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Primal Rage (SNES) artwork

Primal Rage (SNES) review


"A sight for dino-sore eyes."

If you rode your bike to the video store hoping to rent the hottest arcade products translated to home consoles, you went with the expectation that you were only getting the "highlights reel" of a game's coin-op cousin. For instance, you didn't snag Street Fighter II actually expecting true-to-arcade sound quality or animation. You checked it out in the hopes that Capcom had encapsulated just enough of the magic that made the cabinet great. That was the best anyone could have hoped for in the SNES port of Primal Rage, and that's almost what players received.

Almost...

If you don't remember Primal, no one would blame you. It had its heyday back in the '90s, when Mortal Kombat and other gory digitized fighting games were all the rage. This one, however, spliced Mortal's core mechanics with a forgotten arcade fighter, Dino Rex. Instead of a lineup starring martial artists from various backgrounds ripping each other apart, Primal assembled a group of dinosaurs and kaiju-sized simians to beat each other to bloody pulps, complete with its own array of fatalities and finishers. You get a couple of beefy theropods in Sauron and Diablo, as well as the giant apes Chaos and Blizzard, plus some others like a unique creation called a Cobrasaur (named Vertigo).

And just like Mortal, Primal had its own controversy. One of the finishing moves featured the massive primate Chaos spraying acidic urine all over this unconscious foe, reducing them to a pile of bones. This maneuver caused Best Buy to remove the game from their shelves after a child allegedly reenacted the scene in real life (obviously, without transforming some poor soul's body into pissy bones). These incidents more than anything served as free advertisement for the game, which had teenagers who were hungry for edgy action buzzing back then.

Some of us couldn't pack into an arcade and had to settle for home versions, believing we could finally watch the epic golden shower unfold on our TV screens. Alas, the SNES interpretation understandably removes this kill, replacing it with a cancellation sign that flashes on the screen. I get it, really, but couldn't the developers at Bitmasters have cooked up a replacement that felt less like a slap in the face?

Home consoles could never replicate arcade sound, from the charming tones used in curter games to the background noises and roaring spectators heard in tourney fighters like this one. The original model came with its own brand of bumpy, catchy, "stone age" music, as well as cheers from your adoring worshipers. The SNES variant, however, makes it clear right away that it has no such interest in aping the cabinet by opening up with complete silence. The conspicuous quiet continues even to the main menu, which appears without fanfare or flare. One second you're watching silent intros, the next words just appear. At first you think maybe you forgot to turn the volume up, only to realize when you reach the combatant-select screen that the game just didn't bother to aurally amp you up in those opening minutes.

Once you finally get into the game proper, its soundtrack still doesn't improve much. Music tries to hit the right notes, but comes across as grating and irritating more often than not. Particularly, if you're ever able to pull off a fatality, the theme attached to it sounds cheesy and antiquated, and you almost wish you hadn't bothered with a coup de grace as a result.

Thankfully, the game itself is quite playable and mostly intuitive. Mostly... If you've played your share of versus-style fighters you know what to expect: lots of jumping, blocking, and attempting to score either quick blows that deal little damage or slower strikes that punish harshly. In this case, half of your buttons execute "high" attacks that aim for the head or jugular, such as bites and punches. "Low" hits, on the other hand, utilize legs and tails to hit below the belt.

Honestly, you can effectively lean on the basics by simply biting and kicking the opposition to death. Hell, you might have to because special moves are so tricky to pull off they're almost not worth it. You see, Primal wants to do its own thing when it comes to nailing specials. Rather than rolling the joystick or directional buttons half or a quarter of the way around, you mainly initiate strikes by holding two or more of the attack buttons while pressing directionals. Given the SNES's button layout, accomplishing some of these feats can be incredibly awkward. For instance, Sauron can put up a protective shield by roaring. However, it takes so long for you to activate it that anyone advancing on you should be able to clip you before you can even input the directions.

The main issue here isn't that Primal is unstable. It moves quite nicely despite its jerky animation, and can still prove to be a competent fighter despite its strange move sets. If anything, the game's gravest sin is that it's flat out boring. Without its delivish animation, its roaring crowds, its full brutality, Primal is just your standard Super Nintendo fighting game, except with dinosaurs and gore. And let's face it: the gore isn't anything special, especially in this iteration.

Fatalities only further sour the experience. As with the maneuvers described above, they're needlessly tough to enact. Sadly, once you get them to work, you realize the struggle isn't worth it. Most of the murder scenes cap off anticlimactically, with your standard shots of dinosaurs eating each other or burning their targets to cinders. You can't shake the impression you've wasted time and effort watching Vertigo transforming one of her victims into a cow, or glimpsing a completely useless finale where Chaos barfs into the air, runs to the other side of the screen, and catches it in his mouth. What does this do to his defeated nemesis? Nothing.

It's not hard to understand why Primal Rage 2 never officially happened. More successful fighting franchises expanded because they were able to reach larger crowds thanks to decently made console ports. This version of Primal wasn't exactly a flattering retelling of its arcade counterpart, and if anything exposed a harsher reality than the notion that console ports are generally inferior to their inspirations: Primal Rage had little going for it in the first place besides dinosaurs, blood, and controversy. It wasn't the peeing apes and puke eating that made this fighting affair fantastic. That honor goes to the arcade's crisp animation, wonderful soundtrack, pitch black humor, and references to creature features of yore. In other words, this adaptation had little hope of living to the original's experience.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 02, 2022)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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