Remember Punch-Out!!, the Wii-exclusive, old-school update that released last June? Imagine that game, but you play as a gladiator instead of a boxer, and you can’t duck, but you can jump. Then stick it on WiiWare, add a few RPG elements, and only charge $10 for it. Taa-daa! You’ve got Rage of the Gladiator.
That’s pretty much my review in a nutshell, although, if you never played the obvious source material, I’ll delve into it for you.
Rage of the Gladiator is a series of one-on-one, first-person Colosseum battles. You are Gracius, a former king, fallen from grace and forced to participate in arena fights to regain your former glory. You have a big hammer, and a shield. Hit stuff, block, dodge, repeat.
Like Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator is not about button mashing. Instead, you need to learn your opponents’ “tells” and react quickly. Flashing eyes? Raise your shield! Tail twitch? Jump! If you develop some incredible twitch reflexes, you may even be able to counter attack for massive damage.
Luckily, the controls are tight. Super tight. And there are three different controls schemes as well:
- Hold the Wii-mote sideways, classic NES controller style (this is the only control scheme that is accurate enough for the precision required to beat the ridiculously challenging later levels)
- Wii-mote plus nunchuck (think Wii Sports boxing)
- MotionPlus (didn’t get to try this one out, as I am one of the millions across the world that doesn’t own this gimmick accessory yet)
The motion controls are fun, but I can’t imagine people beating the whole game with them; your reactions would have to be better than a Jedi’s, because the game is tough. Saying that you merely have to memorize a pattern and react accordingly is one thing – actually being able to remember each enemy’s five or so different tells and countering every one is a whole other bag of beans. The enemies hit much harder than you, and you’ll have to dodge to survive.
There’s nothing to the game besides the fights, so they’d better be good, eh? Fortunately, the enemy designs are varied and sometimes humorous (everything from a schizophrenic chimera to a Dirty Harry-esque ninja mercenary to a drunken orc), and the appropriately over-the-top voice acting gives each “boss” a personality of his own. Their attacks and counters are all different enough, as well, and the different strategies mean that you’ll rarely (if ever) win a fight on the first try.
The fights sound fair, on paper. Both your and the enemy’s life bar are the same size, and the first to score three falls is the winner. They have magic spells or tails or Street Fighter-style fireballs, while you have a magic gauge that you build up to unleash devastating attacks. The more you fill your magic gauge by successfully landing attacks, the more powerful your combo will be, and you learn better attacks over the course of the game.
And here is the defining difference between Rage of the Gladiator and Punch-Out!! – the experience system. After every successful battle, you earn three experience points which may be relegated to offense, defense, or magic, depending on what kind of gladiator you want to be.
Offense is for the heavy hitters that can’t take too many shots to the face, defense enables you to take less damage from attacks and counter more effectively, and magic is all about building your magic gauge quickly to use more special moves. It’s best to decide your focus at the beginning of the game and work towards building that one up, as this is the only way you’ll unlock the really good combos that drain your entire magic gauge but do soooo much damage.
At the end of every fight you also earn a rating depending on how many times you were knocked off your feet: C (2 times), B (1 time), A (0 times), or S (took no damage at all). However, these don’t relate to the amount of experience earned, or an overall score, or anything, really… so there’s no real incentive to go back and try to earn a better rating. The best way to do better is just repetition – fight the same fight over and over and over until you memorize exactly what to do in every scenario and go for that S rank! Or not. It doesn’t affect anything.
That’s about all there is to the game, but what more could you ask of a $10 WiiWare title? It does what it tries to do, the graphics and aesthetic are passable, the controls are tight, the characters have personality, and winning a battle gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Oh, and just when you think you won… Challenge Mode! It takes the concept of “fighting the same guys again, but with new attacks that are much faster, and hit way harder. It really reminds me of another Punch-Out!! feature; how about you?
Still, it’s only $10 for an incredibly solid WiiWare exclusive, one of the best games on the service. Check it out if your reflexes are up to it.
Rage of the Gladiator doesn't have a lot to offer besides the one arena and the bosses, but it all looks well enough. For a WiiWare game, the production values are up there, to the point where I'm comparing it to games five times the price and only slightly better.
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Stick with the "sideways Wii-mote" style and you have the tightest game since Punch-Out!! But man, it's tough... and it takes a special kind of quick-reacting gamer to actually do well even after memorizing the baddies' patterns.
The music is generic and on a super-short loop. However, the brilliantly ridiculous voice acting makes the characters sparkle with a life of their own.
There are ten uniquely different enemies (plus alternate harder versions in Challenge Mode), but there's no motivation to replay for a better ranking after you master the patterns. About five hours for the first playthough, no multiplayer, and a blistering difficulty means that not many people will see it through to the very end.
If you liked Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator will be your favorite WiiWare purchase... ever. If you've never tried Punch-Out!!, this is a solid, low-cost alternative with personality, and a great way to test your reaction time.