Rage of the Gladiator Review

Imagine you are the prince of a distant land, whose mother and father have both died, and now, for some reason, you are fighting in a Roman-style coliseum against one of the most widely diverse pantheons of poorly rendered bosses to date. There are some obvious character variations from Greek mythology, like a chimera creature and a sea witch, but then you stumble upon the snake charmer, the ninja, the floating eyeballs, the demon, the elderly martial arts master. You may think that this is the point where you decide it’s all a little too ridiculous, but the game you are playing, Rage of the Gladiator, keeps you sucked in. How, you can’t be sure, but you feel that gaming urge to conquer and to complete your quest, no matter the nonsense in your way. And this is where the first WiiWare title to sport MotionPlus compatibility succeeds.

Taken as any regular title on the Wii, the graphics for this game could be considered par at best, though with a few unique lighting effects. This is accompanied by some extremely cheesy writing and some inappropriately overdramatic music, and that was why, going into this game, I was extremely pessimistic. Even considering the leeway allowed for a downloadable Wii title with limited file size, and thus limited content and quality, I was less than impressed. The opening sequences were just a couple of pictures that zoomed out while the narrator and main character, Prince Gracius, spoke woefully about his country and family, after which I was suddenly shocked into first-person view in the middle of a coliseum holding a spiked hammer and a shield. And maybe I missed something in there, but the training sequence is led by Master Yee, a shriveled “Mr. Miyagi” figure with a staff, horribly out of place in the given setting.

But this is where the game mechanics came in, and I began to change my tune. While this isn’t a one-for-one kind of sword game like Red Steel 2, the swings did feel very responsive (I suggest going to the options menu and setting the MotionPlus sensitivity to 100%), though they are limited to slashes going up, down, left, right, low left, and low right. Out of the three control configurations (one of which allows the player to hold the Wii Remote sideways, though playing this way would defeat the purpose of the game), I chose the Wii Remote, MotionPlus enabled, with a nunchuck, which functions as your shield hand, enabling you to bash with the shield as well as take cover behind it. Even in the short tutorial section of the game, it became very apparent that this would be the saving grace of this title, very much in the style of Punch Out!.

Rage of the Gladiator

The challenges of fighting the boss battles (10 boss battles make up the entirety of the game) are imbedded in the player’s ability to quickly respond to the enemies’ attacks, as well as memorize which actions are appropriate for new attacks and new bosses. Generally, the flow of combat is to isolate a few of the boss’ moves that can be dodged, then counterattack with five hits in order to charge up your energy gauge enough to perform a special or magic attack that usually reaches combo chains around fifteen hits, or provides augments to the character’s weapon or defenses. The general risk/reward system here is intriguing, and increasingly difficult to manage well during the later bosses, who take a good three or four tries to defeat. But the satisfaction of besting one of these boss battles, often by dodging fireballs and swift lunges, is what Jane McGonigal refers to as an “Epic Win.” It is truly worth the struggle.

Through these fairly fluid but not flawless mechanics and gameplay elements, my heart grew three sizes that day for Rage of the Gladiator and its quirky, if not laughable, character. I allowed myself to notice the truly exceptional cartoony character animations, and even to get drawn into the royal struggle of Prince Gracius. After each battle, as well, the game features a three-pronged upgrading system with multiple tiers, in which a single battle allots the player three points to spend upgrading skills and attributes, as well as unlocking new attack, defense, and magic abilities. Although this system isn’t terribly empowering, it is fun to try out the different jacked up attack specials in some of the more throwaway, exploratory trial battles. Regardless, however, the upgrades system does add a bit of depth to an otherwise very straightforward title, and serves to enhance an already fairly engrossing experience.

As a game reviewer, you both love and hate to review these kinds of games. The ability of a clearly low-commitment, fairly low-budget game made primarily for a younger audience, to keep you invested in the gameplay for so long is troubling, but also a pure expression of the original joy of gaming, of achieving that “Epic Win.” But as the first WiiWare game to employ MotionPlus compatibility, Rage of the Gladiator presents a lackluster game environment with an extremely fun and rewarding gameplay system, if perhaps a little glitchy at times.


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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