Primal Rage

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Primal Rage
Primal Rage flyer.jpg
Developer(s)Atari Games
Atari Games
Home Ports
Producer(s)Dennis Harper
J. Cameron Petty
Mark Stephen Pierce
Designer(s)Frank Kuan
J. Cameron Petty
Programmer(s)Dennis Harper
Frank Kuan
Artist(s)Jason Leong
Pete Kleinow
Composer(s)Jeanne Parson
Platform(s)3DO Interactive Multiplayer, 32X, Amiga, Arcade, Atari Jaguar CD, Game Boy, Game Gear, MS-DOS, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Arcade systemAtari GT

Primal Rage is a versus fighting game developed and released by Atari Games to arcades in August 1994. The game takes place on a post-apocalyptic version of Earth called "Urth". Players control one of seven large beasts that battle each other to determine the planet's fate. Matches feature many of the conventions of fighting games from the era including special moves and gory finishing maneuvers. Ports were released for home consoles and personal computers. Efforts to perfectly emulate the arcade original have been unsuccessful due to the use of an unusual copy protection method. Toys, comics, a novel and other merchandise tie-ins were produced.


Arcade version screenshot showcasing a match between the Virtuous Beasts Sauron and Armadon.

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 is faced with a campaign of fights against the artificial intelligence (AI) over increasing difficulty.[1] The final battle of the single-player game (accessible only at difficulty level 10 or higher) consists of fighting all the other AI monsters with an increased power bar, made available in a minigame prior to the fight. A total of seven characters are playable. Each character has their own specialized set of three attack moves and abilities. The object is to deplete the opposing character's health meter before the player's own runs out. There are also seven different background stages where fighting takes place, each one representing one of the character's innate domains: the Cliff (Blizzard), the Hollows (Armadon), the Strip (Talon), the Cove (Sauron), the Ruins (Chaos), the Tomb (Vertigo) and the Inferno (Diablo).

During fights, human tribesmen wander nearby and worship their gods. This allows for the creatures to toss them around or devour some to regain health (eating opponents' worshipers adds a bonus to one's score, while eating one's own will penalize the player). Prior to the final battle, a minigame commences in which the player is given the chance to eat as many worshippers as possible to increase health for the endurance round. Two human-controlled characters can trigger easter egg minigames of human volleyball and bowling.

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 are performed in a similar manner to the special moves. Although all characters feature three finishing moves, some of them were more of 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.


A massive meteor strike has devastated Earth. Human civilization comes to an end in the ensuing cataclysms and humanity regresses into tribes of Stone Age dwellers. A primordial rainforest covers 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 with supernatural abilities 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.


Virtuous beasts[edit]

The virtuous beasts represent the side of the sacred. This faction wants to keep the peace on Urth.

  • Blizzard - The cryokinetic ape with white fur, silver hair, and blue skin who is the God of Good and Virtue. He was frozen in a glacier within the Himalayas until the meteor struck Urth.
  • Armadon - The spiky ceratopsian/thyreophoran who is the God of Life. He lived peacefully beneath the Urth's crust until the meteor struck it.
  • Talon - The striped raptor who is the God of Survival. He was the chief of the Raptor Clan on a South Pacific island until the meteor struck Urth.
  • Sauron - The large Tyrannosaurus who is the God of Hunger. He eats the flesh of humans in order to stay immortal ever since the meteor striking Urth woke him from his eternal slumber.

Destructive beasts[edit]

The destructive beasts represent the side of the occult. This faction wants to plunge the world into further chaos for their own benefit.

  • Chaos - The vulgar ape with red fur, pinkish-clay hair, and black skin who is the God of Decay. He was formerly a witch doctor who became a Kong as the result of an evolution experiment gone wrong.
  • Vertigo - The female cobra/dinosaur who is the Goddess of Insanity. She was originally imprisoned on the Moon before the meteor struck Urth.
  • Diablo - The hellish fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus who is the God of Evil and Destruction. He was trapped in his fiery prison until the meteor struck Urth.


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.[2]

The game's development began with a series of production sketches of the fighters drawn by Leong.[2][3] Using these drawings as a basis, model maker Dan Platt crafted model figures of the fighters, from which flexible metal armatures were then cast.[3] 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.[3]

Saturn version[edit]

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."[4] To allow the Saturn version to run at a solid frame rate, the team used a frame replacement speed of 30 Hz instead of the usual 60 Hz.[4] According to Humphries, it was easier to make the Saturn hardware approximate the size of the arcade version's sprites than it was with other conversions of the game.[4]


Primal Rage was first launched in arcades by Time Warner Interactive during August 1994.[5] The game was released under two variants; a standard 25″ cabinet and a deluxe 33″ cabinet.[6] Known commercial ports of the title include: 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, 32X, Amiga, Atari Jaguar CD, Game Boy, Game Gear, MS-DOS, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn and Super Nintendo Entertainment System.[6][7][8] To promote the home versions, Time Warner Interactive hosted a "National Primal Rage Video Game Tournament" at Six Flags Over Texas in October 1995.[9] A Sega CD 32X version was slated for a November 1995 launch but it was never released.[7] A Mac OS port was also planned to be published in November 1995 and advertised in Macworld's January 1996 issue, however development on the conversion was cancelled in April of the same year.[8][10][11] The original arcade version was included as part of Midway Arcade Treasures 2 for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004 featuring a mixture of Atari, Midway and Williams titles.[1] The arcade version was later included as part of Midway Arcade Treasures Deluxe Edition for the PC in 2006.[12]

Primal Rage was ported to the Game Boy by Probe Software and first released in North America in July 1995 and later in Europe on August 25 of the same year.[7][13][citation needed] This port excluded Vertigo from the roster, featuring a reduced moveset for every character and downgraded visuals.[1][7] The Game Gear port is similar to the Game Boy release but with color graphics, much of the blood and gore retained and the "urination" fatality intact.[1] The Genesis port was based on version 1.7, thus special moves and fatalities introduced in revision 2.3 are not present, featuring less vibrant colors and a cheat code that replaces Diablo's followers with Fergus McGovern, former CEO and founder of Probe Software.[1] Prior to launch, a limited version was available for Sega Channel subscribers while a different version was released through the service on August 26, 1995, with twenty-four percent of subscribers taking part in the event to receive an 800 number and win prizes.[14] The SNES port, developed by Bitmasters and released in both North America and Europe in August 1995, has more detailed visuals compared to the Genesis release, however Chaos' golden shower fatality was censored.[1][7][15][16][citation needed] The MS-DOS port, developed by Teeny Weeny Games, is a faithful conversion of the original arcade release and features a special setup for keyboard setups.[1][citation needed]

Primal Rage was then ported to the 3DO and published by LG Electronics in both North America and Europe on November 14, 1995, featuring a pre-rendered introduction full motion video sequence and smaller sprites compared to previous releases.[1][7][8][citation needed] The 32X port was developed by Probe Entertainment and first published in North America in November 1995 and later in Europe in March 1996, based on the Genesis release but features more arcade-accurate visuals.[1][7][8][17][citation needed] The Jaguar CD port is similar to the 3DO release, although the intro is based on the original arcade version and has shorter loading times.[1][citation needed] The PlayStation port was first released in North America in November 1995, then in Europe in May 1996 and later in Japan on December 13 of the same year, featuring long loading times and fewer frames of animation for each character.[7][8][18][citation needed] The Saturn port was first released in North America in November 1995, then in Europe in August 1996 and later in Japan by GameBank on March 26, 1998, featuring more colors and lager sprites as well as pre-rendered FMV sequences for each character in single-player mode.[1][4][8][19][20] The Amiga port was released only in Europe in December 1995, featuring visuals similar to the Genesis release but only one button is used during gameplay.[1][21] Although marketed as an Amiga 1200 release, this port is compatible is any Amiga computer with a least 2MB of RAM.[22]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Scores
GR 63%[23] 60%[24] 63%[25]
Review scores
Publication Scores
AllGame [26]
AD 86%[27]
AF 88%[28]
AG 75%[29]
AJ 61%[30]
AP 77%[32]
CUA 80%[33]
Consoles + 76%[34] 81%[35]
Famitsu 19/40[36]
FG 6/10[37] 5/10[38]
GameFan 248/300[39] 235/300[40] 197/300[41]
GMaster 82%[42]
GamePro 14/20[43] 16/20[43] 15/20[44] 15.5/20[45] 16/20[46] 17/20[47] 15/20[48]
GP 76%[49] 62%[50] 74%[51]
Gamers 3-[52] 3-[52]
Gen4 80%[53]
HC 91/100[54] 91/100[55]
IGN 5.0/10[56] 4.0/10[57]
JVX 12/20[58]
Joypad 86%[59] 86%[59] 81%[59] 68%[59]
Joystick 88/100[60]
MAN!AC 68%[61] 59%[61] 68%[62]
MMS 90/100[63] 83/100[64] 80/100[17] 79/100[19]
Mega Fun 57%[65] 63%[65] 74%[65] 70%[65] 71%[66] 71%[67]
NGen [68] [69]
PC Gamer US 90%[70]
PC Games 77%[71]
PC Player 69%[72]
POne 73%[73] 73%[73]
PPlay 71%[74]
Sega Power 91%[75] 79%[76]
Sega Pro 82%[77] 79%[78]
SSM 60%[79]
SSM (JP) 5.0/10[80]
SGP 4.0/5.0[81]
Total! 4[82] 3-[83]
Ultra Player [84] [85]
Video Games 67%[86] 68%[86] 71%[86] 74%[87]
VideoGames 7/10[88] 7/10[88] 7/10[89] 5/10[90] 6/10[91]

Primal Rage was a major commercial success, although Atari Games derived more profit from its merchandising than the game itself.[92][93] RePlay reported the game to be the third most-popular deluxe arcade game at the time.[94] Play Meter also listed the title to be the fourth most-popular arcade game at the time.[95] Next Generation reviewed the original arcade version, stating that "All in all, an excellent show of graphics and sound design tarnished by unbalanced gameplay."[96] AllGame's Brad Cook praised the arcade version's visuals, sound, gameplay and replay value, stating that "This is a fun game and a good value at 25 cents per play with 25 cents to continue."[97] The title was nominated for the Video Software Dealers Association's "Video Game of the Year" for 1995, losing to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.[98][99]

GamePro's Sir Gamabus gave the Game Boy version a rave reviews, applauding the graphics and the large selection of easy-to-execute special moves and expressed astonishment at the absence of slowdown.[43] VideoGames's Gabe Soria commended the Game Boy version.[88] Mega Fun's Stephan Girlich and Ulf Schneider commended the visuals but the sound design was criticized.[65]

GamePro's Sir Gamabus also gave the Game Gear version a rave review, stating that "There haven't been Game Gear graphics like these since Mortal Kombat II's debut".[43] Likewise, VideoGames's Gabe Soria commended the Game Gear version as well.[88] Mega Fun's Girlich and Schneider praised the visuals but, like the Game Boy version, criticized the sound design.[65] Mean Machines Sega gave the Game Gear version a positive outlook but one reviewer remarked that the game does not translate as well compared to the Genesis version.[64] Sega Pro's Steve Hardy praised the visuals but criticized the complex controls due to Game Gear's limited number of buttons.[77]

GamePro's Air Hendrix gave the Genesis version a mixed review, criticizing that the sprites are too small and the graphics in general are unimpressive. Hendrix complained that the controls are a straight translation of the arcade version's four-button control, making special moves needlessly awkward to execute, however he praised the combo system and character design and gave it version an overall recommendation.[44] VideoGames's Dan Vebber noted that the Genesis version failed to replicate the arcade original.[89] Mega Fun's Girlich and Schneider commended the presentation and sound.[65] Sega Power's Dean Mortlock praised the visuals and replay value, regarding the Genesis version to be "Another excellent conversion from Probe. A worthy alternative to current beat-em-ups.".[75] MAN!AC's Oliver Ehrle criticized the graphics and sound of the Genesis version.[61] Mean Machines Sega gave the Genesis version a rave review, stating that the game is a "great beat 'em up which may have been beaten to its niche."[63] A critic for Next Generation also derided the graphics in the Genesis version, saying the sprites have "that flat, fuzzy, pasted-on-the-screen look that just isn't acceptable anymore." He further argued that the actual play mechanics of Primal Rage are unexceptional, such that without the sharp graphics and sounds of the arcade version the game isn't worth playing.[68] Sega Pro's Mat Yeo commended Probe's work on the Genesis version but noted several missing features compared to the arcade original, stating that it fell short of capturing the "frantic fighting action of the coin-op."[78]

GamePro's Scary Larry gave the Super NES version a mixed reviews, feeling that the game was outshone by the Super NES version of Killer Instinct, which came out at the same time. However, Larry praised the combo system and character design.[45] Mega Fun's Girlich and Schneider praised the visuals and sound.[65] Likewise, Super Game Power's Marjorie Bros commended the conversion, praising the visuals, sound, controls and fun factor.[81] Next Generation reviewed the SNES version, stating that "it's so average it hurts to watch, much less play."[69] Hobby Consolas's Sonia Herranz praised the gameplay, graphics and sound design highly.[54] MAN!AC's Oliver Ehrle, as with the Genesis version, also criticized its graphics and sound.[61]'s nuktos praised the presentation, gameplay and sound but criticized the replay value.[58]

GamePro's The Axe Grinder similarly said that the 3DO version had the best graphics and sounds of any home version to date, but that "it still won't convert those who never took to the arcade original.", though he had an overall more positive impression of the game.[100] Mega Fun's Sandrie Souleiman praised the graphics and sound of the 3DO version but felt that the PlayStation version was better.[66] Fun Generation's Philipp Noack and Götz Schmiedehause commended the sound and gameplay of the 3DO version, but both felt the visuals were better on the PlayStation version.[37] Likewise, MAN!AC's Oliver Ehrle commended the visuals and sound of the 3DO version but felt that the PlayStation version was slightly better.[62] A Next Generation reviewer found that while the 3DO version accurately recreated the arcade version's graphics and sound, the game's visuals had become severely dated in the years since it was first released and the gameplay was never very deep to begin with.[101]

GameFan praised the visual presentation of the 32X version, though the reviewers criticized the sound and lack of additional gore effects from the arcade original.[39] GamePro's Scary Larry contended that the 32X version is the best one, with graphics comparable to the 3DO version's and controls which are easier than the 3DO's when using the six-button controller.[46] Hobby Consolas praised the sprite's quality and gameplay speed compared to the previous 16-bit versions.[55] Mean Machines Sega gave the 32X version a positive outlook but stated that the game fell short when compared to other titles in the 32X library.[17] Sega Power's James Ashton regarded the 32X version to be as good as the previous Genesis release but noted that the game "doesn't add much to the monster mash formula."[76] However, IGN's Levi Buchanan noted that the 32X version paled in comparison to the arcade original.[57]

Última Generación's Gonzalo Herrero commended the Jaguar CD version, praising the visuals and sound design as well as controls.[102] GamePro's Bruised Lee 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.[103] In contrast, AllGame's Colin Williamson commended the controls but criticized the downgraded visuals compared to the arcade original and loading times, stating that "It's sad that the Jaguar CD suffered such a horrible fate -- but with games like this one, it's no big surprise. This is one dino-sized disappointment."[104]

GameFan praised the PlayStation version for being a near-arcade perfect port, as well as the addition of a six-button control setup.[40] GamePro's Scary Larry declared the PlayStation version the new best, commenting that the control setup is particularly suited to the PlayStation Controller and "The graphics blow away all other versions to date, and even make the arcade version seem tame." However, Larry found the game as a whole less impressive than recent fighting games such as Virtua Fighter 2.[47] VideoGames stated that the PlayStation version was not worth the asking price due to persisting gameplay issues from the arcade original.[90] IGN noted that the PlayStation version paled in comparison to 3-D fighting games on the market.[56]

GamePro's Scary Larry and Sega Saturn Magazine's Rob Bright both ruled that the Saturn version, though superior to previous versions of the game, was sorely outdated by the time of its release, particularly due to the game's simplistic and repetitive combat.[48][79] VideoGames noted the Saturn's visuals to be better than the PlayStation version.[91] GameFan, as with the previous PlayStation version, commended the Saturn release for being a near-arcade perfect port but criticized the full motion video sequences.[41] Fun Generation's Götz Schmiedehause and Stephan Girlich commended the visuals and sound of the Saturn version.[38] Mega Fun's Sandrie Souleiman praised the visuals but criticized the sound design of the Saturn version.[67] Mean Machines Sega regarded the Saturn version to be a fair conversion of the arcade original.[19] AllGame's Joe Ottoson criticized the Saturn version's visuals and sound design but commended its replay value, stating that "If you can bear the loading times and the unusual system for executing super moves, there's some interesting things to unearth."[26]


In 1996, Ellie Rovella of Gilbert, Arizona launched a grassroots 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.[105] 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.[105] 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".[106] 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.[106]

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.[106] In the United Kingdom, the game's advert parodied the controversy by placing gentle scenes over the violent parts and using Simon Bates in the advert, mocking his VSC video warnings.[19][107]


After an unveiling at the 1996 American International Toy Fair, five inch action figures of the seven Primal Rage characters (each bundled with accessories like lava rocks, armor, and tiny humans) were released in stores. Action figures were also created for Necrosan and Slash Fang.[108] 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.[109]

Cancelled sequel[edit]

Primal Rage II
PR2 titlescreen.jpg
The game's title screen
Developer(s)Atari Games
Publisher(s)Atari Games
Mode(s)2 players, playing simultaneously
Arcade systemSony ZN-1

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."[4] However, the game did not get very far into production before being cancelled, as Atari felt that it wouldn't generate enough sales.[110]

The controls were expanded from a four-button to a six-button configuration.[111] The game was to feature all seven gods from the original plus ten newcomers: a new dinosaur, a boss, and eight humans called the Avatars,[111] that were the gods' surrogates on Urth, with the first game's characters meant to make a comeback as said gods. Necrosan, a boss in the form of a skeletal dragon, once rumored by video game magazine GamePro to be added in an updated release of the original Primal Rage, was to become the main antagonist.

The plot focused on the years after the first game's timeline. It turns out the meteor that crashed on Urth was actually an egg which hatched a being known as Necrosan. The gods fight it but their efforts end up being useless. Necrosan 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. The Avatars fight the minions of Necrosan, release the gods from their prison and battle Necrosan himself. The warriors would be Malyssa: Avatar of Vertigo, Arik: Avatar of Sauron, Keena: Avatar of Talon, Shank: Avatar of Chaos, Sinjin: Avatar of Diablo, Kaze: Avatar of Blizzard, Tor: Avatar of Armadon, and Xiao Ming: Avatar of Slash Fang. Slash Fang is a newly introduced Primal God in the form of a Smilodon-type Weretiger.

Although the game never came to be, its story was later adapted into Primal Rage: The Avatars. Also, the characters of Slash Fang and Necrosan were released with the other god characters in the short-lived Primal Rage action figure series.[citation needed]

A test arcade cabinet briefly appeared playable at the Golfland arcades in Milpitas, California and Sunnyvale, California,[citation needed] and 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, screenshots of the incomplete game were released on the Internet. In December 2012, a YouTube user posted a video that showcased the almost never-before-seen game in action, and then in June 2014, it was reported that the game was available for play at Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois.[112] With only two boards of the game considered to be in existence,[113] a dump from the game's board had been circulating in the internet for some years, but no emulator had been able to run it, until in March 2017 it was revealed that an individual had created a modified version of MAME, named "MAME4RAGE2", making it able to emulate the game.[114]

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 was 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: The events in Primal Rage take place in the year 1000 AC (After Cataclysm) or about the year 3000 AD by the Gregorian calendar. The battles of the dinosaurs are referred to as "The Primal Rage". 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.


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