BFTP: Jonah Lomu Rugby
Since the release of Jonah Lomu Rugby, no rugby game has really come close to the bar set by Codemasters 14 long years ago. So with the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand well under way, I take a look back at one of my favourite games of all time.
Released in 1997, Jonah Lomu Rugby didn’t really revolutionise gaming in any way and isn’t remembered as one of the all time great games, but just about everyone I know who has played the game says it is by far the best rugby game ever made. Although this isn’t particular high praise in a genre where mediocrity is king. It is somewhat disheartening that after such a good starting point for rugby games, no one has managed to improve upon Codemasters’ effort.
Jonah Lomu Rugby is, at its heart, an arcade styled rugby game with a simple control system that masks its many nuances and quirks Newer games, (Rugby World Cup 2011, for example) over-complicate things and the gameplay becomes too structured, broken up and slow. Jonah Lomu Rugby on the other hand, is free-flowing and fast-paced, which better represents the sport of rugby, even though its not a true to life representation of rugby as there are a few key rules missing. Every now and again things can get frustrating when about 5 passes in a row don’t go to hand, but I’d rather have that then getting randomly turned over with no real reason every time I’m tackled like in EA Sports Rugby series.
The game has a number of single player game modes, but the most rewarding game modes were the Territories Cup and Classic Match modes. The classic matches are made up of scenarios from past world cup matches, ranging from extra time at the 1995 World cup final where you have to lead Jonah Lomu and his New Zealand side to glory, to having to turn around a 21 point deficit to beat New Zealand with Japan and prevent the biggest points margin in Rugby World Cup history.
While The territories cups are the Five nations, Tri Nations, Pacific Cup, Asian Cup and American Cup. Rewarding as it is to win all these competitions, the real fun started when you unlocked the “Extra Cup”. A tournament made up of three fictional teams: Codemasters RUFC (an above average team but nothing that exciting), Rage All Stars (a team full incredible tacklers containing a player who could kick the furthest on the game, a small but extremely quick player, and an absolute giant who is just about the only player who can stop Jonah Lomu) and Team Lomu (No explanation needed). Trying out all these teams is a real treat and it never gets boring to replay this tournament over and over again , but its a real challenge to win with the Codemasters team and to do so is probably the most rewarding thing on the game.
Multiplayer however is the real highlight. My brother and I would spend an inordinate amount of time contesting epic battles with outrageous score lines. Suffice to say, brothers being brothers this would all be done with lots of shouting and the occasional broken controller. One of my biggest regrets was never being able to taste the true carnage of simultaneous four player matches via the playstation multi-tap. Even now, 14 years after its initial release we still fire up the PS1 and have a few games.
Johan Lomu may have had his name and face on the box but the real heart of the game is late, great, BBC Sport legend Bill McLaren and his co-commentator, former England captain, Bill Beaumont. McLaren to many still remains “the voice of rugby” and was renowned throughout the sport. His commentary style was enthusiastic, whilst still retaining the airs and graces of BBC sports commentary pioneered during a post war Britain. One of his many traits was his memorable turn of phrase. The game does struggle to capture McLaren’s true genius but the game features some memorable quotes. My personal favourites being “Mercy me! What a tackle! That could’ve put him in Ward 4!” followed by “I hope not Bill, that’s a maternity ward!”, and “The forwards are like a group of Sherman Tanks moving up the field!” My Brother and I still amuse ourselves randomly by quoting the commentary.
If anyone still has a working PS1 or Sega Saturn, or a PC compatible with Windows 95, I highly recommend buying this game, you can get it on Amazon or eBay for about a fiver which is totally worth it considering the hours of fun you can have on it. It is also worth noting that next month sees New Zealand developers Sidhe challenge the Jonah Lomu Rugby throne with their game Rugby Challenge (also endorsed by Mr Lomu) being released in the UK and Europe.