In the early 90s, the fighting game genre was fully introduced and became all the rage in arcades across the country. The Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises were the most successful and there were many companies that wanted to dethrone the kings of the hill. One such company was Atari Games, who threw their hat into the ring with Primal Rage. Taking a page from Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage is a violent fighting game that has you control giant beasts, including raptors, gorillas, and tyrannosaurus rexes. Perhaps the most infamous title to try to take a bite out of the fighting game pie, it’s a shame that Primal Rage ultimately falls in line with other failed attempts at the time.
The premise of the game is nothing amazing but it isn’t bad. Earth has been brought to near destruction due to a massive meteor shower. Humanity has resorted back to a faux stone age and now refer to the planet as Urth. Giant creatures have awaken from the Urth’s crust and are now worshipped by tribes of humans. Each creature now want to take over Urth for either good or bad purposes and battle each other for control. The idea of controlling giant beasts in a post-apocalyptic world is not a bad idea and it’s a nice change from other fighting games at the time, which all had stories revolving around tournaments.
What is not nice is the actual gameplay. There are things wrong with this game that are by design. Some animations take too long, characters feel lumbering and too unwieldy, and even some of the fatalities seem just silly. For example, as you are beasts in this game, you will not only use your arms and legs to attack but your head and tail as well. There’s no real correlation to which button will attack with what, aside from a vague high and low layout. This makes the combo system really impenetrable to newcomers. You really just need to memorize the attacks of your character of choice and their intricacies to take advantage of the combo system.
Even more invasive though is the way special attacks are done. In most versions of the game, you need to hold two or more buttons and then input the directional commands. It stops combat cold and makes most special attacks predictable and easy to read. Later versions of the game allowed you to input the directional commands and then just press the two or more buttons. This is an improvement but it’s still jarring for the moves that have you press up before the last directional input, as well as pressing more than one button. It’s a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
All of this being said, I will admit that the premise and concept of the game actually holds the game over pretty well. Despite the core problems with the game, fighting each other with dinosaurs is pretty cool. Ultimately, Primal Rage is enjoyable if you don’t take it remotely seriously. Pop it in and just bite and scratch at each other for a half an hour and you’ll have a good time, especially in the better versions. Try to play it in any way competitively and you’ll find weird balance issues like 3-hit combos that take half of your life away, and overpowered characters (Blizzard, Talon). What’s more is that dumb enjoyment of the game won’t last long and the novelty will get old. Also, there’s no end boss. Just a gauntlet match against all seven characters. Lame.
PlayStation 1 version
There are quite a few differences between the various home console versions of the game. For this review, I primarily played the Sega Genesis version but for reference, I tried the SNES, PS1, and Sega Saturn versions, and looked up the Game Boy, Game Gear, and PS2, Xbox and Gamecube versions via the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 compilation. Aside from the Game Boy and Game Gear versions, which are missing moves, stages and even the character Vertigo, the Sega Genesis version is definitely one you want to avoid. The Genesis port is based on an older build of the game and is actually missing moves and the revamped special attack system.
The SNES version has fewer frames of animation but still plays better thanks to having the updated mechanics. However, this version is partially censored. The PS2, Xbox and Gamecube versions are emulated versions of the Arcade original but with a few glitches, especially on the PS2, and censored graphics. Some fatalities are altered and there’s no blood. Ultimately, the best versions are the PS1 and Saturn versions. These two are essentially the same game and even have extra FMV videos but the Saturn version has better load times. However, the PSone versions is probably more accessible as you can play it on the PS1, PS2 and PS3.
Regardless of which version you pick, Primal Rage is still never anything more than a mediocre fighting game with admittedly cool premise. Although I can still see the potential, it was squandered on mechanics that just feel different for the sake of being unique, as well as balance issues. Primal Rage is ultimately just than a curiosity that might give you some enjoyment for a bit but nothing more.