As Kiwis weâve had our ups and downs with rugby league with the poor showing of the early Warriors back in 1995, followed by the dizzying heights of seasons 2001-2004, through to winning the World Cup in 2008. Weâre pretty passionate about our third most popular sport.
It seems timely with the start of the NRL season last week that Sidheâs Rugby League franchise returns with the release of Rugby League 3. It's the first outing on the Nintendo Wii after Stacey Jones Rugby League, Rugby League 2 and Rugby League 2: World Cup Edition on Xbox and Playstation 2.
Itâs pretty clear from the first menu screen the game is more polished in terms of presentation, and that the lads at Sidhe have stepped the franchise up one or two pegs. Fans of previous games will be pleased to note the hard rock riffs accompanying your menu navigation are still around. You have a few different options upon coming into RL3, from Exhibition games, Season mode, Franchise, Tournament mode and for those League wannabes, the ever enjoyable, âcreate a playerâ option. All the competitions and teams are here from the NRL, Super League, Rugby League World Cup, State of Origin and City vs. Country.
The rosters are up to date as of September, 2009. This lead us to our biggest gripe of the game: the delay has meant a lot of players who are in 2010-11 season (Greg Bird, Brett Seymour, Loti Tuqiri) aren't in the game. And because they haven't been playing any professional Rugby League, the only option is to create them from scratch. Another small problem is that RL3 doesnât feature the new exciting concept from Preston Campbell and the NRL - the Aboriginal All Star game. The delayed release instantly dates RL3 and with potential innovations like a four-point try after the attacking team has scored, it could hurt the gameâs longevity further if the NRL makes a few changes.
Now into the nuts and bolts of it. Those who played Rugby League 2 will know the drill well; you control your team from a birds-eye view (though there is a couple of other views to choose from, too). The single most notable change is the removal of the 'pass to playmaker' option. While this would scare most with visions of passing the ball to Steve Price on 5th and final instead of a notable kicker, we can say the change works quite well with only the odd hiccup.
The kicking play has greatly improved too. Gone are the days where youâd pass to the wrong person, fumble your way through a set of six, fail to kick and get caught in your own half. With a small flick of the wrist on the Wii Remote you can perform a bomb, chip, grubber or punt. Dialing up the attacking set plays, you can orchestrate some great attacking plays with D-pad.
Players will find they can tweak the gameplay settings quite a lot, which is great. We found 2 vs. 2 matches, with their fast paced nature, that the games tended to be quite arcade based. A few simple changes in gameplay speed and player attributes allow the games to play at a slower, more sim based speed. Though this is really a personal preference, itâs nice to have the option if needed.
The multiplayer aspect really shines, with the game running up to eight players at once; this number of players is quite unique for a Wii game. Players can use four controllers, either with the 'chuk, or using a watered down control style with just the Remote, which follows the same style as the EA Play option on the 2010 sports series on the Wii. You can add a further four players with Nintendo Gamecube controllers (but the Nintendo Wii Virtual console controller doesnât work).
As mentioned earlier, a new addition to series is the set play option, which isnât as polished as Rugby '06, but donât feel as mechanical and forced, either. It definitely helps to change it up. Players can now set wingers to drop back for kicks, make the defence attempt to charge down a drop goal, cut kicking options or jam the attacking team in their own redzone, all on the fly.
Graphically, Rugby League 3 looks like a good Wii title. You'll spot your favourites like Sam Thaiday, Billy Slater and Jamie Soward at first glance, however the odd player's facial mapping can be a bit hit and miss. All the various stadiums are in here from the UK, Australia and NZ, and judging by the ones weâve been to, they look to be on the mark. This the authenticity of RL3. The pre-match intro sequences are great, and the cutscenes and try celebrations are well blended within the gameplay itself.
The music and sound effects were overseen by the musical genius from Shatter - Jeramiah "Module" Ross. But like other sporting titles you canât help but feel perhaps having a licensed soundtrack with up and coming Kiwi and Australian artists may have been the way to go. The same music playing over and over again can be quite repetitive. RL3's in-game sound is spot on for the majority of the time; Andrew Voss is back on commentary duties and is a little more polished than RL2. Although there's the odd bum note. For example, we've noticed Vossy calling 6s, 7s and 9's Fullbacks when performing the kicking duties. As per our hands on, weâd love to see Ray Warren and Co in the commentary duties, but Voss has been there since day one and his commentary comes across very well in the game.
The Franchise mode is back with a lot more realism this time. You can take your favourite team through a season and make a play for rep selections. The good news is that compared with the previous titles the rep selections actually look similar to how State of Origin and International teams would be selected. In the past youâd get a bunch of random people selected. Also, you can create your own likeness in âcreate a playerâ to aim for higher honours too!
Rugby League 3 is easily the best Rugby League title out. They've taken the gameplay and look 'n feel from Rugby League 2 and improved nearly every aspect from the previous titles. While it's not up there among the heights of other sports title like Madden and FIFA, it still delivers an enjoyable and action packed experience for League fans.
Who knows where the series is headed, now? It seems theyâve pushed the current gameplay engine to the brink on Rugby League 3 and we may see the little niggles addressed one day via a next gen version that could even include PS3âs âMoveâ or Xbox 360âs 'Project Natalâ in the mix.
If you're a League fan and own a Nintendo Wii, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. Perhaps if you donât own a Nintendo Wii, rent it first, or borrow it from a friend before making a $500+ purchase for just one game. If you like it though (and, again, this is for the league fans) there's no reason that this shouldn't be the game that shifts one of those little white boxes from the store shelf into your living room.