the world also feature in the game. The developers even motion-captured four of the current All Black players in Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop motion capture studio to make the in-game player animations and the Haka as realistic as possible.

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge - Flames

Oooh, flames. Now that's an entrance

Impressively, the game features a total of 1500 players across 93 International and club teams from around the world including those from the Aviva Premiership, Top 14 Orange, RaboDirect PRO12 and Super Rugby teams. The squads for all the club teams are based on their 2010-11 season so you will have to tweak the player line-ups a bit to deal with the summer transfers and player retirements/long-term injuries. As a club rugby fan, Saracens in my case, there is nothing better than seeing your team take part in matches you’ve always dreamed of watching. So the first match I played in Rugby Challenge was All Blacks vs Saracens in Eden Park, Auckland.

Training, training and more training

For people new to the game of rugby there are a number of tutorials covering basic handling skills and rules of the game. Intermediate and advanced tutorials that teach you how to scrum and perform dummy passes are also available. Completing these tutorials earns you rugby dollars which can be used to redeem exclusive behind the scenes videos and images or even unlock the legendary Team Lomu. One really nice feature is the game’s interactive loading screens which allow you to run around a rugby pitch practicing your skills with 3 other AI players. This is a great way of warming-up for matches, just like in real-life. I wish more developers would do this kind of thing and make loading screens more interactive and a lot more useful. You can even change the players featured in the animated main menu screen to feature your favourite team.

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge - Almost There

Noooooo, I've nearly made it!

The player editor gives you the freedom to create completely new players or modify any of the 1500 existing players. It’s a fairly standard character editor. You start off entering the players name, age and position before moving on to configuring his appearance and finally setting the 16 different skill/ability attributes (speed, accuracy etc). You can add other bits to a player like a scrum cap or wrap tape around any joint for that extra realism. I was surprised to find that the height and weight of a player has no effect on their skill/ability attributes. This means you could have an absolutely massive, but lightning fast scrum-half.

It’s a simple game

The game itself is actually quite easy to play which makes it accessible to non-rugby fans. You don’t need to know everything about rugby in order to enjoy the game. The player controls are fairly standard for a sports game. Left stick to change direction, press X to kick, R1 to pass and R2 to sprint. X also doubles as the jump/catch button when the ball is in the air.

When your player gets tackled you can choose either to quick bind or heavy bind players to the ensuing ruck (see my RWC 2011 preview to learn about rucks). If you don’t bind enough players to a ruck then the opposition can turn the ball over. To help you decide how many players to bind there is a big circle split into 2 colours around the ruck. Each colour represents a team. Adding more players will reduce the amount of the opposing team’s colour in the circle. You win the ruck when the circle has been turned completely to your team’s colour. The option to bind extra players is not available in RWC 2011 as you only get to set your player aggression in the ruck situation.

In the line-outs you choose which player you are throwing to (X front, circle middle, triangle back) then you have to worry about throwing it straight by stopping the swinging pendulum line as close to vertical as possible. This adds an element of skill to line-out throwing, which if you’ve tried doing it real life you know how hard this is. In RWC 2011 you only get to choose which part of the line-out to throw to, everything else is handled by the AI. The simplification of the line-outs and the rucks are the 2 main gameplay differences between RWC 2011 and Rugby Challenge.

Anyone fancy a bit of coaching?

Rugby Challenge includes a career mode with 3 different options – International and club teams, International team only and club team only. Each option gives you 13 seasons as the coach of your chosen team(s) to try and win as much silverware from the 11 different competitions (including Bledisloe Cup, Tri Nations) as possible. Obviously with a team like the All Blacks or England winning the World Rugby Championship is going to be so much easier than with a team like Scotland. But then it’s up to you how hard you want to the game to be.

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge Lineout

Can anyone name the stadium?

Player morale also plays a factor in the overall energy level of your team. If your team plays well and score points it boosts their moral and energy levels. This gives you an energy-filled, buoyant team for the next match. On the flipside, whilst losing one match isn’t such a problem, suffering several losses and players getting yellow/red cards will quickly kill team morale and energy. You also have to cope with player injuries, players getting old and long in the tooth. This means that you will be making tough choices within your squad to keep your team performing at their best. I’ll be interested to see how many player injuries occur during a season as the most recent England Rugby Premiership Injury and Training Report announced that there were 1.6 injuries per match in 09/10. I’d expect to see similar figures when playing matches in Rugby Challenge, assuming the developers Sidhe have done their research ;-)

Rugby Challenge boasts an extensive array of multiplayer features too. Up to 4 players can take part in a matches either online or off-line meaning you could have an 8 player (4 x 4) online rugby fest. You can also choose to have a quick online match or invite other players into a private match. Online leader boards are available with 20 pts awarded for a win, 8 pts for a draw and 4 pts for a loss. Every online player has a reliability rating which is based on their internet connectivity. This means that people who quit matches because they are losing aka ”rage quitters” will have a poor reliability rating making them easy to avoid.

As far as in-game commentary is concerned Grant Nisbett and ex-All Black Justin Marshall are on hand to provide various nuggets of wisdom along with stating the bloody obvious. RWC 2011 on the other hand boasts a total of 6 different commentators.


Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge is a great rugby game and thoroughly deserving of the great man’s name. The sheer amount of club teams, players and stadiums included in the game is massively impressive. When you also consider the interactive loading screens, in-depth training videos, player editor, online features and the career mode Rugby Challenge provides a more in-depth experience than RWC 2011. However, RWC 2011 has the advantage when it comes to the International player likenesses, their home stadiums and the World Cup competition itself. Where as Rugby Challenge is limited to the All Blacks, Quantas Wallabies and USA Eagles official International team licences.

Which game is best? Well, it’s the club vs country argument all over again. Rugby Challenge has the clubs, RWC 2011 has the countries. So take your pick.

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge should be available before the start of the Rugby World Cup on the 9th Sep 2011 on PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360. There is also a PS Vita version in development.