In the era of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat we saw a sea of copycat fighters. In the particular case of Primal Rage it’s a clone of the latter with tons of gore, fatalities, and digitized combatants. For this title the developers took two things we all know and love – fighting games and dinosaurs and combined the two into one stylized package. As a child I was a huge fan of this game on the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t until years later when I finally realized that I had been playing one of the vastly inferior versions of this title all my life. With my recent acquisition of the Jaguar CD attachment the port of Primal Rage was one of the first games I sought out. Does the nostalgia still hold up? Is this one of the better versions of the now aged game? In this review I answer these questions, and of course many more.
Primal Rage takes place far in the future. Civilization has been destroyed by a meteor that hit Earth and through the destruction seven prehistoric beasts have arisen from the crust. Now worshipped as gods these sentient beings are at war with one another to rule the planet now referred to as ‘Urth.’ In rare fashion none of the combatants are humans – they are either giant apes or dinosaurs except in the case of Vertigo who is a serpent of sorts. What’s more is that each of these characters fits into the story as either good or either. On the dark side you’ve got the detestable Chaos, fire breathing Diablo, and the hypnotic Vertigo. Representing all that is good are Armaddon, the god of hunger Sauron, the arctic dwelling ape Blizzard, and finally the small but quick raptor Talon. The list of fighters is a little small, and it feels like many of them are mere color swaps. With that said there are enough differences to keep things interesting.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this game is basically a clone of Mortal Kombat. Primal Rage is a two dimensional one-on-one fighter where you select your combatant and face off against the other fighters consecutively. Each character controls slightly different. For example, Sauron is by far the slowest of the bunch but packs the most raw power, whereas Talon is small and therefore can move about the battlefield faster than any of the others. The other fighters fall somewhere in between and I find that they’re well balanced in this regard. Each also has their own attacks and differ in range and intensity. As is commonplace you’ve also got a host of special moves that fit the established themes of the characters themselves. The only problem here is that a few of these are clones from other games. Blizzard is the most notorious with his ability to freeze enemies ala Sub-Zero from MK. The combo system is a little clunky. The game moves a lot slower than your typical fighting game and too many of the attacks push the enemies back. Even in my prime I was only able to string together a few hits at a time, and after not playing for so long I've become even worse at this.
The button inputs are pretty standard as far as fighting games go meaning they require you to push both the face buttons in conjunction with the directions on the D-pad. The only real difference is that the inputs are a bit different here. For example, most of the special moves require you to hold down the face buttons as you manipulate the directional pad in different combination. It takes a little getting used to, and after having not played the game for a long while I had all but forgotten of this nuance. The only real new feature this game brings to the genre are the human worshippers that cheer on the fight. You can eat those of your opponent and gain little bonuses from it. This game copied the idea of fatalities from MK. Each character has three of these which can be performed upon successfully defeating your opponent. These are a mixed bag – you’ve got some cool ones such as Blizzard’s wind up punch that sends the defeated foe flying in the background, Chaos’ golden shower which melts the opponent, and others that are odd like the aforementioned characters ability to drink his own puke, and Vertigo’s odd finishing move where she transforms the opponent into a cow. Yeah it’s pure 90s novelty, but I guess it’s a cool feature even if it has been done to death.
The base game has its fair share of problems. For starters, because of the motion captured animation on the characters the game moves at a rather clunky pace. It feels like the characters are knee high in molasses as you slog from one side of the screen to the next. I guess it makes sense given the huge scope of the characters and it does serve to make them feel ‘heavy’ but most fighters never suffered this problem. This title also suffers from some rather clumsy hit detection. Often times you’ll find misplaced attacks that are a centimeter off will still send the blood flying. Mid-air attacks are even worse in this regard, and making matters worse they have a weird tendency to send your opponent flying in different directions that just plain don’t make any sense. Even the nostalgia can’t make up for these issues, but I can’t necessarily blame the platform because it seems like every release suffered from these problems as well.
This Jaguar CD version has quite a few features. You’ve got the standard two player mode which was in virtually every other release, along with one or two exclusive modes. First off you’ve got the tug of war mode in which you and a second player share a life bar and attack each other to deplete it in your favor. Additionally there’s an endurance mode which again, is played with two people, but in this case you select multiple characters and try to run the others roster down. You’ve also got the standard arcade mode where you face off against each character and then once more at the end of the game. At the end of this you do it again consecutively. Completing this mode successfully will give you a short story blurb depicting the events following the end of the battle. As far as fighting games go I’d say this version is probably the best, but I haven’t played the Playstation or Saturn versions yet which may very well be as robust.
As far as graphics are concerned this game looks like a 16-bit title, but that’s the case with almost everything released on the Jaguar itself. The characters are all stop motion and have a very unique look to them because of the style. Unfortunately it also makes many of their animations appear quite jerky and unnatural. Regardless, this is definitely one of the more colorful versions of Primal Rage I’ve played and this really makes some of the more robust stages really pop. Also, this version is quite sharp and seems to have a few more frames of animation than any other that I’ve played. What’s a little annoying is the fact that some of the characters are merely resized and re-colored. Diablo and Sauron is a particularly blatant example, but it also looks like several assets were shared between Blizzard and Chaos. It’s hardly impressive for a supposed 64-bit console, but I suppose it looks decent enough.
I’m actually a really big fan of this game’s music. The prehistoric apocalypse theme is conveyed perfectly through the audio. The intro screen is particularly impressive with nature sounds which are all recorded sound samples. The various stage music pieces are composed primarily with flutes, drums, and sound several steps above your typical midi compositions thanks to the CD format of the system. Unfortunately the sound effects sound really muffled, but I imagine this is because they were rendered with the original system’s hardware itself. These consist mostly of roars, growls, and grunts and are surprisingly low quality for a system that uses CDs as its format. Others sound really subdued, such as the jumping and contact effects, and most are re-used between the characters. The only difference in the effects is with the special moves which vary between the different characters. The audio is decent, but not particularly amazing.
Controls bring up a great many issues. I mentioned earlier that the game is clunky and that’s the truth. Furthermore, the holding down of buttons while doing directional inputs is a little awkward for those of us who have spent a lot of time with the likes of Street Fighter. The biggest problem is the fact that the default 3 button Jaguar controller doesn’t have enough face buttons on it. You actually have to use the option button for certain attacks in this mode, and other times you have to press two buttons when you would normally need only one. Thankfully this is one of those games that’s fully compatible with the pro controller and with its six buttons this is really the only way to play. Still, this doesn’t make up for the clunky and slow nature of the game, but this at least makes it playable.
I think the biggest reason I’m a fan of this title is because of the nostalgia I have with it. Looking back on it now, even this superior version, all I see is a rather clunky game based around low brow 90s style humor and violence. There are better options from this era, and this more expensive Jaguar CD version isn’t quite worth what it goes for. If you absolutely must play and don’t mind paying what you would for a modern game then I recommend giving this a shot, otherwise you can have slightly downgraded versions of this title on other systems. On its own the game is pretty average.
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