When I decided to take a chance and review Rage of the Gladiator, I truly had no idea what to expect. A lot of interesting games hit the eShop, and it is often difficult to tell from just a cursory glance whether or not they are worth your money. Upon booting up the game, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be very similar to the classic Punch-Out!!, except with medieval monstrosities as foes, and a pronounced focus on Greek mythology. Developed and published by Gamelion Studios and Ghostfire Games, it was originally released back in 2010 for the Wii Virtual Console to high acclaim. Now available three years later for iOS, Android and 3DS, was it worth reviving or should it have died in the arena?
The story is set in the land of Avalance (not “avalanche,” I checked) and you play the role of Gracius, the prince. Your father, the King, has been murdered, and you are framed for it and thrust into a gladiatorial arena to fight for your life. Most of the plot takes place in the opening and closing credits, and, as you beat the game on each difficulty, a bit more of the puzzle is unlocked. When you first boot up the game, the only difficulty option available is Novice. A wizened old Chinese stereotype named Master Yee instructs you in the ways of combat, and, though it is important to pay attention, you can always check the virtual manual later. Much like Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator is all about learning your opponent’s moves and quirks, and counterattacking when the time is right. By effectively avoiding an attack, you can then dizzy the opponent and launch into a five-hit combo of your own. You can punch or kick from the left or right, and you can also dodge, jump and guard attacks with your shield. All these attacks make use of the D-Pad and face buttons, with only Combo attacks requiring the use of the touch screen. Though this may sound basic, it is constantly complicated by the particular moveset of whatever foe you face. The whole game is comprised of epic boss fights in the arena, and almost no two bosses are even remotely the same. You’ll face Trolls, Minotaurs, Ninjas and more in your quest for the truth.
Each progressive difficulty adds another boss to battle on top of the initial nine, as well as upgrading the movesets of the old bosses. They also become much sturdier and more tricky. On the Gladiator difficulty, many of them even acquire one-hit KO attacks that must be accurately dodged or countered. This is especially important since you only have three lives for each battle, as does each boss. By successfully defeating a boss, you unlock the next fight, as well as earning some cash and a skill point. By doing so without losing a life, you are rewarded with three stars, or the lofty “Perfect” if you do so without getting hit. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the game employed a Skill Tree, allowing you to upgrade either your Offense, Defense or Magic capabilities with the skill points.
This let me do such things as improve Gracius’ chances of getting a critical hit to automatically blocking a percentage of the time to draining enemy health with hammer blows. The Skill Tree also allows you to unlock Combo attacks that you can unleash after filling up your Mana meter by successfully hitting the opponent and avoiding being hit yourself. On Novice, a Tier III Combo attack can devastate an opponent, but they become less and less effective the higher the difficulty you face. You use your hard-earned cash to visit the Armory and buy better equipment, healing items and special items. I made sure to have a constant stock of Health and Mana potions to help me with difficult battles. Even nicer, you can replay old boss fights to earn more cash to help. I especially found the Books of Wisdom to be helpful, as buying them allowed me to obtain additional skill points to further broaden out my stats and abilities.
After looking at images from the original Wii version of the game, I am happy to report that the 3DS version got a serious makeover. Most bosses have been completely reskinned, allowing them to look much more realistic. They all move fluidly, and look absolutely stunning with the 3D turned on. Basic lighting effects were also effective, as some fights turn from day to night to accompany boss magic attacks. The only graphical aspect I wasn’t as impressed by were the combo attacks. For whatever reason, many of them, such as the Meteor or Eclipse attacks, just weren’t that cool-looking. In contrast, the boss designs were all very impressive and menacing-looking.
I was also very impressed by the voice acting in the game. Though some of the bosses have some cheesy one liners (I’m looking at you, Vensor), they all sounded distinctly different, from the seductive lines of the Sea Witch to Horlan the Crusher’s grunts to Amit the Charmer’s taunts. Each boss is unique, and their lines also serve as cues to which attack they are about to use, so don’t play with the sound turned down. Speaking of music, the game only really had a couple of tracks, but they served to keep the game dramatic. I wouldn’t say they were the most amazing part of the game, but neither did they detract from my experience.
As far as replay value goes, this is a surprisingly meaty download. Though I beat the Novice difficulty in a hour or so, it took double that to beat it on Warrior, and I have spent probably six hours on Gladiator so far, and have yet to beat all the bosses. This is easily a 10+ hour experience, and that’s not even taking into consideration playing through each battle to obtain that elusive “Perfect” rating.
I was very pleased with Rage of the Gladiator. For $6.99, it offers a fun, surprisingly cinematic handheld experience that offers hours of entertainment. It effectively scales the difficulty so that each mode has something new to offer, and is much harder than the one that came before it. Though the plot is a bit bare bones, it was acceptable given the fact that the whole game is based around fighting monsters in an arena. Ghostfire Games and Gamelion Studios have given us a worthy handheld experience that I would heartily recommend to anyone with a 3DS. However, if you’re still not convinced, we could always throw you into the arena for a bit. A couple rounds with Ixthid are sure to change anyone’s opinion.
Review copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.