In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. In part 5, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s Primal Rage…
Year of Release – 1994
Developer – Atari Games, Probe Software
Publisher – Atari Games, Time Warner Interactive
Platforms – Various
2D fighting games in the early 1990’s had two champions that almost every game tried to emulate in some way or another. Street Fighter II‘s focus on cartoonish sprites, fast action and flashy combos made it unbeatable, while Mortal Kombat‘s ultra-violence and digitised graphics made it stand just as tall. There were varying degrees of success for all the clones and copycats, but none quite so interesting or compelling as 1994’s Primal Rage.
Opting for the MK-style bloodiness and graphical style that we all know and love, Primal Rage made use of Ray Harryhausen-style stop motion animation in a similar fashion to 1992’s Dino Rex, and set things on a post-apocalyptic earth. The models for the game looked fantastic, and the whole process can be seen in the short documentary here…
The game was also noted for its controversial content. In 1996, a woman from Arizona said that her 11 year old son had bought the game, and used a strategy guide to execute the “Golden Shower” fatality (in which, as the title suggests, Chaos urinates all over the corpse of an opponent). She flipped out and started a grass-roots campaign against Primal Rage, which resulted in stores withdrawing copies of the game, including the already-censored SNES version, which didn’t even contain the offending move.
Promotional Art & Merchandise
Flyers for the arcade release mainly adhered to the tropes that were pretty standard fare for a game of this ilk in the early 90’s. The standouts on these are pretty exceptional though, with the exaggerated taglines, tribes of people worshipping the arcade machines and the awesome imagery of a giant ape uppercutting a dinosaur.
The ads for the home release of the game are definitely a mixed bag. While the “BRUTAL” ad was commonplace for ultra-violent fighting games in the early 90’s, the minimalist 4-panel attempt at poetry and the absolutely baffling choice of tagline for the remaining ad are pretty difficult to sum up. Shock value, perhaps? Whatever they were going for, it hasn’t aged well.
Producing a toy line for Primal Rage was a no-brainer. The over the top violence and cartoonish character design lends itself perfectly to the edgy, cool action figures of the time, and came complete with a typical “in your face” TV commercial as well. The full line includes each character from the game, along with a couple of deluxe 10″ sized figures, and two brand new characters.
Another avenue of marketing that fits Primal Rage superbly is comic books. The four part miniseries, written by Chrustopher Knowles, covers the story of the game, and includes some rather stylish artwork from Kevin Rasel. We are given the backstory of Primal Rage in this form through Blizzard’s chief follower Taze, and offers more of an insight into the events that lead up to a bunch of giant beasts beating each other into a bloody pulp.
Following the comic book miniseries, a novelisation of the game was also released. Written by John Vornholt (known for his many Star Trek: The Next Generation novels and his screenwriting work on several animated series such as Ghostbusters and Dennis The Menace), Primal Rage: The Avatars is set after the conclusion of the game, and introduces two new characters; Slashfang (a sabretooth tiger) and Necrosan (who was intended to be added into the game as a boss).
Another interesting piece of merchandise for Primal Rage is the board game, “RAGE ON URTH!“. Putting it simply, players each select a character from the game, use a “battle ball” against their opponents and try to “eat” as many primal followers as they can. The player who tallies up the most followers eaten wins the game. It’s cool to see how there are battle elements in “RAGE ON URTH!” that call back to the video game.
Marketing the board game towards kids was a strange move, considering the violent nature of the video game, but it remains as one of the more unique pieces of video game merchandise nonetheless.
Finally, a series of Mighty Max-style mini-playsets were introduced alongside the action figures. Housed inside a plastic shell, these sets include 2 characters each from the game, and recreate battles from the video game.
Besides the big franchise fighting games, Primal Rage‘s impressively varied amount of merchandise is a thing to behold. Just as the game has a decidedly 90’s feel to it, the toys, comics and books will have many people feeling nostalgic, would look great in any fighting game fan’s collection.
Primal Rage‘s story is exactly the kind of post-apocalyptic Kaiju epic that you’d imagine merely by just looking at some of the gameplay and character designs.
A meteor strike has devastated Earth, wiping out technology completely and reducing modern civilisation to rubble. In the wake of this devastation, humans have regressed into tribes of stone age dwellers in this new world, now known as “Urth”. Primordial forests have covered the land, and a plethora of new species have evolved.
Seven creatures emerge to wage war for control over Urth, resulting in huge battles between virtuous gods that want to keep the new world peaceful, and the evil gods that aim to plunge the world into further chaos for their own benefit.
The god of Hunger. Sauron (no, not THAT Sauron…) is the one of the main protagonists, and classed as a “virtuous god”. Resembling a Tyrannosaurus, he can dish out the most damage of all the characters, but he’s also the slowest on the roster. Sauron’s immortality only lasts while he devours human flesh, as he suffers from an insatiable appetite. In spite of this, he is not evil, but the anti-hero of the group.
His “Stun Roar” is an energy beam utilized in a manner similar to Godzilla’s nuclear breath, and his “Primal Scream” casts an energy shield as an offensive attack.
The god of Good and Virtue. Blizzard is one of two ape-beasts, and the main protagonist of the game. He was frozen in a glacier for millennia and was released by the meteor. He lived high up in the mountains, only descending when threatened. A noble and heroic yeti-like creature, Blizzard wishes to undo the damage caused to Urth by both the meteor and the warring gods.
Many of his abilities focus around the manipulation of ice and cold. Blizzard is listed as the leader of the Virtuous Beasts, and his animal power, age-old wisdom and freezing projectile moves make him a powerful character.
The god of Decay. The second of the two ape-beasts, Chaos was formerly a scientist and witch doctor that was transformed into his current state by a freak accident and was forcibly imprisoned in his own filth for eons.
Among the three Evil Gods, Chaos is known as the crudest and nastiest, with special moves such as “Fart of Fury” and “Power Puke”. His “Golden Shower” fatality (where Chaos dissolves the flesh from his victim with a jet of acidic urine) was considered tobe so disgusting that the game was pulled from the market and replaced with a version with this fatality censored.
The god of Survival. Talon resembles a Velociraptor, and is the patriarch of a huge family of similar dinosaurs and is fiercely protective of it, and it is for their sake that he plunges into the battle for control of Urth. Talon is the fastest character in the game and an excellent jumper.
Talon is also the shortest character in the game, and numerous ranged attacks by taller enemies will simply miss him. He is also the only character in the game who does not have a projectile attack.
The god of Life. Armadon fights to defend Urth and prevent its destruction from the hands of the Evil Gods. He’s a semi-bipedal dinosaur with Styracosaurus-like head and limbs, a series of spikes in his back, and a tail, the tip of which resembles a combination of an Ankylosaurus’ tail club and a Stegosaurus’ thagomizer. Armadon has the easiest combos, but has a short reach
The god of Evil and Destruction. Like Sauron, Diablo resembles a Tyrannosaurus but is the main antagonist of the game. The leader of the destructive gods, this demonic dinosaur wishes to reduce Urth into a nightmarish, magma-filled hell, where he will indulge his desire to torment all living beings on the planet for all eternity.
His graphic model is nearly identical to Sauron’s, though he is rendered smaller and with a different color scheme. Diablo is quick on his feet and is an excellent distance fighter, but is somewhat weak in close range.
The goddess of Insanity. Vertigo is a unique character, resembling a cobra with dinosaur legs and short, spindly arms. She is one of the evil destructive gods and is the only female beast on the roster. She has the longest reach.
The game’s plot states that her imprisonment on the Moon forced the other beasts into suspended animation until the meteor impact. Vertigo plans to enslave the entire planet forever by making humans into a slave race.
The grouping of the characters into “good, virtuous gods” and “evil, destructive” gods was actually a mistake that happened during the production of the trading cards that accompanied the line of toys. This is especially clear in Sauron‘s story, as he is marked as “virtuous” while his ending couldn’t be further from the word.
It has also been suggested that each of the characters in Primal Rage is a sort of homage to the first Mortal Kombat game (you can read our Mortal Kombat Final Round entry here!). In an issue of Gamepro magazine in 1995, they pointed out a number of similarities;
- Armadon uses electricity attacks like Raiden.
- Blizzard’s ice attacks are similar to Sub-Zero’s moveset.
- Diablo utilises fire attacks that reduce opponents to charred skeletons like Scorpion’s fatality.
- Talon has a Liu Kang-esque flying kick attack.
- Sauron’s shadow moves look like Johnny Cage’s shadow moves.
- Vertigo is the only female character in the game, and utilises pink energy rings in her attacks, much like Sonya Blade.
- Chaos’ barbaric moveset is reminiscent of Kano’s, especially the cannonball attack.
The use of sprite swaps was also a practice that was employed by both games.
While it has never been officially confirmed that the game is indeed a homage to Mortal Kombat, there’s plenty of evidence to show that it was at least heavily inspired by the classic beat-’em-up.
Each character has their own stage, and the final fight boasts its own level too.
These stages include;
- The Hollows – Armadon’s stage; a set of empty underground caverns.
- The Cliff – Blizzard’s stage; an icy temple in what was once the Himalayan mountains.
- The Cove – Sauron’s stage; A set of temple ruins on a beach.
- The Strip – Talon’s stage; A lightly forested tropical grassland.
- The Ruins – Chaos’ stage; The ruins of a destroyed city.
- The Inferno – Diablo’s stage; The lava-filled grounds of an erupting volcano.
- The Tomb – Vertigo’s stage; pretty much just Stonehenge.
As is the case with many arcade games of this era, the original arcade edition of Primal Rage is the definitive dinosaur fighting experience. The problem with the arcade version is that the game’s design team implemented an unusual and largely unknown security method into the arcade machine’s coding that prevented the full features of the game from becoming active. As a result, the game has never been accurately emulated on any platform to this day.
As the game was so successful, it was ported to almost every available system at the time, with varying results. Here is a bunch of them;
- The Genesis version is one of the worst non-portable ports of Primal Rage. Not only are the sprites tiny, with an uncountable number of missing frames, but the lack of color pallete makes the backgrounds a blurry mess. It also suffers from the big drop in sound quality most Genesis ports were known for.
- The Super Nintendo version has more detailed graphics, although it’s darker and runs at a lower resolution, and the combo system is unpolished. Oddly enough, this is the only port that was subject to any kind of censorship. While all the blood, fatalities, and exploding hearts are intact, one of Chaos’s fatalities was removed entirely. If you attempt his ‘Golden Shower’ finisher, the game will give you a ‘no’ symbol while Chaos skips to the victory pose at the end of the fatality.
- Besides the obvious lack of colour on the Game Boy, the Game Boy and Game Gear versions are pretty much identical. Among the obvious graphical cuts, the gameplay’s been cut down somewhat, and the fighting that remains tends to be choppy and sluggish, with Vertigo also missing entirely from the game.
- The PlayStation and Saturn versions of the game were very similar, but suffered from glitches, scaled back animations and long loading times. The Saturn version looks slightly better though.
The end of Primal Rage is quite unique amongst its competition during the early 90’s in that it doesn’t have a final boss. Instead, players have to fight every opponent again in succession, without replenishment of the health bar. This boss rush-like end makes the game feel a bit “bare bones”, although there were plans to add a final boss, but that update never came.
Each character has their own quick ending, all displaying what Urth would be like once they respectively take control. Varying from the good (Blizzard’s quiet contemplation and Armadon’s meditation), to the bad (Sauron feasting on humanity and Diablo’s enslavement of the human race) to the weird (Talon’s utopia and Chaos’ redemption?), these stills are a pretty silly way to end a pretty silly game.
Primal Rage was a massive commercial success upon its release. It saw a massive amount of tie-in merchandise produced, and became notorious for its high level of in-game violence.
While it sold incredibly well, the game itself isn’t perfect. The fatalities and art style are fantastic (and hilarious), but the controls are pretty janky and the quality of each port varies quite a bit.
The arcade edition of the game is terrific, but that never translated over to the several ports. The timing of the home releases a year or two later also meant that they were overshadowed by bigger, better games such as Killer Instinct and Virtua Fighter 2.
At least Primal Rage has a very specific advantage over its competition, a reference in the classic Cartoon Network show, Dexter’s Laboratory…
Are you a fan of Primal Rage? Let us know your favourite memories of the game in the comments below, or fire a tweet our way!