Primal Rage hit arcades in 1994, and I can still remember the first time I saw the cabinet and played it. Dinosaurs fighting giant apes, blood flying everywhere, exploding hearts built into the health bars. It was a dream come to life, and immediately captured my attention as a new challenger to the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games we were all used to by the mid-90’s. The concept of prehistoric creatures battling to control a post-apocalyptic Earth was very appealing to me, and apparently many others, as Primal Rage went on to become very successful, seeing release on a slew of home consoles in 1995 and earning its own line of action figures and other tie-in merchandise in the years to come.
Primal Rage combined a number of popular genres at the time into one sleek package, capitalizing on the revived popularity of dinosaurs following 1993’s Jurassic Park and mixing it with the controversial gore of Mortal Kombat. The game drew the usual criticisms as a result, but that couldn’t prevent it from becoming a must-play game both at home and in the arcades. I was particularly taken with the surprisingly competent Game Gear port, mainly because that’s the only copy of the game I owned for many years, and I fondly remember dumping many hours into it after having begged my parents to buy it for Christmas.
I remember always being impressed by the variety of the original seven characters (Blizzard, Chaos, Sauron, Diablo, Armadon, Vertigo and Talon) each of which represented a different faction, either the good “Virtuous Beasts” or the evil “Destructive Beasts”, with each animal serving as a deity to its local population. Although a few of the characters are basically palette swaps with some different moves, they are all different enough to maintain their own identities and each has their own unique and impressive stage to fight on. Each beast has their own fatality and a handful of moves that have never again been replicated, including Chaos’s ability to destroy his opponent through urination. Now that is 90’s attitude.
Naturally, these creatures were instantly appealing to children, and Playmates Toys (of TMNT fame) were quick to jump on the opportunity, launching their Primal Rage line in 1996. Each character received their own figure, along with some accessories, a card with a few details and their own miniature “worshipper”, which happened to be just the right size for devouring. They had action features as well, with several figures able to fire projectiles, a few had a slashing ability and still others could squirt water. Not only were they enjoyable toys to play with, but they were fun to look at for collectors too, as each figure was well-sculpted and painted, and highly accurate to their video game counterparts.
Unfortunately, Primal Rage ended up a victim of its own time of release, as by the time work began on a sequel, arcades were on the way out and home consoles were well on their way to overtaking the entire video game market. The proposed Primal Rage II never saw widespread release, aside from a couple demo cabinets that do exist, and sadly we would not hear much more from the franchise. While the original game is still readily available on a laundry list of different 90’s consoles, the toys have become quite popular among collectors, leading to some high prices on the secondary market.
When I think back to the late 16-bit era, Primal Rage is one of the games that always comes to mind as a entry that is unique, edgy and shows some genuine creativity in a way that was not common in games trying to emulate the success of other fighters at the time. With a game like Killer Instinct being rebooted and gaining some popularity on the Xbox One in recent years, Primal Rage seems like a great candidate to bring back to modern consoles, but even if it’s never revived, it’s already left an impressive legacy on video game history.
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Title screen: http://img.gamefaqs.net/screens/4/f/e/gfs_68064_1_1.jpg
Boxed toys: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5111/7403187306_a039c25d97_b.jpg