Review: The emperor gives this Gladiator the thumbs up.
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
was one of those games that defined the NES. Simple controls, cartoonishly awesome opponents and fast-paced, timing-based gameplay that is still fun years later. So it's a little surprising that few games over the years have taken up the Punch-Out!! mantle aside from a handful of Nintendo-produced sequels. Well, add Rage of the Gladiator
, the new WiiWare title from Ghostfire Games, to that list as it plays like an expansion to Punch-Out!! that asks Little Mac to get medieval on the asses of a variety of mythological creatures. And it works.
Holding the Wii Remote sideways, players will battle human characters, like a warrior wizard and a snake charmer, while also fighting mythical creatures, like gorgons and centaurs, as they attempt to survive in the pit. Going one-on-one against eleven characters, blows from the left are controlled with the 1 button while blows from the right are controlled with the 2 button. Players will also be able to dodge left and right and block (albeit with a shield instead of your gloves). Star Punches are even included, although they're known here as combos. However, they're unlocked using the same combo bar from Super Punch-Out!!
The only major difference between ROTG and Punch-Out!! is that the former eschews the semi-transparent behind-the-back view of Little Mac's bouts and instead uses a full-on first person view. Otherwise, the games feel identical.
Unlike Mac's quest for the Championship Belt, Rage of the Gladiator does have a story behind it. However, it's hugely predictable and nothing you haven't seen before. Without giving anything away, let's see if you can guess the twist. The game stars two brothers and the one who would be king, Gracius, was witnessed murdering their father. He is sent to the Gladiator Arena to pay for his crimes while his brother assumes the throne. Did you guess who the murderer is yet? No? Maybe you should ask a sibling like a BROTHER or a sister.
The clearest indicator that Rage of the Gladiator was designed for the WiiWare service as opposed to being a full retail game is the character designs. The game looks very good for a WiiWare title, but it doesn't stand up to Punch-Out!!'s astounding art style. The various monsters and beasties that Gracius fights certainly look good, but some of the more human characters (Vensor the wizard, Amit the Charmer) have taken up residence in the uncanny valley. Their eyes creep me out and they just look less detailed than the very devilish Archdevil Malzor or the mutant starfish... which has seven mouths and seven eyes!
But each character does have their own attack patterns and special moves that are on par with anyone found in the World Video Boxing Association. Learning the correct timing and counter for each attack in Rage of the Gladiator is just as thrilling as it is in Punch-Out!! and it involves just as much swearing before the final "Eureka!" moment.
After winning battles, players are given three Skill Points to spend in the areas of Offense, Defense and Magic. Building up these attributes will unlock new combos and special abilities (like charging your hits with lightning or regaining some health every 30 seconds). However, you have to be careful about the choices you make as there's no way to exchange Skill Points to climb a different tree if the abilities you do purchase don't work out.
Like Punch-Out!!'s Title Defense mode, Rage of the Gladiator features a "round 2" where you take on the ten challengers a second time (and eventually fight the mysterious 11th boss). This Challenge Mode is brutally hard and it's unlikely that most players will even finish it. However, if you've got the drive, it adds a tremendous amount of replay to what would otherwise be a rather short WiiWare title.
Also like Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator includes a two-fisted motion control that is a fun novelty, but doesn't feel as "natural" as using a sideways Wii Remote. Ghostfire has gone one step further and included a MotionPlus-mode as well. While I still prefer NES-style control, it's great to see third party developers using the MotionPlus add-on, especially in a WiiWare game like ROTG.