Rage of the Gladiator Review for Nintendo Wii

Rage of the Gladiator Review for Nintendo Wii

It’s been less than a year since Punch-Out!! turned up on the Wii, bringing back the series’s classic gameplay and introducing motion controls. Already, though, the new WiiWare title from Ghostfire Games, Rage of the Gladiator, hopes to elbow its way into the conversation. Its aesthetic is different, not to mention less polished, but the core gameplay is almost identical: look for your opponent’s tell, dodge in the appropriate manner, and then smack them around until they regain their ability to block.

Rage of the Gladiator screenshot

It may sound unfair to compare a downloadable WiiWare title to a full-on disc game, but even in this light, Rage of the Gladiator shines.

First things first; as was the case with Punch-Out!!, the motion controls here are more trouble than they’re worth. It’s far from impossible to win with them, but in a game that focuses on timing as much as this one does, you need to be as precise as possible, and swinging your arms around is just not the best way to achieve that. The addition of MotionPlus doesn’t really help much; all the peripheral does is give you the option of swinging the Wii-mote alone in various directions, as opposed to swinging the Wii-mote and Nunchuk separately, to execute different attacks. Stick with the classic setup: Wii-mote on its side, just like a NES controller. There are some things that even a Wii-mote can’t improve on.

Relative to Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator’s biggest point of departure is its look. Gone are the cartoonish outfits and ethnic stereotypes, replaced by ten rival gladiators (plus a hidden character) for you to fight in an arena. They have lots of personality, to be sure – you’ll fight a snake-charming vagabond, a blue witch with a tail, a ninja, what looks like a seven-eyed, six-legged octopus, and a weird combination of lion, dragon, and snake – but there’s a Magic: The Gathering vibe where the zany wackiness used to be. All of this goes along with the story, which is that in the great human city of Avalance, a prince is forced to fight for his life against a series of increasingly frightening and otherworldly opponents.

Rage of the Gladiator screenshot

The overall presentation isn’t quite as polished as that in Punch-Out!!, with graphics that aren’t as refined and sounds that vary in quality (the intro voiceover is awful, but the epic music is quite good). We’re willing to forgive that, though, considering the game costs $10 instead of $50. That’s less than $1 for each opponent you face, and as we’ll get to in a bit, you’ll face them all at least twice.

There are some tweaks in terms of gameplay, too. Surprisingly, one of the most noticeable is a small shift in the controls. Whereas Punch-Out!! had you hold Up and press a button to jab, and press a button alone to throw a hook, the attacks here are performed by either pressing the button alone or in conjunction with Down. Up, meanwhile, jumps. In our earliest matches, we can’t tell you how many times we successfully dodged an attack, only to jump when we meant to attack.

Rage of the Gladiator screenshot

Also, the view is first-person rather than third-person. There are no knockouts. Rather than earning star punches for difficult hits, you build up a combo meter every time you make contact, and you don’t lose it when you take a hit; once you’ve stunned an enemy, you can unleash a combo with the A button. Most important, rather than remaining small and wimpy the whole time as you face bigger and bigger opponents, you can spend the points you earn during matches to power up your character and learn more combos. This gives the game some RPG elements to go along with the fantasy theme.

Which brings us to this game’s most important improvement on the Punch-Out!! gameplay formula: it feels a bit more fair. The ability to level up is helpful, even if it only increases the damage you inflict (or decreases the damage you take) by a few percent here and there. The combo system, in addition to making it more fun to hit your opponents after dodging, eliminates the intense frustration that goes along with losing your hard-earned stars to cheap attacks in Punch-Out!!

Rage of the Gladiator screenshot

That’s not to say the game is easy, however. It starts out rather reasonable, but soon enough, you’ll be leaning forward, gritting your teeth, memorizing patterns, and wondering if it’s even possible to react as quickly as the developers evidently want you to. Our first loss was to the fourth character, the snake charmer; a snake comes out of two different barrels, and bites you if you dodge to that side, and later in the fights, the charmer himself briefly turns into a giant snake. Just like in Punch-Out!!, once you beat all your opponents once, you have to cycle through them a second time (called “Challenge Mode”), and now they’ve refined their attacks. Some of them are pretty obnoxious to begin with, so if you found Punch-Out!! too hard and/or frustrating, Rage of the Gladiator won’t offer you respite.

When it comes to replayability, we suspect that even the most patient gamers will have had their fill (and spent many hours) by the time they finish Challenge Mode. The clinically insane can try to get an “A” rank on every single fight after that, though.

This game is a steal; we were shocked to see such a great price point on a title that really does give Punch-Out!! a run for its money. The difficulty is truly unforgiving, so it’s not for everyone, but by this point, Punch-Out!! fans know what they’re in for. So, download away.

Very good for WiiWare, but not quite as refined as those in Punch-Out!! 4.6 Control
If you use the Wii-mote like an NES controller (and you should), the only problem is a slight deviation from the Punch-Out!! scheme. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting’s quality varies, but the music is excellent. 4.8

Play Value
This $10 WiiWare title really gives Punch-Out!!, a $50 Wii game, a run for its money.

4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • One of the most gorgeous WiiWare games ever! Amazing 3-D graphics, animation, lighting, shadows, and special effects.
  • Full voice acting. Each boss has its own personality, and taunts you mercilessly!
  • Insane finishing moves. Summon a fiery meteor, a savage tornado, or transform into a hulking colossus ten times your size!
  • Customize your character. Specialize in skill trees – Offense, Defense, or Magic – to gain new powers!
  • Compelling Storyline. You’ll want to complete the game to hear the story’s conclusion!
  • Epic music. Enjoy masterpieces of blood-pumping music by legendary composer Sean Beeson!
  • Great replay value. Beat the game to unlock Challenge Mode, where bosses are much tougher with all-new abilities!
  • Also supports the Wii MotionPlus accessory!

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