Rugby World Cup 1995 – A Retrospective Review

It’s often a difficult task to review old sports games. With the incremental development of many popular series, such as the FIFA and Madden NFL series by EA Sports, those things which seemed cutting-edge at the time can quickly become stale. That said, rugby union is not a sport which has enjoyed a huge amount of computer game titles throughout its history, and there has been less diversity in the developers of those games than the likes of association football or professional wrestling, for instance.

One of those few rugby union titles is 1994’s Rugby World Cup 1995, purportedly developed by The Creative Assembly, more widely known for their Total War series, and published by EA Sports. This game was released for the Mega Drive in Europe and the United States in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup of 1995, which was held in South Africa. This World Cup was historically significant for being held after the apartheid regime in South Africa ended and for the resurgence of one of rugby union’s great contenders, and was dramatised in the film Invictus.

The game includes a reasonable complement of international teams, including the 16 nations that would compete in the World Cup, a number of other nations hailing mostly from Europe, but also including the United States, and two fictional “all-star” teams (although playing with these teams feels faintly like cheating). One peculiar detail of real-world rugby union that appears to have been preserved here is the presence of distinct performance tiers, something which has even been acknowledged by the International Rugby Board in their ranking system. The performances of the teams are therefore reasonably accurate, although there are some teams which feel weaker than they should, such as South Africa and New Zealand. Conversely, some teams feel stronger than they should, such as the United States, who failed to qualify for the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and Wales, a perennial contender who nevertheless failed to make it out of the group stages in 1995.

When it came to the fourth-generation console war, the Mega Drive seemed to have the edge over the SNES when it came to licensed sports games, especially when it came to the FIFA series. The strengths of the FIFA series seem to have crossed over to Rugby World Cup 1995, and in fact, the whole game feels very similar to the contemporary FIFA titles. The game menus have been nicked wholesale from FIFA International Soccer, the game has a comparable in-game isometric perspective and a similar set of weather and gameplay options.

Rugby World Cup 1995 appears, however, to be a somewhat more simulationist game which somewhat rewards strategy and experience. It’s not a perfect simulation of rugby union, removing various rules of the game in the sake of gameplay, including the fair catch (or “Mark!”) rule, and the stamina system seems slightly wasted without the provision for substitutions and the lack of proper injuries. Nevertheless, enough of the rules of rugby union are included so that it actually feels like a game of rugby, rather than an aimless kickabout.

This game, therefore, is not especially easy to just pick up and play, and proficiency with the game requires somewhat of an understanding of the rules and strategies of rugby union. A lot of the defensive manoeuvres in the game are handled by the AI, although it is possible to take manual control of a player and tackle an opposing player, Offensive manoeuvres, on the other hand, are handed over to the player, and playing bad rugby won’t do you any favours when it comes to taking on the AI opposition, who, to the credit of the programmers, are reasonably strong.

The controls add to the early confusion, not being entirely intuitive to begin with. Certain parts of the game, including scrums and place kicking, are done rather well, both rewarding strategy while being fairly easy to pick up immediately. The other controls, however, require a bit of practice. Passing takes a few moments to figure out, but at least can be executed within the flow of the game without much fuss. In-play kicking is a different story, requiring a look at the manual before you can figure anything out but grubber kicks, and requiring one to either take their thumbs off the directional pad or move them in opposition to the flow of play to execute the other types of kick.

Once you get the controls down, though, they do feel relatively smooth and can be executed within the flow of the match. All in all, the controls make it possible to both play good rugby by learning how and when to execute them, and bad rugby otherwise.

The game’s options allow you to play in one of a number of different game types, including a friendly exhibition match, a conventional round-robin league and a Rugby World Cup-style elimination league. In all of these game modes, the weather and pitch conditions can be selected, including a random selection, along with the length of each half in increments ranging from two to forty minutes per half. The game, not being a perfect simulation of rugby union, stands up best to half lengths between five and ten minutes, long enough to execute a few attempts at scoring per half without slogging on.

Graphically, the game could be described as adequate now, and good in relation to its time period. The isometric view resembles that of a contemporary FIFA game, and for most intents and purposes works well in respect to this game as well. Some flaws exist, such as the occasional graphical glitch which causes some sprites to disappear for fractions of a second, and the difficulty in sending off long passes to people on the blind side of the isometric view, but otherwise, they suit the mechanics of the game. The notorious “muddy palette” problem of the Mega Drive fails to be a concern here, with the game requiring relatively few colours for rendering the pitch, and a few others for rendering the players and their uniforms.

The sound for this game is also adequate, although the sound selection for a missed tackle is a peculiar choice, sounding more reminiscent of a back on the wing being crushed by a 22-stone lock. The music, on the other hand, is not a strength of this game. It isn’t terrible, but it is bad, sounding extraordinarily cheesy, even by the standards of other EA Sports titles of the time, and was described to me as resembling “porno music”. If you’re going to play this game, do yourself a favour and play it without the music.

Bottom Line: Rugby World Cup 1995, a rare example of a rugby union game, manages to stand up on its own merits and is still playable today. You won’t go back to it like you might some of the more spectacular sports games of the time, but it does prove enjoyable over a short-term period.

Recommendation: This isn’t a game you should be rushing onto eBay to pick up at the soonest opportunity, but if you were to find it for a couple of quid in a charity shop or the like, it would be worth looking into.

One Response

  1. […] have discussed in a previous review one of the early works by The Creative Assembly, widely known for their highly successful Total War […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: