Primal Rage

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Primal Rage
Primal Rage flyer.jpg
Developer(s) Atari Games
Probe Software (Home Consoles)
Publisher(s) Atari Games
Time Warner (Home Consoles)
Platform(s) Arcade, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, 3DO, MS-DOS, Amiga, Game Boy, SNES, Atari Jaguar CD, PlayStation, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn
Release date(s) Arcade
  • NA: 1994
Sega Genesis & Sega Game Gear
  • NA: August 25, 1995
  • EU: 1995
  • NA: November 14, 1995
  • EU: 1995
Game Boy
  • NA: August 25, 1995
  • EU: 1995
  • NA: August 25, 1995
  • EU: November 1995
Atari Jaguar CD
  • NA: December 1995
  • NA: November 14, 1995
  • EU: May 1996
  • JP: December 13, 1996
Sega 32X
  • NA: November 14, 1995
  • EU: 1996
Sega Saturn
  • NA: November 14, 1995
  • JP: March 26, 1998
  • EU: 1998
Genre(s) Fighting
Mode(s) 1-2 players, playing simultaneously
Cabinet Upright
Arcade system Atari GT System (Version 2.3)
CPU Motorola 68EC020 (@ 25 MHz)
Sound TI TMS32031 (@ 33 MHz)
(4x) DMA-driven DAC
Display Raster resolution 336x240 (Horizontal) Many Colors

Primal Rage is a versus fighting game developed and released by Atari Games to arcades in 1994. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Earth called "Urth". Players control one of seven large beasts that battle each other to determine the fate of the planet. Matches feature many of the conventions of fighting games from the era, including special moves and gory finishing maneuvers.

Various ports were released for home consoles and personal computers. Efforts to perfectly emulate the arcade original have been unsuccessful due to an unusual copy protection method that the developers used.

Toys, comics, a novel (Primal Rage: The Avatars by John Vornholt), and other merchandise tie-ins were also produced.


A massive meteor strike has devastated the planet Earth. Human civilization comes to an end in the ensuing cataclysms, and humanity regressed into tribes of Stone Age dwellers. Primordial rainforest cover the land, and the continental landmass has shifted into the shape of a fire-breathing dinosaur skull. The planet is now primitively referred to as "Urth" by the survivors of the cataclysms.

Seven fearsome creatures emerge from their slumber deep within the Urth's crust, and become worshiped as gods by the humans, who form segregated clans beneath the ones they follow. The beasts themselves are divided between those who wish to keep peace on Urth, and those who attempt to plunge the world into further chaos for their own benefit. These creatures have otherworldly or supernatural abilities. The Primal Rage trading cards that were distributed along with the toyline presented each creature as a god of an aspect of nature, as in life and death, fire and ice. There are four of the good Virtuous gods and three evil Destructive gods. The character Sauron, god of Hunger, is marked as a "Virtuous Beast" despite the fact that his in-game ending displays an image of him devouring humans.


Primal Rage is a traditional two-dimensional fighting game in which two players select characters to battle each other in one-on-one combat, or a single player finishes a campaign of fights against the CPU, over increasing difficulty. The final battle of the single-player game consisted of fighting all the other CPU monsters with an increased power bar, made available in a mini-game prior to the fight. A total of seven characters are available for players to select from (as listed below). Each character has his or her own specialized set of three attack moves and abilities. In the game, the object is to deplete the opposing character's health meter as fast as possible. If "Game Gore" (an option in some versions) is switched on, then a defeated character's heart will explode into a bloody mess, and their brain will dissolve to ashes.

While fighting, human tribesmen will wander nearby and worship their gods during battle. This allows for the creatures to toss them around or devour some to regain strength (eating opponents' worshipers will add a bonus to one's score, while eating one's own will penalize the player). Prior to the final battle, a mini game commences in which one is required to eat as many worshipers as possible to increase health for the endurance round. Two human-controlled characters can trigger an easter egg of human volleyball, by keeping worshipers off the ground and batting them back and forth.

Unlike most fighting games, where the special moves are performed by moving the joystick followed by pressing one or more buttons, Primal Rage features a system where the player holds down certain buttons, then performs the joystick movements. Later revisions of the arcade game added the ability to perform "special moves" in the more traditional way, with motion followed by button presses, but kept the original method as well. After the opponent is defeated, a brief moment is allowed for the player to perform a finishing move to end the match in a more dramatic fashion; these were performed in a similar manner to the special moves. Although all characters feature three finishing moves, some of them were more easter eggs than fatalities, such as Vertigo's "La Vache Qui Rit" (French for "the laughing cow"), a fatality in which Vertigo transforms her opponent into a cow, which moos and runs away.


The Virtuous Beasts[edit]

The following are the good heroes that make up this group:

  • Armadon (known as Spike in the prototype version) – The god of Life. Armadon fights to defend Urth and prevent its destruction from the hands of the Evil gods. He is a semi-bipedal dinosaur with Styracosaurus-like head and limbs, a series of spikes in his back, spikes on his knees, and a tail whose tip is a combination of an Ankylosaurus' tail club and a Stegosaurus' thagomizer. According to the description on the package for Armadon's action figure, his species is "Tristegasauratops". Armadon has the easiest combos, but has a short reach. His domain is the Hollows and his worshipers appear dressed in light green rags. For over a million years, Armadon had lived peacefully in his cave beneath Earth's crust, telepathically linked to the biomass. The cataclysm and the battles for supremacy over the changing planet tortured him, so he has risen up to settle things once and for all. He vows to both restore the land and get some well-deserved rest.
  • Blizzard (known as Kong in the prototype version) – The god of Good and Virtue. Blizzard is one of two ape-like beasts. He was frozen in a glacier for millennia and released by the meteor. He lived high up in the mountain and descended to the ground when threatened. A noble and heroic yeti-like beast, Blizzard wishes to undo the damage caused to Urth by both the meteor and the warring gods. Many of his moves resemble those of Sub-Zero from the Mortal Kombat series, focusing on the manipulation of ice and cold. Blizzard is listed as the leader of the Virtuous Beasts. His animal power, age-old wisdom, and freezing abilities make him a powerful character. His species is "Apsidius". His domain is the Cliff, and his followers wear blue.
  • Sauron – The god of Hunger. Resembling a large Tyrannosaurus, he has the most damaging moves of all the Dino-Beasts, but he's also the slowest. Sauron's immortality only lasts while he devours human flesh, as he suffers from an insatiable appetite. In spite of this, he is not evil, but the anti-hero of the group. His species is "Taranodon". His "Stun Roar" is an energy beam utilized in a manner akin to Godzilla's nuclear breath, and his "Primal Scream" casts an energy shield as an offensive attack. His tail attacks are somewhat easier to use than his bites. His domain is the Cove, and his followers are clad in purple clothing. When released from his sleep of ages by the cataclysm's catastrophe, he soon realized that he must devour human flesh to remain immortal. The hungry hordes of humanity follow him, but live in fear of him. Many humans have soon sought refuge with the other rulers of the planet. Sauron has no choice but to defeat the others in order to feast on their followers.
  • Talon – The god of Survival. Talon is based on a Deinonychosauria. His species is "Velociraptor". Talon is the patriarch of a huge family of similar dinosaurs and is fiercely protective of it. It is for their sake that he plunges into battle. Talon is the fastest character in the game and an excellent jumper. Talon is also the shortest character, and numerous ranged attacks by taller enemies will simply miss him. He is also the only character in the game who does not have a projectile attack. His domain is the Strip, and his followers are dressed in gray.

The Destructive Beasts[edit]

The following are the evil villains that make up this group:

  • Chaos – The god of Decay. The second of the two ape-beasts, Chaos was formerly a shamanistic witch doctor that was transformed into his current state by accident and forced to be imprisoned in his own filth for eons. Chaos is the crudest and most vile of all of the beasts, with moves that involve farting and vomiting at his opponents. His domain is the Modern City Ruins and his followers appear dressed in yellow. His species is "Apsidius".
  • Diablo – The God of Evil and Destruction. Diablo resembles a red Tyrannosaurus. This flame-spewing demonic dinosaur wishes to reduce Urth into a nightmarish, magma-filled hell, where he will indulge in his desire to torment all living beings on the planet for all eternity. He is nearly identical to Sauron's graphic model, albeit somewhat smaller and with a different color scheme. Diablo is quick on his feet and is an excellent distance fighter but is somewhat weak in close range. He is the leader of the Destructive Beasts, and hopes to burn the whole world in flames for all time. His domain is the Inferno, and his followers are covered in red clothes. His species is "Taranodon".
  • Vertigo: The goddess of Insanity. Vertigo, a unique beast based with a body resembling that of a dromaeosaurid dinosaur and a neck and head resembling a King Cobra. She has the longest reach. The storyline of the game states that her imprisonment on the Moon forced the other dino-beasts into suspended animation until the meteor impact. Vertigo plans to enslave the entire planet forever by stripping every single human of individuality and free will. Her domain is the Tomb, which resembles Stonehenge, and her followers dress in cyan. Her species is "Cobronicus".


Animator Jason Leong recounted:

Every year [Time Warner Interactive] throws a brain-storming session where everybody brings up new game ideas. A few years ago I brought up the concept of a head-to-head dinosaur fighting game, which coincidentally someone else also brought up, but their idea was just two T. Rexes fighting. My original write-up included ideas that finally appeared in the game, such as different species of quickly moving dinosaurs and the concept of the dinosaurs being gods.[1]

The game's development began with a series of production sketches of the fighters drawn by Leong.[1][2] Using these drawings as a basis, model maker Dan Platt crafted model figures of the fighters, from which were then cast flexible metal armatures.[2] The models were airbrushed according to Leong's drawings. The animations seen in the game were then filmed using these models, through the process of stop motion animation, with about 400 frames shot for each fighter.[2]

The Saturn version of Primal Rage was the last version to be released. Senior producer Ken Humphries explained, "To be honest, the Saturn version got lost in the shuffle. In the process of trying to get other versions done, the Saturn version was the one they ended up pulling resources from."[3] To allow the Saturn version to run at a solid frame rate, the team used a frame replacement speed of 30 MHz instead of the usual 60 MHz.[3] According to Humphries, it was easier to make the Saturn hardware approximate the size of the arcade version sprites than it was with other conversions of the game.[3]


GamePro gave both the Game Boy and Game Gear versions rave reviews, particularly applauding the graphics and the large selection of easy-to-execute special moves. They added that "There haven't been Game Gear graphics like these since MK II's debut" and expressed astonishment at the absence of slowdown in the Game Boy version.[4]

GamePro gave more mixed reviews to the Genesis and Super NES versions, criticizing that the sprites are too small and the graphics in general are unimpressive, especially in the Genesis version. The Genesis version's reviewer complained that the controls are a straight translation of the arcade version's four-button control, making special moves needlessly awkward to execute, while the Super NES version's reviewer felt the game was outshone by the Super NES version of Killer Instinct, which came out at the same time. However, they praised the combo system and character design and gave both versions an overall recommendation.[5][6]

GamePro assessed the Jaguar CD version as "one of the Jag CD's strongest titles". They criticized the smaller sprites but said the game otherwise did an exemplary job of recreating the graphics and sound of the arcade version, and that the control with the Jaguar ProController is excellent.[7]


As with other ultraviolent fighting games of the time (most notably Mortal Kombat), Primal Rage sparked considerable controversy due to its level of violence, depicting gory fatalities and the live devouring of humans. Though it was a bloody game, Primal Rage was rated "T" for Teen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). To appease the critics, the game was withdrawn, re-programmed, and re-released several times.[citation needed] Later arcade incarnations of "Primal Rage" included a "Gore/No Gore" toggle switch which, when flipped to the "No Gore" setting, disabled the use of Fatalities, the eating of humans, and all of the game's blood.[citation needed]

Ellie Rovella of Gilbert, Arizona launched a grass-roots campaign against the game after her 11-year-old son bought and played the Genesis version of Primal Rage and executed Chaos' golden shower/urination fatality. The campaign resulted in Best Buy pulling the game from 251 stores nationwide.[8] In response, Primal Rage publisher Time Warner Interactive pointed out that Rovella never complained to Time Warner themselves, instead taking the issue directly to the media, and that the game was clearly rated "T" for Teen and so should not have been purchased by her 11-year-old son in the first place.[8] They also resubmitted Primal Rage for evaluation by the ESRB, who determined that the game had nothing in it to merit increasing the rating to "M" for mature or "AO" for adults only, and again rated it "T".[9] After this reevaluation, Best Buy put every version of Primal Rage back on the shelves except for the Genesis version, which they said they would only sell if it were rated "M", even though most home versions of the game contain all the same fatalities and gore as the Genesis version.[9]

Time Warner PR director Tracy Egan said the publisher was not overly concerned about the Ellie Rovella controversy since Primal Rage, being a two-year-old arcade game, was already past its sales peak by the time Rovella started her campaign.[9]


Primal Rage is notable for several aspects:

  • The 2.3 revision introduced new moves, combos (by moving the joystick while pressing one of both buttons), and fatalities into the existing game as well as the intro. This made Primal Rage the first arcade game ever to upgrade and add brand new content to its existing ROM many months after its release. This contrasts games such as Mortal Kombat 3, wherein different versions were released as the game was continuously improved to fix glitches and errors. Mortal Kombat 3 would follow this trend with Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 later.
  • Primal Rage was one of the first games in which players could trigger mini-games in the middle of a match such as volleyball without having to use extra credits or modes.
  • A board game marketed towards kids was released called Primal Rage: Rage on Urth!. It was distributed by toy company Playmates.
  • Primal Rage was the first fighting game to show the damage percent after a combo was done (Mortal Kombat 3 later incorporated this).


Primal Rage was released for most game systems of its time. It was released for both CD-ROM and cartridge-based consoles. The PlayStation port has long loading times, a 3D intro, and fewer frames of animation for each character than the arcade version. Combo names are displayed like the arcade version. The Sega Saturn port is much like the PlayStation, except the sprites are larger and have more colours.[10] The loading times are similar. This port features 3D intros of one character with narration whenever facing them in Arcade Mode. Combo names are absent. There was an early alpha of this port released onto the Internet. The 3DO version is much like the Saturn one, except it has much smaller sprites. The Jaguar CD release is based on the 3DO version, although it has shorter loading times.

PAL PlayStation cover

The SNES port censors Chaos' golden shower fatality. This version also doesn't shrink the evil palette swaps (i.e. Sauron – Diablo), and lacks the ending pictures shown when beating the game. This port features a few additions, such as Vertigo's fatalities each have different colored rings. The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version was based on version 1.7, thus the new special moves and additional fatalities introduced in revision 2.3 were not present. It has more animation than the SNES version, but less vibrant colors. There is also an exclusive Easter Egg on the Cheat menu that replaces Diablo's followers with Probe Entertainment's former CEO and founder, Fergus McGovern. Based on the Mega Drive/Genesis port, the 32X version's sprites are larger and have more colours. It has rerecorded music and new voice clips. The "Okay, right?" cheat is not present in the cheat menu.

Primal Rage was also released for various computers. The DOS ports feature different sound effects, larger sprites and all the frames of animation from the arcade version. The game CD included three different editions of the game, one for systems with 4 MB RAM, another for 8 MB and one for 16 MB, each with increasing fidelity to the arcade game. The Amiga version features 8-bit characters, and smaller sprites, giving players big spaces to move around. There are also new sound effects and screen-shaking effects. Although it was marketed as an Amiga 1200 version, this version was in fact suitable for any Amiga with at least 2MB chip Ram.[11]

Versions were released for various handheld systems. The Game Boy port removed Vertigo and the humans. Every character has two attacks, four specials, and one fatality. Chaos' Golden Shower fatality has been added back, but the urine is replaced with vomit. The music also has been cut down to three tracks – Armadon, Diablo, and Chaos' songs. The Game Gear version is the same as the Game Boy version, but with color and blood, and Chaos' golden shower is the same as the arcade.

As promotion for the home versions, in October 1995 publisher Time Warner Interactive hosted a "National Primal Rage Video Game Tournament" at Six Flags Over Texas.[12]

ROM encryption[edit]

The Primal Rage design team implemented an unusual and largely unknown security method into the arcade machine's coding that prevented the full features of the game from becoming active. Since the original programming team has since moved on to other things, and some of the programmers even departed the electronic entertainment business altogether, they could not be reached for questioning regarding the game's security lock-outs. Those who have been contacted expressed no interest in unlocking the ROM BIOS for freeware distribution or security corrections. For these reasons, no perfect emulation of the original arcade game exists.

In the absence of these security protections, blood would be "censored" in a way where it would be a glitchy yellow color. Also, fatalities could not be performed, and many special moves were not available. Another emulation problem was players could no longer chain together attacks, which greatly decreases the possible length of combos.

These issues even affect Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (Classics), which would supposedly feature an arcade perfect rendition of the game, but provided a censored and incomplete version instead.

Primal Rage II[edit]

Primal Rage II
PR2 titlescreen.jpg
The game's title screen
Developer(s) Atari Games
Publisher(s) Atari Games
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s) Cancelled
Genre(s) Fighting
Mode(s) 2 players, playing simultaneously
Cabinet Upright
Arcade system Atari GT System

By 1995, Atari had begun production of Primal Rage II. Ken Humphries, senior producer of the home versions of the original Primal Rage, said in an early 1996 interview that "Primal Rage 2 should come out in the arcades in September 1996. As soon as they finish that, we'll start working on the consumer versions."[3] The game, however, was never released even though a test arcade cabinet briefly appeared playable at the Golfland arcades in Milpitas, California and Sunnyvale, California. Necrosan, a boss in the form of a living dragon skeleton, once rumored by video game magazine Gamepro to be added in a future release of the original Primal Rage, was to become the main antagonist.

The game was to feature new characters that took on the form of humans and were called the Avatars. Another prehistoric fighter which took the form of a Smilodon named Slash Fang was also planned to appear in the game as well. The original characters were going to remain as well.

The plot centered on in the years after the gods fought again. It turns out the meteor that crashed on Urth was actually an egg which hatches a being known as Necrosan. The gods fight it but their efforts become useless. Necrosan then imprisons them in a state of semi-suspended animation, forms minions of his own and starts to wreak havoc on Urth. The gods then choose human Avatars for themselves that take on a human form. The Avatars fight the minions of Necrosan, release the gods from their prison and battle Necrosan. The warriors would be Xiao Ming, avatar of Slash Fang; Malyssa, avatar of Vertigo; Arik, avatar of Sauron; Keena, avatar of Talon; Shank, avatar of Chaos; Sinjin, avatar of Diablo; Kaze, avatar of Blizzard; and Tor, avatar of Armadon.

Much anticipation centered on the upcoming game, however the game did not get very far into production as Atari felt that the game wouldn't generate enough sales. They later announced the cancellation though not many people knew about it. After that, Primal Rage's popularity died down. A supposedly finished machine of this was shown at the California Extreme 2001 show. The machine had the original board and most of the original art. In subsequent years, screen shots of the incomplete game have been released on the Internet. Also, the characters of Slash Fang and Necrosan were released with the other god characters in the short-lived Primal Rage action figure series. In December 2012, a YouTube user posted a video that showcased the almost never-before seen game in action, and then in June 2014, video game news site Joystiq reported that the game was available for play at Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois.[13]

Although the game never came to be, its story was later adapted into Primal Rage: The Avatars.

Primal Rage: The Avatars[edit]

The giant ape Blizzard battles the Dinosaur Sauron. From issue #4 of the Primal Rage comic published by Sirius Entertainment.

When Primal Rage II was cancelled, Atari allegedly felt it necessary to somehow present the story for the sequel in one form or another. Thus, in 1997, a novel called Primal Rage: The Avatars, written by John Vornholt, was published by Boulevard Books. The book tells what happened to the dinosaur gods 65 million years ago, and then moves into the main story of the gods' reign on Urth renewed, then the beast Necrosan appears. The book also focuses on fleshing out the world of Primal Rage, and does so by bringing "the Avatars" to the forefront of the story, they being the humans chosen by their respective gods to be their shamans or other titles of nobility.

A number of details to the backstory of Primal Rage are made clear in The Avatars. According to John Vornholt's novel the events in Primal Rage take place in the year 1000 AC (After Cataclysm) or about the year 3000 AD according to the Gregorian calendar. The battles of the dinosaurs are referred to as "The Primal Rage". In the novel, the spell used to imprison the dinosaur gods is called the Bonds of Forbidding. Necrosan the skeletal dragon (who is referred to as Necronus on the introductory page) reactivates the Bonds of Forbidding to entrap the gods.

Comic book series[edit]

Sirius Entertainment published a 4-issue comic book mini-series based on the game from 1996 to 1998. While issue #1 featured color interior art, the low-run published issues #2–4 featured black-and-white interior art.[14]


When the Primal Rage video game was out, there were also action figures made for the creatures of Primal Rage each including their own follower.


  1. ^ a b "The GameMakers: The Artists". GamePro. IDG (84): 22–24. September 1995. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Making of Primal Rage". GamePro. IDG (74): 42–43. November 1994. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Primal Rage Interview". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Ziff Davis (83): 66. June 1996. 
  4. ^ "Primal Rage". GamePro. IDG (83): 88–89. August 1995. 
  5. ^ "ProReview: Primal Rage". GamePro. IDG (84): 48. September 1995. 
  6. ^ "ProReview: Primal Rage". GamePro. IDG (84): 56. September 1995. 
  7. ^ "ProReview: Primal Rage". GamePro. IDG (91): 85. April 1996. 
  8. ^ a b "Mom's Rage Pulls Primal Rage from Shelves". GamePro. IDG (93): 16–17. June 1996. 
  9. ^ a b c "The Trouble with Going Number One...". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Ziff Davis (84): 118. July 1996. 
  10. ^ "Primal Rage Interview". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Ziff Davis (83): 66. June 1996. The PlayStation does polygons much better, but this is a sprite-based game, and the Saturn obviously has better sprite handling. ... One of the big differences between the PlayStation and the Saturn versions is that the Saturn has 64 colors for each of the dinosaurs and background sprites, as opposed to the PlayStation, which has only 16 color sprites. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Tidbits...". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Ziff Davis (78): 22. January 1996. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "GCD :: Covers :: Primal Rage". Retrieved 2013-09-26. 

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