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Rugby
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  EA
Publisher:  EA
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  4-18-02

"Hi, Iím Joe Average American. Why should I care about EAís Rugby when Iím perfectly content with what Segaís 2K and EAís own Madden and FIFA franchises have to offer?" Well, because this gameís hella fun, thatís why! Taking a brave step into the unknown, EA has decided to release its Rugby 2002 stateside as just plain Rugby, giving what we consider the sport of preppies and toothless hooligans its first North American title in years. American gamers may initially have questions like "Mommy, whatís wrong with that ball?" and "What are those funny little hats those guys are wearing?" theyíll soon be binding rucks and wheeling scrums with the best of Ďum. Why? Because underneath this easily overlooked title is an incredibly fun and exciting experience that brings to mind the unrelentingly fast-paced and frantic gameplay of yesteryear.

Rugby may not be that big on our shores, but itís pretty damn huge throughout Europe and most of the world for that matter. EA has taken this into great consideration when cooking up the gameís manual and in-game tutorial, which both do a great job of explaining the rules, history, and terminology of the sport, as well as basic controls, menus, and options. The sport itself is best described as a cross between football, soccer, and human cock fighting in which the goal is to move the ball up the football-like field by punting it forward or passing it to teammates behind you until you score a try (think "touchdown") or drop-goal (think "field goal") while avoiding tackles. Itís when a tackle does occur that the sport gets a little strange, but nothing that canít be figured out after a few tries and reading over the manual extra hard.

The beauty of the sport, and why it lends itself so well to a video game, is that thereís so rarely a pause in the action. The ball is in constant motion, keeping the action level very high and the game at a very fast pace. During heated matches no one team can hold on to the ball for more than a few seconds before it changes hands. Matches are chaotic and can turn around at the drop of a dime, ending down to the wire. This creates the gameís strongest selling point - a thrilling multiplayer experience in which both gamers will be straddling the edges of their seats from start to finish.

Besides the training and multiplayer options, Rugby boasts a respectable array of other modes including various Championships, like the World Championship, VI Nations, and Tri-Nations, a Tournament mode, and even "Friendly" single-game matches. A thorough choice of leagues, teams, and stadiums are also included, although these will only matter to the minority of Americans who actually follow the sport religiously.

Gameplay basically consists of frantically passing the ball back and forth and getting off a good punt before getting sacked. When you get close enough to the narrow "field goal" like posts you can try a drop-goal or make a dive for the "end zone". "Rucks" and "scrums" (think of a giant game of human tug-a-war over the ball) are a combination of timing and frantic button presses to see who can get to the ball first. Offensive and defensive plays are all handled pre-game to eliminate any break in the action. Despite the fact that the majority of the game involves blister-inducing button-mashing the characters respond very poorly to it, which leads to the gameís first flaw: controls.

While the button layout is fairly simple and the actual playing of the sport isnít too difficult to grasp, it does take some time to get use to the gameís lack of analog support. Thatís right, the analog sticks that we have all come to know as the standard for console gaming over the past few years is completely unsupported, meaning youíll have to get use to digital all over again. For anyone whoís grown accustom to the feel of analog gaming, or keeping the wear-factor on the ol' thumbs down to a minimum, an oversight like this is no small nit-pick and including full Dual Shock 2 support isnít too much to ask. Add this to the incredibly realistic (read: unnecessarily long) running and kicking animations, and it amounts to a whole lot of unresponsiveness, giving players the sense of a lack of control over on screen actions.

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