This is what happens when you give an Aussie institution to a man who doesn’t care about sports.
Growing up as a kid in regional NSW in the 1970s and 1980s, Rugby League was unavoidable. I’m led to believe that the AFL (or VFL as I think it was back then) is a religion down south, but let me tell you, at least at that time, religious fervour around League players was quite evident too. I never much cared for the game, and particularly the idolisation of players who could be excused any kind of dodgy act simply because they were “bloody good footy players”. I digress, kind of, but I’m setting a scene here.
As much as League is an idolised sport, it’s never had much luck with videogames based around it, largely due, I think, to the smaller audience for such a title leading to reduced budgets. That might not have been an issue back in the 8 or 16 bit eras where visual fidelity wasn’t paramount, but by the time the Xbox rolled around, visuals were improving at a rapid rate. That’s the era that HES’ Rugby League entered into.
Rugby League indicates that it’s a product of Home Entertainment Suppliers, and in an odd bit of irony, I own exactly one other HES product. It’s an Atari 2600 multicart that I reckon most Australian retro gamers would be familiar with, because back in the day, these were everywhere. I didn’t own a 2600 back in the day, but one of the first things I picked up once I did was the HES multicart with Frogger on it. I’m still not sure if it was legit or not, but I guess if they lasted through to make Rugby League on the Xbox, they must have been.
So Rugby League is a home-grown product, and one that I had all but forgotten about. I can already predict that it’ll be low-rent compared to most other Xbox sports games visually, and I’m quickly proven right once we get past the Hoodoo Gurus reworking one of their biggest hits:
I presume they got paid well enough for that one.
Once I’m past the music, simple animation and one of the most weird “floating” balls I’ve ever seen in a video game are presented to me, as are flat-faced players who lack emotion.
I’ve no knowledge to know how close or amusingly bad they are compared to the real deal, of course, and neither do I have any kind of particular affection for the League as it was in 2003. I can loosely remember the whole League/Superleague split, and this must have been during that period because both “sides” are available.
Rugby League was clearly never going to be “my” game, but it’s also not that much of a “game”, because it’s all too easy for me, a man who knows nothing of Rugby League strategy to run rings around my opponents simply by hammering the run button.
Sure, I’m sometimes tackled, but often not, and breaking through is always, always a try, as long as I remember to actually slide into the ground once I’m at the end of the field. Yes, I stuffed up more than once by pressing the wrong button and kicking the ball away. Didn’t matter for the final score.
Rugby League is all kinds of messy, although I will give it points for its commentary. It’s not great, but it sounds authentic and it’s absolutely no worse than any other I’ve hit in a sports game, even for games released in 2017. There’s passion, there’s a bit of variety, and it even sounds like the commentary I grew up avoiding all those years ago. Some things, it seems, never change.
Fat Duck Tech Retro Xbox Game Rankings
- Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time
- Outrun 2
- The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
- SSX Tricky
- NFL Street
- Disney Extreme Skate Adventure
- NHL Rivals 2004
- Spy vs Spy
- Rugby League
- Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death
- Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
I did have to think about where to put Rugby League.
I mean, I’ll be honest; this isn’t a game that I’m likely to return to, and I can’t imagine that, beyond nostalgia for team lineups that were, too many actual NRL fans would either.
It’s wonky in implementation, but it’s not broken in the way that Dredd is, and it’s not a non-game in the way that DOA: Xtreme Beach Volleyball is. It’s even feasible I’ll hit something worse in my journeys, and Rugby League might jump up the rankings, if only a little.
Next time: Kickin’ it old school style