How on fire was EA Sports back in the fall of 1994? Looking back, it was one of the strongest lineups the brand has ever assembled: Madden ’95, FIFA ’95, NHL ’95, and NBA Live ’95 are all arguably the best entries for each of their respective series during the 16-bit era, and while each of those franchises has had other successful years since, we’ve yet to see another season where so many of their games were peaking all at the same time. Hell, these days, it seems like Madden and NHL are taking turns being good for each generation on consoles, and NBA Live seems like a punishment being inflicted on NBA fans for reasons we may never fully understand. Maybe EA programmers are all Milwaukee Bucks fans.
Nevertheless, 1994 was a golden age for the EA Sports brand. And it was during this time that EA decided to release Rugby World Cup ’95. It was certainly an inspired choice, with most of the brand’s other franchises being relatively “safe” bets, you know, in that they were sports people in this country might have actually seen before. Who knows? Maybe the world was really clamoring for a Rugby game back then. Perhaps it was one of those short-lived 90s fads nobody even remembers anymore, like Y.B.T. Or maybe EA, drunk on success, got cocky and assumed that they could make an awesome game about just about anything, although that explanation seems kind of unlikely. I mean, it had only been a year since they released Power Monger, so they should have still remembered that lesson.
This is about 90% of the gameplay in Rugby World Cup ’95
Whatever the reason, Rugby World Cup ’95 was thrust into EA Sport’s otherwise spectacular lineup that year, not entirely unlike Don Beebe’s stint on the Super Bowl Champion Packers a few years later. Yes, we are full of obscure references today.
If during the course of this review it appears that I don’t know a lot about rugby, it’s because I don’t. My experience with the sport is limited to the few times I’ve caught glimpses of it on that cable channel that usually talks about the Mets but switches over to English sports after 11pm, and a British acquaintance of mine who once tried to get me to join a game by telling me “It’s just like your American football, only more violent.” Most European sports are described to us in ways that make them seem more sophisticated than ours. Soccer is the “beautiful game”. Cricket is like baseball, except for smart people with a whole lot of free time. But rugby – that’s just football with the violence cranked up to a catastrophic level.
That’s a simplification, but it’s still a pretty apt description, at least as far as describing how the sport is represented in Rugby World Cup ’95. If American football is kind of an abstract simulation of war, then rugby is closer to a simulation of a riot, except there’s nothing abstract about it at all. Which probably is a big part of its popularity worldwide – after all, New Zealand or Ireland isn’t going to win a war against Britain anytime soon, but a riot? That’s 50/50. Rugby is basically like watching two street gangs murder each other, with occasional attempts to move a ball up and down the field as a nominal means to justify this violence. I’m convinced that 90% of Rugby players are clinically depressed people who have committed to killing themselves in the most spectacular way imaginable. The other 10% are dumb American kids who didn’t fully grasp the apocalyptic scale of something that had been described to them as “like your football, only more violent.”
Oh, and they play without any kind of protective equipment. Well, a few of them wear wrestling headgear, but they’re considered pussies by all the other players. Hell, these guys would probably play naked just the avoid the minimal protection offered by a shirt if they could. But of course that’s a terrible idea in a sport that sometimes involves tactics that the announcers describe as “jiggery pokery”. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what that even means. I just know it’s the kind of thing I would want to have pants on for if it were going on around me.
Once you start playing, you’ll begin to see that the description of rugby as a more violent form of American football is pretty accurate. However, a more precise description – and again, this in in the video game version, I’ve yet to see much “real” rugby – might be to say that it’s like a version of American football that has been fine-tuned specifically to maximize the amount of devastation. Between two evenly matched teams it’s a nonstop barrage of assaults. As the guy with the ball is getting tackled, he throws it to a teammate, who then immediately gets tackled and throws it to another teammate, until eventually everyone is laying on the ground with injured spleens. Should a player fail to get rid of the ball before hitting the ground, players from both teams form what is known as – no joke – a maul, which is basically a big pile of guys murdering each other, until one guy emerges with the ball and the whole cycle starts again. Unlike American football, it’s actually considered advantageous to kick the ball off to the other team and let them have possession of it, much in the same way it might be advantageous to allow your opponent to start with possession of a pork chop if you were both trapped in the lion cage at the zoo. Speaking of lions fighting over scraps of meat, if the ball should go out of bounds, play is restarted by having both teams line up 3 feet away from each other, and then throwing the ball into the middle of both teams and having them kill each other for it.
This is actually a different picture than before. This just happens a lot.
As I said, that’s what a game between two evenly matched teams is like. If two mismatched teams should play, things are a little different, as the better team will have more more time and space to work with the ball. This is closer to what I believe rugby is supposed to be like, with teams passing side to side, moving the ball up and down the field, and actually scoring points. I assume this is closer to “real” rugby, as evidenced by the fact that real rugby games occasionally have survivors and scores higher than 0-0.
In the end, I suppose that’s the problem with Rugby World Cup ’95. If you want to take a really good team, and play against a really bad team, it can be fun for a little while, at least until the score gets out of hand. But between two teams that are fairly close to one another, the entire thing is just a series of instant tackles, mauls, and other moments where it really feels like the computer is playing the game for you. Oddly enough, you can actually get a much more satisfying “rugby-like” experience playing Pigskin Footbrawl, which is set in Medieval Europe, is endorsed by Jerry Glanville, and isn’t even meant to be about rugby at all.