Wallabies Rugby Challenge (Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge in some regions) launched after the poorly received Rugby World Cup 2011 game, and proves that being first doesn't always mean being best. This is the far superior of the two games, but both wear the battle scars of sports rights that have been divided down the middle. The large number of modes, focus on player and tournament creation, multiseason club career, and one-off tests help to ensure its longevity, but the game still stumbles as it goose steps to the try line.
Rugby Challenge does a good job of interpreting some of the sport's rules, which results in unique gameplay experiences. As scrums pack down and heads lock, you need to push both thumbsticks up in time with the thrust of the pack to jostle for position and ball possession. Though initially tough to nail the timing, it's rewarding and fun when you muscle your way against the feed and take the ball by force. Rugby is at its best when it flows, and rucks are an essential part of the way in which the sport is played, but the quick and heavy bind ruck actions when the ball goes to ground dampens the pace. First, you need to decide how many players you want to commit to the dog pile to retain or turn the ball. Once you've made that decision, you need to repeatedly press or hold the corresponding button as coloured bars go back and forth to determine the effort exerted. There is a genuine tactical consideration before stacking on bodies, because, by over committing, you leave gaps in your defense. But, it's frustrating when you lose possession, even after a significant investment of players, because the AI pounds faster than you do.
There are no set plays here to launch decoy runners or shield kickers that make field goal attempts, and as a result, you're forced to more carefully weigh up conceding possession with the hope of gaining ground before trying your chances at winning a line-out. Because of the omission of plays, you can expect to spend the bulk of your time spreading the ball around and running it, rather than pushing rolling mauls across the try line or bamboozling your opponents with cunning ruses. Right analog stick controls help fill the gap and allow you to deftly perform side steps, barrel through backs, and lure defenders with dummy passes. These are simple to perform, effective in use, and have a tangible effect on the opposition AI as it commits to a player that it thinks might get possession or fall victim to the power of a crunching shoulder barge.
Opposition AI players aren't the smartest lot. They suffer from a major case of the minor leagues as they bunch up, leave their positions, and fail to set collision courses; never taking the initiative to deviate and stop certain point-scoring opportunities. Late passing can also allow you and the AI to offload the ball well into a tackle. While it is useful to keep the ball in motion to avoid the slog of rucks, it also serves as a great source of recovery when the incompetent AI throws away control at unnecessary times, when it would have been safer to take it to ground.
Seven on one. Hardly seems like a fair fight.
As you bump up the difficulty level, the windows of time for line-outs and conversion kicks become smaller for you, while the opposition becomes more accurate. The AI doesn't scale accordingly, though; while it may be able to knock it through the sticks from the sideline on a blustering day, it still makes many of the same schoolboy errors found at the lower levels. Menu sliders allow you to tweak and fine-tune offload frequency and other settings. While they do help, the default handling options are less than stellar, joining the laundry list of quirks and bugs. The ball sometimes becomes trapped during play, with players on both sides scratching their heads at their inability to interact with it, while player models are slow to appear in the team management menus. Though they may show the correct names, they display the wrong player photos, showcasing the last team viewed. Most frustratingly, the game prefers to automatically default to the home side during team selection, even during multimatch tournament play. This forces you to carefully inspect your choices before kick off, lest you take over the campaign for one of your rivals.
Whereas its competition offered only a stingy smattering of game modes modeled after the Rugby World Cup for which it was authorized to use the official branding, Rugby Challenge battles its licensing restrictions by including a World Cup format clone alongside licensed use of the English Aviva Premiership, Europe's RaboDirect Pro 12, the French Top 14, New Zealand's ITM Cup and the Ranfurly Shield, the Bledisloe Cup, and Tri and Quad Nations. Licensers, however, decreed that the South Africa side wasn't allowed to come out and play, making Tri Nations an odd inclusion. The game also offers the aforementioned competitions as templates to create your own custom events, but regardless of which one you decide to tackle, each plays out similarly in format and appearance.