Rage of the Gladiator Review
Let's get this out of the way first – I'm a huge Punch-Out!!! fan. I've spent more than 20 years playing the Mike Tyson original, and have put considerable time into its sequels, Super Punch-Out!!! on the SNES and the more recent Wii Punch-Out!!! revamp. So when the new WiiWare title, Rage of the Gladiator from Ghostfire Games, was billed as a fantasy Punch-Out!!!, it was almost my duty to play it through. It may not be quite as memorable and iconic as Little Mac's bouts with Bald Bull and Piston Honda (Hurricane), but it is easily one of the best WiiWare titles and a "must-own" for any old-school Punch-Out!!! faithful.
The best way to explain Rage of the Gladiator is "Punch Out!!! in first person perspective." Players control a warrior as he faces a series of mythology-inspired opponents in a pseudo-Roman coliseum. Like Punch-Out!!! the battles start off rather easy, but as you progress, beat the game and enter the Challenge Mode, the opponents get tougher and one in particular rivals even Iron Mike himself (or Mr. Dream if you made it to the party late). Unlike Punch-Out!!!, though, there are no "rounds," per se; a more fluid, cinematic approach is taken. For example, the first warrior you face, past the tutorial, of course, constantly begs the gods for power. Knock him out once, and he'll gain a fire sword and a new attack. Twice and his shield is beefed up. These interludes give the player a chance to breathe, but their presentation makes each fight feel like a continuous battle, and personally, drew me into the game's narrative in a way Punch-Out!!! never could. Each fight really tells a story, and there isn't a bad or boring one in the bunch.
Beyond the fights, an interesting character building system lets you upgrade your moves, health, etc., and there is a lot of leeway in allowing the player to play off of their strengths in choosing what skills are most important to them. At first, I put a lot of points toward lessening enemy damage, but as I grew more confident I found myself maxing out my favorite attack moves and skills. This system gives the game a strong feeling of personalization, and as much as I love Little Mac, he is the same character for every single fight. Rage of the Gladiator lets you build a warrior, not just control one.
The game is no slouch in the presentation department either. Even on the underpowered Wii, the graphics rival those of a lower end PS3 or Xbox360 game. The backgrounds teem with life and the fighters are intricately detailed, which serves to give each consecutive fight it's own style and personality. The voice acting, of which there is quite a bit, is top notch as well, with the exception being the overly-hammy and unintentionally funny introduction voice over. Other than that, Rage of the Gladiator is a pleasure to look at and listen to.
When it comes to the controls, this game gets high marks with one small oversight and/or imperfection. You have the option of playing using any of the three main Wii control schemes and all work equally well, though I suspect players going for down-to-the millisecond perfection will go with the Wii-mote sideways configuration. And even though the controls are tight and responsive in every setup, this is where my main criticism comes from. See, in this game hitting 1 or 2 on the Wii-mote (sideways configuration) launches a higher attack from either the left or the right. Holding down on the d-pad governs the lower, body blow-type attacks, while left and right on the d-pad is mapped to the appropriate dodges and hitting up makes the character jump. For Punch-Out!!! faithful, this is 100% contrary to what we've been doing for years. I lost more fights than I care to remember because I'm hard wired to hold up for higher hits and let go of the d-pad for lower strikes. Is this a personal preference or an actual problem? That's really your call, and it will depend entirely on how much Punch-Out!!! you've played through the years. For me, it was the only flaw I found in this otherwise great game and non-Punch-Out!!! people won't notice anything at all. It's tough to combat 20 years of gamer experience.
… But it's also tough to make a game that is obviously patterned after a classic and also manages to stand out on its own, and Rage of the Gladiator manages to hit all the high notes. Graphics, sound, gameplay… this one has 'em all in spades. Those, and the low price point make this the WiiWare game to get, especially if you've been hesitant (as I have) to give the still-new Nintendo download shop a fair shake. And even though I finished the game to 100%, I still find myself firing it up to beat my previous performances and keep my skills razor sharp. If you've got a Wii and think you are up to the challenge, Rage of the Gladiator should be at the top of your list.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 89%.