Violent fighting games were all the rage in the mid-'90s, thanks to the popularity of Mortal Kombat.
As concerned parents lamented the corruption of America's youth at the hands of bloody video games, kids were flocking to the arcades to take part in the spectacle. While a number of violent titles all looking to emulate MK's success existed at the time, only one had the ability to take what made Mortal Kombat great and put a unique spin on it.
That game is Primal Rage.
What Is It?
You may have noticed Mortal Kombat has a disturbing lack of dinosaurs. Primal Rage fixes that. Developed in 1994 by Atari Games for arcades and later ported to nearly every console imaginable, Primal Rage taps into that, uh, primal desire to see dinosaurs wail on each other. But there aren't just dinosaurs, mind you. Players can also play as giant apes and snake creatures, all battling for supremacy on a post-apocalyptic Earth where the massive creatures are worshipped as gods.
In terms of art-style, the game uses highly detailed models brought to life with stop-motion animation, lending it the feel of a Ray Harryhausen film. It even features color-swapped dinosaurs in the same vein as the color-swapped ninjas that make Mortal Kombat famous. It also has blood. Lots of blood.
What Makes It Great?
Calling Primal Rage great is a bit of a stretch. You could make the argument that it isn't even good. But neither of those arguments stop Primal Rage from just being plain fun. Unlike most fighting games, where players execute special moves by moving the joystick and then pressing specific button combinations, players execute special moves in Primal Rage by holding down face buttons and then performing specific joystick commands. It's still strange to this day, but it's one of the game's unique quirks that differentiates it from the crowd.
While the game in many instances follows the formula established by Mortal Kombat almost to the letter, it isn't without its own innovations. The game is the first fighter to show players exactly how much damage their combo did with an on-screen number, and it also featured a fun mini-game that could be accessed in mid-match, as the two monster combatants take a break from fighting to play a game of volleyball by tossing a helpless human back and forth.
Players could also eat the worshippers cheering from the sidelines to heal back some of their HP, adding an interactive element to the arenas that helped to set the game apart while at the same time reinforcing the fact that you are a giant, man-eating monster.
Did I mention this game is bloody? Mortal Kombat may have made waves with its over-the-top fatalities, but there are few games that can claim to be just as brutal. Player health gauges are depicted as an artery connected to a beating heart. Get beaten down to zero health and the heart explodes in a gore-filled mess, with blood running down the screen. It's nasty stuff, and the game's finishing moves are just as bad, ranging from violent to bizarre.
The now infamous "Golden Shower" finishing move performed by the ape god Chaos, where the creature urinates on his foe and melts the flesh off their bones, set off a controversy all its own way back when. The Super Nintendo version of the game would later censor the move.
Why Does It Need A Reboot?
Work began on a sequel to Primal Rage, but for reasons unknown the decision was made to replace the dinosaurs of the first game with human warriors, who could transform into the dinosaur gods mid-battle. The game would later be cancelled and its storyline turned into a book. A working Primal Rage II cabinet eventually surfaced at an arcade in Brookfield, Illinois, resurrecting interest in the long-dead franchise and giving fans of the game a look at what might have been.
At one time it would seem unlikely for an old-fighting game franchise like Primal Rage to be brought back from the dead, but we saw exactly that with the 2013 Killer Instinct reboot from Microsoft. A new Primal Rage that played to the original's strengths -- giant monsters, bloody combat, interesting world setting -- could find success, especially if the right team was assigned to the project.
As it turns out, that team might not be so difficult to find. Back in 1996, Midway would purchase Atari Games (and the rights to Primal Rage). Then, in 2009, Warner Bros. Entertainment would purchase all the intellectual property of Midway. Yes, that Warner Bros. Entertainment, the same one that currently publishes Mortal Kombat and owns Mortal Kombat X developer NetherRealm Studios.
While it isn't 100 percent certain that Warner Bros. Interactive currently holds the rights to the property, it certainly seems that way. You couldn't ask for a more perfect "match made in heaven" scenario. After all, Primal Rage was made to ride off the coattails of Mortal Kombat. Who better to give the franchise new life than the creators of Mortal Kombat themselves? The world can never have enough dinosaurs. Especially if those dinosaurs know how to pull off sick combos.
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