Unfortunately, the Space Station became the victim of encroaching shadiness in the surrounding community. The late 90's saw plenty of gang violence in that particular neighborhood, and wouldn't you know it, somebody was shot in the parking lot of the Space Station. The clientele, dwindling ever since the gang stuff started going down in the first place, abandoned it entirely, and the arcade shut down.
This was a shame for two reasons. First, the arcade was gone. Second, there was a great pool hall downstairs called Hawaiian Brian's, which had cheap rates and plenty of tables. My friends and I often frequented it.
Before it collapsed, though, the Space Station brought in a cabinet that absolutely took my breath away. We're talking about a video game that will forever hold a high seat in my personal Gaming Olympus: Primal Rage. Atari had somehow managed to combine dinosaurs, 2D fighting in the vein of Street Fighter, and stop-motion animation to create the Ultimate Video Game for Zach Miller. It featured seven characters: two tyrannosaurs, two giant apes, a dromaeosaur, a cobra-like creature, and — get this — a single saurian that combined features of Centrosaurus, Kentrosaurus, and Euoplocephalus. Oh, the brilliance! The characters all animated smoothly, and why shouldn't they? The developers actually built stop-motion models with articulated skeletons, then animated every single movement the creatures made. The game came out during the Mortal Kombat era, combining the blood and fatalities of that brand with prehistoric behemoths and pre-rendered, 2D backgrounds.
The game was ported to basically every home console available at the time, though the most widely circulated versions were for the SNES, Genesis, and PSOne. The SNES version in particular was the recipient of a great deal of neutering by pressure from parent groups and Nintendo's own squeamishness about blood and guts. Blood and guts aside, the SNES and Genesis carts were crippled by hardware restrictions, and both looked significantly worse than the arcade original. The PSOne port is supposedly the console version closest to its coin-op ancestor, but no consumer-grade hardware was powerful enough to display Primal Rage in its full glory. Until now. And by "now", I mean like six years ago.
During the early 2000's, Midway released a series of arcade compilations under the title Midway Arcade Treasures. The second disk contains an arcade-perfect port of Primal Rage. I scoured the city, calling every possible store except the cursed GameStop, begging proprietors to see if they had a spare copy.
I was repeatedly met with disappointing answers, and so I turned to my friends and colleagues here at NWR. A few offers were given, to my eternal gratitude, but the unheeding pull of prehistoric carnage beckoned, and I found myself on the phone with GameStop, who actually did have a copy of the game for PS2 for a mere ten dollars. Zounds! That hateful establishment proved its worth that day! After leaving work for the day, I headed to the mall, fighting rush hour traffic. Frustrating, yes, but the promise of fire-breathing tyrannosaurs roused my resolve! Well, that and the 150th episode of RFN, which is a laugh-riot.
At any rate, my copy of the game secured, I headed home and plugged that disk into my dust-covered PS2. The game proper, Midway Arcade Treasures 2, boasts an impressive array of twenty-odd arcade classics, including Mortal Kombat 2, Mortal Kombat 3, and…um…Rampage World Tour. However, in my mind, the only game on the disk is Primal Rage. With bated breath and quivering fingers, I pressed Start once the 1994 classic had been selected. Instantly, I was transported back 15 years. Colors were brighter, food tasted better, and my overall health had not been quite so affected by Cystic Fibrosis. Good times.
Blinding rays of nostalgia and a withered cerebral cortex recall a much more graphically impressive game. The characters here look a bit more digitized than I remember. My memories betray me once again! Curse you, aging neurons! Despite this, the arcade version of Primal Rage certainly looks worlds better than the SNES game I already have. The difference is vast, almost like comparing the SNES version of the game to its hideous Game Boy counterpart…which I also own. It plays differently, too: the special move inputs were changed for the consoles. It does feel good to finally activate Chaos' "Golden Shower" fatality, in which the big ape pees acidic urine on his fallen foe's corpse, melting the flesh and leaving a pile of bloody bones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this fatality was pulled from the SNES game. To be fair, it is the most over-the-top fatality in the game. Others are notably tamer; another of Chaos' fatalities is to simply do a cannonball into the ocean.
The port captures some of the more irritating glitches that plague the actual arcade game. Among the more amusing ones, Talon and Vertigo are simply unable to stock up on health during the bonus round preceding the "boss rush" final fight. With unlimited continues afforded by this console port, the problem is barely noticeable. In the arcade, it was maddening. Although I haven't experienced it firsthand, I've read that activating Vertigo's "Shrink & Eat" fatality results in a fatal error when used against Armadon, resulting in a continuous, game-crashing animation loop. The game otherwise performs admirably, though you should rarely, if ever, use the PS2's D-pad during play. It is too finicky, and you'd be wise to choose the analog stick over it. After all, you used a joystick in the arcades.
Primal Rage features some interesting character designs. Armadon, the cross between Kentrosaurus, Centrosaurus, and Euoplocephus, is perhaps the most intriguing, partially because such a strange mixing manages to work so well. Were such an animal to come out of the ground, you'd hardly be surprised. Armadon's moveset best represents his unique morphology: lots of spike and horn-based attacks, all very physical, whereas most of the other combatants are a bit more elemental. The other most notable character is Vertigo, a sort of snake-dinosaur. She is large and lithe, with a long snake-like tail and a neck sporting a cobra hood. Her long arms end in tong-like two-fingered hands. Her design makes me wonder if the developers wanted to include a sauropod, but couldn't make a giant, quadrupedal megaherbivore work in a fighting-game context (somehow not surprised). They probably scaled the design back until she started looking like a snake, at which point she just turned into one. Of all the prehistoric creatures in the game, Vertigo looks the least like one, but she's still pretty cool.
The game's token dromaeosaur looks like it was designed by Ricardo Delgado and makes cat noises. His name is Talon, and is, in some ways, overpowered. Like Armadon, he has no elemental association and relies largely on physical hack-and-slashing to achieve victory. The game's big nasty tyrannosaurs are Sauron and Diablo. Aside from color and moveset differences, they are basically the same animal. Sauron uses more physical attacks whereas Diablo is a range-fighter, using various fire-breathing techniques to keep his opponent back.
Unlike those giant coelurosaurs, the big apes, Blizzard and Chaos, look and animate very differently from one anther. Blizzard is Primal Rage's Sub-Zero and uses a few freezing attacks and some brutal punching moves. Chaos is a little obnoxious, sporting projectile vomit moves, a stun-inducing fart, and a "butt slam." What's not to love?
Developer Atari had planned and actually began producing a sequel which got pretty far along in development. Primal Rage 2 was even advertised in one of the arcade San Francisco Rush games during the mid 90's on in-game billboards. Atari backed out, however, and the game never saw the light of day. In it, players would use human "avatars" instead of the dinosaur gods themselves who could transform into their respective deities. Two new prehistoric beasts were introduced: Slashfang, a large Smilodon, and Necrosan, a bone dragon. Both creatures eventually saw public release in the short-lived (but awesome) Primal Rage action figure line.
If you like dinosaurs or 2D fighters, I can't recommend Primal Rage highly enough. It's derivative, sure, but you can’t fault the concept. It also provides a nice trip down memory lane, and all the good and bad that comes with it. It might be tough to track down a copy of Midway Arcade Treasures 2 nowadays, but I promise you, it's worth it.