Primal Rage: The Forgotten Fighting Game of The 90s
Carnage of one kind or another has long been a staple of our fascination with dinosaurs. Give a child two dinosaur toys and you can be reasonably certain that within a few minutes they’ll be banging them together and making growling noises, spilling imaginary blood and viscera onto an imaginary, primordial landscape. It was only a matter of time until the dinosaur toys turned pixilated, and thus we got what I consider to be the pinnacle of (the admittedly small) group of dinosaur beat’em-up games: Primal Rage.
Debuted by Atari as an arcade game in the 90′s, Primal Rage was a traditional 2D “versus” simulator set in the very traditional mold. Players selected from a menagerie of quasi-prehistoric beasts and battled it out across a variety of landscapes. In this, it was not particularly different from the later Jurassic Park: Dinosaur Battles, although the latter was arguably far better animated. What sets Primal Rage apart, however, is its back story.
Picture a world much like our own. A series of cataclysms wrought by a falling asteroid kill millions of people and transform the worlds surface. Out the devastation come the new gods; massive prehistoric beasts that symbolize various states of being. The carnosaurs Diablo and Sauron represent Chaos and Hunger, respectively. The velociraptor Talon is the god of survival, while Vertigo is a lovecraftian, serpentine monstrosity that embodies madness. The herbivorous Armadon is lord of life. Finally, the two giant apes (for since King Kong, giant apes and dinosaurs have gone together like chocolate and peanut butter) Blizzard and Chaos represent Good and Evil. The surviving remnants of humanity worship these beasts as totems, but the new gods hate one another, and one of them will eventually seek to rule over the entirety of the new world.
There’s something strangely compelling about this scenario, relayed in bits and pieces through images and text throughout the game. Owing a little to classic kaiju films and a lot to Topps “Dinosaurs Attack!” trading cards, Primal Rage went above and beyond in delivering an entertaining world, and one that held a good deal of potential for an actual story. Indeed, Atari must have thought so as well, since they more or less immediately put a sequel into development, released a licensed comic and novel, and put out toys to allow children to bash their favorite monstrosities together in the real world. Unfortunately, this flood of merchandise ran headlong into the game’s other defining feature: bloody violence.
Primal Rage was a gory game. Its characters bit, smacked, clawed, and tore bloody chucks from each other, in addition to a variety of special attacks that ranged from the predictable (super powered bite) to the gag inducing (acidic golden showers.) There was something of an uproar when parents discovered that not only were the dinosaur attacks exceedingly visceral, but other unpleasant bodily fluids were involved. Understandably perturbed, they kicked up enough of a ruckus that Atari rapidly pulled the game off the market and released a censored version that kept most of the blood but removed the more objectionable content. But this was the end of Primal Rage’s brief brush with any kind of relevance, and the game sank into obscurity, dragging down the sequel with it. There were and are a few die hard fans of the game, but by and large people moved on to other things and the franchise never really recovered.
I think it’s a shame. While vile and nasty, it had more of a story then others of its type, and the creature designs were rather creative. Perhaps if Atari or some other company remade it, it would finally find the audience that it deserves, and we could once more have a chance to bang our toothy toys together and growl.
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