Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Rage of the Gladiator

Developer: Gamelion Studios
Publisher: Gamelion Studios

Anybody up for another action-based puzzle-strategy beat-em-up? It's not exactly a crowded genre, with only the Punch-Out games filling the gap. Enter Rage of the Gladiator.

The best way to describe Rage of the Gladiator is this: Punch-Out!! with mythical creatures and a skill tree. You play from a first-person perspective and face off in an arena against an opponent.

The controls are very tight. That's a necessity for any Punch-Out clone, and Gamelion Studios nails it. Just like Punch-Out!!, you can dodge left, right, or block head-on attacks. Unlike Punch-Out!!, you can also jump, kick to the left or the right, and call down special attacks that rain destruction from the heavens.
Your opponents look great, with lots of detail and great animation. Just like Punch-Out!!, your opponents will tip their punches with subtle (and not-so-subtle) tics, and the sound work does its job with that too.

Also, having a skill tree in this sort of game is a really neat idea, and I hope Nintendo is taking notes. Here's how it works: After every victory, you get to allocate skill points toward different disciplines: Offense, Defense or Magic. Offensive skills will increase your power incrementally or reward you with more powerful special attacks. Defensive skills will improve your ability to withstand a beating and give you defensive skills that can negate enemy damage. Magic skills will allow you to build up your special meter faster and will open up other skills that can, for instance, transform you into a giant. Figuring out which ones you want is great, and since they're all pretty useful, you can’t really go wrong when selecting them.

There's one part of Rage of the Gladiator that I would really like to single out in particular as worthy of praise: The difficulty curve. This is a clinic in difficulty curves. While you do get a tutorial at the beginning, Rage of the Gladiator doesn't expect you to remember all of your various moves right off the bat. It starts you out with just remembering how to dodge and when, then gives you an opponent that requires that you jump, then gives you an opponent that requires that you block, then hands you another opponent that requires that you kick. After a while, you're using all of these moves in tandem without noticing. That takes serious planning and skill on the part of the developers, and it's worth mentioning.

There are a few negatives to Rage of the Gladiator. First, if you've played Punch-Out!!, you mostly know what you're getting. Aside from the skill tree, there's not a lot of new ground broken here. Considering the paucity of Punch-Out!! clones it's not a huge issue, but be warned: If you don't like Punch-Out!!, you won't like Rage of the Gladiator.

Second, there's only one arena in the game, and you only see the part directly in front of you. I know they did this to limit the size of the game so that they could fit it on WiiWare while still giving the opponents the detail they deserve, but it still feels kind of cheap.

Third, Rage of the Gladiator is presented with an overly-serious narrative. It's obvious that someone spent a whole lot of time on this story, but it just doesn't fit with the tone of the rest of the game. You're playing a fighting game where one of the special moves allows you to repeatedly kick an Archdevil in the crotch. I don't want the fun interrupted every few minutes for another tale of death and revenge from a narrator who sounds like he just drank two jack-and-Cokes and smoked a pack of Pall Malls. Rage of the Gladiator didn't need a story, but oh well. It's there.

Finally, some of your special moves take a while. Some of them take about ten to twenty seconds for the whole animation to play. Don't get me wrong, the animations look great the first time. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth times? Eh.

However, taking the package as a whole, Rage of the Gladiator is good fun. It's another great WiiWare game that will give you about 5-7 hours of playtime, and as long as you're a fan of Punch-Out or even like it in passing, you'll enjoy Rage of the Gladiator.

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