Yes folks, way back before Italy joined the tournament and turned it into the Six Nations, we had a cracking rugby game for the Atari ST. Audiogenic made a game that still plays exceptionally well today, and they even get marks for creating a nice chip tune! (Much as I loved the ST, the chip music was usually something to be endured rather than enjoyed… but then this was composed by the legendary David Whittaker…)
This was, of course, back in the days where, instead of people complaining that Coutinho’s haircut does’t look quite right on the latest incarnation of FIFA, every player in every team game on the computer uses the same sprite. This really never matters or detracts from the game, of course, and the few sound effects are well chosen with the “oomph” when your player carrying the ball runs into a defender gives you a palpable feeling of solidity.
The graphics aren’t amazing but they do the job and busting through a tough defence to score a try always gives you a good feeling. Scrums, rucks, and mauls require feverish joystick wraggling, and scrums / line outs give you a list of set plays to select from before you put the ball back into play. Conversions and kick offs are a matter of timing, with precise control needed to ensure the exact angle and power that you want. Despite the fact that sports games have obviously moved on considerably since 1992, but the game feels like a complete experience.
The game features the World Cup as well as the Five Nations (so you’ll still get a chance to play as Italy or against them if you want!). Sadly, I’ve never really had a chance to try the two-player mode–maybe when my little girl grows up a bit?… The computer AI really isn’t that bad, though, and there are multiple difficulty levels to choose from, as well as options for the players having equal skills or individual according to real life (for those old enough to remember, these seem pretty realistic–at least, Jeremy Guscott is still ridiculously fast!). And there are other things that can make the game harder if you need more of a challenge: windy conditions, muddy pitches, and the like.
With a combination of simple to learn and satisfyingly fluid controls and fairly complex set pieces to utilise, this is a truly great game, one of the best sports games ever to come out on the ST. Perhaps not as widely appreciated as the likes of Kick Off or Sensible Soccer, but it should be. The nostalgia factor is strong for those of us who have… er… reached a certain age, too; watching Carling, the Underwood brothers or the Hastings brothers run with the ball evokes memories of watching rugby in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
I remember this game from many years ago, but happily it runs perfectly on the STEEM emulator (probably other ST emulators, too, but STEEM is what I use). Some games age better than others, and this one has aged very well indeed.