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Primal Rage

Genre: Fighting Developer: Probe Publisher: Time Warner Interactive Players: 1-2 Released: 1995

Dinosaurs were all the rage during the ’90s. There was no way avoiding them, especially not in the world of video games: You got your platformers, adventures, shooters, puzzlers, racers – heck, there even was a pinball game with a dinosaur theme. Video game icon Super Mario got a pet dinosaur as a sidekick. It’s almost as if game developers sat down and asked “okay, now what ELSE could we put some dinosaurs in?”

I can imagine how this particular meeting must have played out: “You know what’s popular these days? Fighting Games! So let’s make a fighting game with dinosaurs! And Mortal Kombat had lots of violence and blood in it, and it is really popular, so let’s make this game particularly gory. Have a character whose special moves are disgusting, because grossing people out is all the rage with the MTV crowd! And digitize the characters to show how advanced we are technology-wise.” Yep, they took the gimmick train and rode it all the way. The result: The dino brawler Primal Rage.

To be honest, it doesn’t sound like a too bad idea, does it? Compared to other fighting games, Primal Rage is nothing if not original. Ferocious dinosaurs ripping and tearing into each other has its appeal. Plus, they also tossed in two King Kong-like giant apes as well. So, it may have had all the necessary ingredients, and it definitely had its share of success – at least in the arcades. We are talking about the home port, though. Like many arcade successes of its day, Primal Rage was brought to the popular consoles of the time. And in a move similar to Mortal Kombat, while the Super Nintendo version is considered to have better graphics, the Genesis port has retained all of its gory glory. So that’s a good thing… right?

Even though the Super Nintendo has the better looks doesn’t mean the Genesis version is ugly to the eye. On the contrary, the frame rate on the Sega port is significantly higher and the animations more fluid than on its Nintendo cousin. The digitized characters are very nice to behold, and there is a lot going on in each stage, with volcanoes erupting and tiny creatures running about. The SNES port may sport more colors, but the Genesis version is more pleasing to play.

The back story takes place far into a post-apocalyptic future, where gigantic primeval creatures, the playable characters, have arisen, are worshipped as gods by their followers, and are now fighting each other for dominance over the now wrecked planet. These followers actually get into play. They are running about in the background of the stage, cheering on their god. You can snatch the wretched humans and either toss them at your enemy or eat them to replenish some of your health (or diminish it if you accidentally eat one of your own). While more important in the arcades this aspect of the game doesn’t come as much into play in the Genesis port. Hardware limitations meant a reduction in both size and number of the worshippers; there are rarely more than two humans of one allegiance onscreen at the same time.

Gameplay-wise, the game definitely tries to distinguish itself from other fighters of its day, not only by choice of protagonists. For the most part, the game plays similar to other vs fighters: Your character can kick or punch in two ways, soft but quick or hard and slow. Moving away from the opponent causes your figure to block. What’s nice is that the Genesis version allows you to configure a six-button pad so that you can use a special move when hitting C or Z, a comfortable option, especially when you consider that special moves are pulled off in a rather complicated manner. Usually, you have to hold two or three buttons at the same time and then pull off a certain motion. Since it is very hard to pull those off, a game might quickly degenerate into a simple button mash-fest if not for the six-button option.

Also, the game took a page from Mortal Kombat and included fatalities that can range from harmless (a victorious dive into the sea) to gory (ripping apart and devouring an opponent). While entertaining to a small degree, the finishing moves aren’t very diverse. Those found in Eternal Champions or either Mortal Kombat game are usually more worth your while. And finally, while it still plays smoother than the Super Nintendo version, the Genesis port of the game sometimes handles very clunky, especially when you try to pull off combos or special moves.

Other than that and a reduced graphical quality, the port tried to remain close to the arcade version. All seven characters (five dinosaurs and two apes) have remained in the game – even Chaos and his gross special moves, like the fart attack or his fatality where he dissolves his opponent with acidic piss (!). Admittedly, in a rather lazy move on the developers side, two pairs of characters (the T-Rex clones Sauron and Diablo and the apes Chaos and Blizzard) are merely palette swaps of one another, but this is not a fault of the port. However, some of the balancing was thrown off during the transition to Sega’s 16-bitter. For example, the Raptor Talon, the smallest but fastest within the roster, is now so tiny that projectile attacks harmlessly pass over his head most of the time, giving him a rather unfair advantage. Some of the combo moves available in other versions are sadly missing as well.

What’s present though is a number of hidden mini games that can be accessed by fulfilling certain requirements within the game or by entering a cheat code. Here, the god-like primeval creatures use their human worshippers for their entertainment for a few round of bowling. In Two-player mode, you can also enter a round of volleyball by picking up one of the worshippers and tossing him back and forth a few times. These minor diversion are actually quite fun in itself and invite for a few rounds if you need a break from the usual mash-fest.

As you see, the game has quite a number of ups and downs. It’s very gimmicky and borrowed most of its ideas from the Mortal Kombat series, without sharing the same level of smoothness in terms of gameplay. On the other hand, it is more original than most of its contemporaries, with the mini games in particular bringing some enjoyable diversion into the fray. So, if you like dinosaurs and enjoy your games gory, this might be just up your alley. If not, you’ll find quite a number of better fighters on the Genesis.

SCORE: 6 out of 10

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