Retro Game Reviews: PRIMAL RAGE
Hey, everyone! This is Andy Larson, and I’m once again joined by my frequent blogging partner on some of these video game reviews, Jabroniville, as we once again embark down the river of digital history in search of lost and forgotten gaming treasures that our fans might have forgotten about.
As teased in a earlier game review on Wrestlemania we posted a couple weeks ago, the next game I wanted to discuss in this series was Primal Rage, a 1994 fighting game released by Atari Games originally for the arcades which was then ported to a wide variety of home consoles in the following years.
Given it’s mainly a fighting game that characterizes giant prehistoric monsters battling for supremacy, I thought this would be the perfect game to revisit what with the “Godzilla, King of Monsters” movie set to take theaters by storm later this week (I know I personally have my ticket already purchased). Plus, as a fan of the quality arcade work that Atari has turned in over the years such as Tempest, Centipede, and Asteroids, I don’t mind highlighting another game from their robust library that may not be as fondly remembers as those other classics.
However, before we get started with the background and facts, Jabroniville, what are your initial thoughts on this particular game?
For me, this has gotta go down as one of the biggest video game disappointments ever! I mean, it’s a digitized game in the vein of “Mortal Kombat”, but with Harryhausen-esque GIANT DINOSAURS doing the fighting!
How is that NOT the greatest idea of all time?!? A Dinosaur FIGHTING GAME?!?
Plus the game is complete with fatalities, consumption of human beings, and a Life Bar that ends in a heart that EXPLODES when you lose!
And yet… the game was a complete disappointment.
Wow…that’s some pretty harsh words right out of the gates! However, I will say that in some ways they are justly earned as I too have pretty dismal memories of this game compared to a lot of the other fighting games released in the early 90s when I was teenager.
I will say though that despite some of the more disappointing aspects of the game as we’ll get to in a moment, it was actually quite successful commercially at the time. This is especially true when it comes to the home console release of the game which nearly won the Video Software Dealers Association’s “Game of the Year” award in 1995 before losing out to Donkey Kong Country 2. Well, in retrospect, I’m glad they got that right. I mean, DKC2 is a phenomenal platformer which still holds a high degree of replayablity even over 20 years after it’s release.
Primal Rage...not so much…I feel.
In any case, what’s the in game story behind this? Why did all these dinosaurs start fighting in the first place? Was it over Toyko? I betcha it was over Toyko….
The story is simple: A meteor has destroyed civilization, and “Urth” is now ruled by powerful Gods who do battle for it’s control. You play one of the Gods (all of whom are the previously mentioned dinosaur looking creatures), and attempt to “Conquer” all the other segments of the planet. In addition to the Six Gods, there is also this one Shaman turned into a giant ape, giving you a total of 7 characters to play as.
As the monsters fight, you may devour the followers that run about the bottom of the screen for more health, however of you devour your own, you lose points. I’m not sure why this matters to me, but I figure the Dinosaurs tend to be about 18 feet tall by my estimation. I figured this out based on the fact the game uses pretty big sprites for the humans, and they’re about 1/3 to 1/4 as tall as the Dinosaurs when standing straight up.
Yeah, I definitely remember the eating of the humans thing. I think that’s what first pulled me to the video game when I saw it in the arcade.
I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of the video game Rampage, and I originally felt like Primal Rage was combining two things I was familiar with in the wanton destruction of Rampage and the blood thirsty fatality driven cage fighting of Mortal Kombat.
Of course, then I actually played the game, and found it handled terribly compared to the more sleek and simple controls of games like Street Fighter 2.
Yes, one of the major problems was that the fighting system was quite basic and forgettable.
I too remember it being pretty bad, and most other reviews corroborate that. The controls were a hell of a thing, and involved multiple button-presses for Special Moves.
Plus, the animation was choppy and looked pretty weak compared to other games out on the market.
Yeah, the controls were pretty back assward from other fighting games at the time. I remember that it was based on holding down buttons while you made movements on the joystick, instead of the more traditional “make a movement and then hit a button” sequence that other fighting games had. Although I never played these older versions of the arcade, eventually they revised the controls so that the more traditional move sequence could be done IN ADDITION to the original holding of button version, which must have just turned it even more into a clusterflock.
But that’s sometimes Atari for ya, they take critiques pretty seriously to the point that they are willing to screw up even further to make things right. I mean, this is the company that delivered the Jaguar system, right? Don’t get me started on that…I think I could spend a whole blog talking just on the Jaguar and what a failure that was on ever level.
Anyways, back to game review, other than controls you mentioned there was an aspect of the game you hated even more, correct?
Oh, Yes. More than controls or graphics or anything, what really grinds my gears on this game is the fact there were only SEVEN characters available to play!
In an era where the default for a 2-D Fighter was pretty much at least 10 (and with King of Fighters, it was going much higher), that was absolutely stupid! Worse yet though, because of Palette Swaps, there were only FIVE original bodies! This is mainly because Chaos/Blizzard and Diablo/Sauron share the same sprites!
Plus, there wasn’t even a BOSS! You just fought the other six characters, then an endurance round, and that was it!
Finally, speaking of character design and selection, despite being able to select from the entirety of Prehistoric Life for its characters, the game chooses two Tyrannosaurs, two Giant Apes, a Raptor, and two made-up hybrids, thus robbing us of Pterosaurs, Hadrosaurs, Ankylosaurs, Stegosaurs, Aquatic Reptiles, Mammoths, Sabre-Toothed Cats, and more. It’s so very, very frustrating.
Originally I read somewhere that there was going to be a boss of the game, but it was scrapped at the last moment. Some sort of a living dragon skeleton or something like that.
At least that’s what I read in GamePro back in my youth when I used to have a subscription to that prestigious video game magazine for us more snooty connoisseurs who could afford such luxuries.
Unfortunately, I believe the whole notion of a boss for the original game is more of an urban legend than anything. It has it’s roots in the never released sequel in Primal Rage II. That game was planned to have a Skeletal Dragon-thing named Necrosan as the final boss, but as I said that game never fully materialized.
It’s a shame too as the sequel would have added addressed my concern about the lack of playable characters by adding like 10 new ones to the original 7, including the aforementioned Sabre-Toothed Cat, as well as bizarrely enough some giant human avatars (as that’s exactly what we need for a game all about dinosaurs…).
However the sequel only got as far as a prototype cabinet that was displayed at a couple trade shows, before the whole project was squashed. There are some rumors on the internet that someone created a specific version of the MAME program which could run a bootlegged copy of Primal Rage II, but we at GotS wouldn’t really ever promote the fact that such things exist, right?
Indeed. We would not promote said roms or emulators, although it is super interesting that someone loved this game franchise so much that they spent a lot of hard time developing and programming a version of MAME just so they could see what the sequel to this game looked like.
I guess it hearkens back to my original comments that at the time of its release, it was pretty popular. I remember it was well known enough to even warrant it’s own controversy, as many critics and concerned parents thought Primal Rage took the violence and depravity to a whole other level, even compared to Mortal Kombat. I believe it had mostly to do with the notion of eating human beings, which I will say does cross some lines a bit.
However, I think the biggest offensive thing that got a lot of parents up in a tizzy was the fact that one of the monsters pees on its opponent as one of it’s finishers.
Yep, full golden showers all over them, and more than seeing heads ripped off or entrails, it was that semi sexual act that really caused an uproar. So much so that I believe the Game Boy version had to replace that move with the monster vomiting on his enemy instead, which I guess is just “gross” instead of being “immoral”.
That being said though, compared to some of the other fighting games released around this time, this game just didn’t have much of an impact for me. I feel like I’m not the only one either, as despite doing well initially, this isn’t a series that has withstood the test of time well.
No, I agree. This game is a rarity in that it’s largely forgotten about despite a lot of hype surrounding it when it first started out, not to mention it got releases on basically EVERY SYSTEM EVER!
From the friggin’ Game Boy as you mentioned to the JAGUAR CD and every system in between, you could find a copy in some shape or form of Primal Rage. Maybe that had to do with the fact that Time Warner had a hand in its release and they knew at least something about blanketing a market.
But for me, it boils down to the fact that it came out at a pretty bad time too. It was too advanced for the still-popular 16-bit systems (Genesis/SNES), but not advanced enough for the 32-bit systems that were on the horizon (Saturn/Playstation). So what should have been an amazing game ended up being rather forgettable, and thanks to a super hyped-up sequel never materialized, it never got a chance to redeem itself.
I’m still not sure why Atari gave up on the concept bearing fruit even after a massive hype storm that included comic book and toy tie-ins, but such is life in the video game industry. Missteps abound sometimes.
In closing, I do want to point out that since Ghosts of the Stratosphere is a comic book centric web site, we should talk about the Primal Rage comic book you mentioned that started circulating around the time the game started being ported to home consoles.
This was put out by a pretty small low run comic book company, Sirius Entertainment, between the years of 1996 through 1998 and resulted in 4 issues being printed. There were huge production delays too it seems has it’s nearly a year between issues with #1 being released in ’96, #2 in ’97, and 3&4 in ’98.
In addition to that inconsistency in delivering a timely book to your point about there just being this “low rent” feeling about this entire franchise, although the first issue was delivered in full color, the final 3 issues substituted somewhat inferior black/white art instead, which was really a step down.
But that being said, the comic isn’t all that bad with some pretty decent art in the black/white by the late Tom Artis, who I remembering doing some pretty good work at both DC and Marvel during the early to mid 90s on books like X-Factor and She-Hulk. Plus, despite the massive gaps between issues, the entire series is written by the same author, Christopher Knowles, who mainly wrote mostly for Sirius. That at least gives some sense of cohesion throughout the story-line which is highly influenced by the overall game backstory but yet does a competent job of expounding on it.
I mean, I’m not going to say that this is the greatest comic to ever be compared to sliced bread, but for what it is, a licensing tie in book to help promote a dinosaur fighting game, it’s not awful. I’ve definitely read worse comic books made to promote video games. It sort of has a Conan the Barbarian meets Pokemon feel to it as rejects from Masters of the Universe pit their bloodthirsty monster champions against each other for scarce resources and territory in this post apocalyptic world.
I would definitely suggest if you ever pick it up, you have some heavy metal music playing in the background to perfect the mood this comic brings, like 80s hair metal, like Slayer or something.