Jonah Lomu Rugby remembered
With the passing of the real life legend, we take a look back at Jonah Lomu Rugby, a title many would consider the best rugby game ever made.
Released in 1997, Jonah Lomu Rugby was the first rugby game on the Playstation. The game was a complete renegade from the start, going in to development the year the Playstation was released in Europe and while rugby was still an amateur sport played seriously by a few nations. UK company Codemasters took a major gamble on a title that would have little support in the major markets of the US and Japan.
Did the gamble pay off? Ask most Irish people with a Playstation in the 90s and Jonah Lomu Rugby will be fondly remembered as one of the best games available. It wasn't just rugby fans that got involved, Jonah Lomu Rugby managed to appeal to any one who liked a good game.
Somehow Codemasters, who gave us Micro Machines among other titles, managed to represent the often complicated rules of rugby in a way that allowed players completely new to the sport to pick up a controller and get stuck in. Suddenly rugby was on the menu next to FIFA and Mario Kart.
The controls were beautiful. The shoulder buttons were used for passing left and right, allowing for quick decisions and straight forward gameplay. While it might now seem perfectly natural, shoulder buttons were somewhat of a new beast at the time, used more for special abilities and such, so it was a great call on the part of Codemasters. On-screen situational command prompts kept the game as user-friendly as possible, without limiting options.
Jonah Lomu was more than just the name on the box, he was the star of the game. If ever there was a boss battle , it was challenging Lomu and the All-Blacks. Much like in real life, Lomu was near impossible to tackle. Combining the shoulder buttons would produce a hand-off; for most players it offered a chance to deflect a tackle but for Lomu it was a sure fire smashing of the foe. The "No All-Blacks" rule became as prominent as the "No Brazil" rule for certain FIFA titles.
While Jonah Lomu's invincibility might be seen as bad game design, there's always been the sneaking suspicion that Codemasters knew exactly what they were doing. The unlockable team of Jonah Lomus is a good hint that the designers were well aware of how overpowered the All-Black winger was, both in-game and in real life. After seeing Lomu's performance in the 95 World Cup, you might even say his digital prowess was a fair representation.
Lomu's presence was felt even when the All-Blacks weren't selected, with squad screens often containing a note about how Lomu had ruined their Rugby World Cup chances somehow (with the exception of the victorious South Africa.) Nice to see he was more than just the name on the box, as the many regional specific FIFA cover stars are today.
Lomu wasn't the only star player, there were speedsters like Australia's Jason Little that had a turn of pace that made them as dangerous as FIFA 2015's Ronaldo. As with Ronaldo in the modern game, you loved to have them on your team but absolutely hated to play against them. Never before had faceless pixels been cursed more.
Game modes were there in spades. World Cups, knock-outs and regional competitions gave plenty to get stuck in to during rainy sitting room days. For the hardcore players, there were even a set of classic matches to contend with, none more fierce than playing as Japan against the All-Blacks in '95.
You can't talk about Jonah Lomu Rugby without mentioning the commentary. The two Bills, Beaumont and McLaren, sounded like they were having genuine banter in the box. "Oh! Mercy Me! What a tackle! That could've put him in Ward 4!" "I hope not, Bill, that's a maternity ward!" was just a taste. With a special mention going to the ruck time comment "digging like a demented mole there."
To prove the game's enduring quality, some Wallabies vs All-Blacks banter erupted on Twitter at the last Rugby World Cup.
It's somewhat amazing that a game hasn't come along to knock Jonah Lomu Rugby off its perch, but as with the legend himself, memories endure.