Remember when the market was ruled by side scrollers, fighting games, and a single first person shooter that anyone on the street could identify by name? I do. It was yesterday. But let’s forget about ‘Street Fighter V’, ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’, and ‘Call of Duty: Whateverthefuck’, and go back to an identical time when gas was also $1.77 a gallon due to deteriorating conditions in the Middle East, the early 90s.
Fighting games were a big deal when I was younger…kind of. They were great for the home market since parents could shut up two kids at once, but compared to the arcades, fighters weren’t that big of a deal. At school, you were more likely to hear about ‘Mega Man’, ‘Battletoads’, or the dead squirrel on the playground that kids were poking with a stick than the latest fighter hitting store shelves. That being said, if you spent a lot of time in arcades, or were reading a lot of EGM at the time (miss you Sushi-X, I hope you’re not dead or addicted to meth), you couldn’t escape from their pull.
There were heavy hitters that took in approximately ALL the money, but they weren’t the only ones around. While ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Street Fighter 2’ divided arcade crowds, the outliers allowed people like me to play something similar while waiting for our turn to get our asses kicked by the guys who had the codes printed out from the internet. Add in the fact that one of the games was about dinosaurs beating the shit out of each other and you have a dream come true for a kid like me.
Here’s what I remember:
‘Primal Rage’ was one of the few games we bought for the Sega Genesis. You may recall that at my house we had a mysterious pile of NES games appear one day. The same was true for the Genesis. Maybe they were given to us, maybe they were bought illegitimately, or maybe my father killed a man in an alley and stole his shit. I’ll never know, but this one was legit. I know because our copy was one with those red paper sleeves that always got wrecked from pulling the game out like a goddamn chimp time and time again. I didn’t dream up that shit.
I remember it not moving as smoothly as ‘Mortal Kombat’, nor was it as fast, but I remember still having tense and fun battles. The level of violence was brutal and gave us the post-MK fix we were looking for. This was also the time where every fighting game had to have a fatality of some kind. Hell, even the Power Rangers fighter for Genesis has finishing moves that would happen after you won a fight. The only one I remember with any clarity from ‘Primal Rage’ was that an ape pisses on your dead body and melts your corpse.
The only other thing that I can remember is that there’s a dinosaur with a long tail that’s a son of a bitch. He has a longer reach making it harder to close the distance for stronger attacks. The tail whip also has a knockback effect. If you don’t block the tail whip, you’ll get knocked into an unending juggle until you die. Normally something like this is balanced out or removed before shipping, but not here. How did ‘Primal Rage’ prevent players from exploiting game breaking damage loops? The put a picture of cheese with a circle and line through it that flashes on the screen. They KNEW it was there and their solution was “c’mon guys, don’t do that”.
How does it hold up?
I’m actually surprised at how nice the game looks, especially how fluid the characters move, comparatively speaking. They don’t move with the grace of the sprite based games of the time, but I remember them being more “janky” when they moved. Maybe it’s just the years of alcohol breaking down the memory, who knows?
The backgrounds are varied, colorful and full of life. Literally. There are people running around as the giant monster battle takes place. If they get too close, they can be grabbed and eaten for a quick health boost. The backgrounds are layered, sliding as the perspective changes while the fight rages on. Each arena, from the overgrown stone henge to the dilapidated cityscapes, feels like it was ripped right from a monster movie, adding to the atmosphere.
The roster is just as appealing as the stages. Each character has their own personality and play style. The raptor Talon is quick and fierce, so much so that one of his finishing moves involves a tornado of teeth and claws that disintegrates the enemy into a puddle of gore and bones. Then you have the other end where the big slow ape Blizzard happily pounds your body into the ground like a cartoon character and punches out your brain. From an aesthetics standpoint, ‘Primal Rage’ fires on all cylinders.
That’s not to say that it’s a great game.
I’m not going to shit on this game the way I’ve done before, it’s not terrible, but it does have issues. In each player’s arsenal of moves, there are some that don’t connect unless the opponent is in the right position. During gameplay, prime controller real estate is taken up by moves that don’t work 90% of the time. Maybe if I had a 6 button controller, or played it on a different system, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it sure as shit doesn’t help when ‘Mortal Kombat’ has taught me that the uppercut is an important move in a fighter’s arsenal, only to see it whiz by the opponent’s face in ‘Primal Rage’.
The more I played, the more I realized that the key to winning was to spam moves. Just like when I was backed into a corner a beat repeatedly without a chance to defend myself while being yelled at about cheese…hold on a second. Am I talking about the game or high school? Yeah…I think it’s the game. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah. The game is cheap, just like throwing cheese at the quarterback’s whore.
The AI will throw every special move they have at you. You’re only recourse is to do the exact same thing. Without a guide in front of me, I run through all the combo and button configurations that I remember from other games. Nothing. I resort to button mashing. Nothing. It turns out that you have to hold specific buttons before making the directional input. Most of the fight resulted in the enemy killing me over and over again because it doesn’t have to worry about the awkward move input. It doesn’t feel right and there’s a reason that other games don’t use this method. That kind of change up is like being taught how to slice an onion, then being handed a knife and told to kill a man.
In a way, it still holds up. In another more accurate way, it was never a great game to begin with. It received lukewarm reviews when it came out and that feels accurate. It was never a game that I would play for hours and hours, rather something that I would throw in from time to time on a rainy day. I might pop this in at some point and play a few rounds, maybe even get some of the guys together for a shot of nostalgia. Despite it’s issues, rediscovering ‘Primal Rage’ was a treat. For the first time since I started this series, I got what I was looking for…
I had fun.