|System: Wii (WiiWare)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ghostfire Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ghostfire Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 15, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
It's been less than a year since Punch-Out!! turned up on the Wii, bringing back the series's classic gameplay and introducing motion controls. Already, though, the new WiiWare title from Ghostfire Games, Rage of the Gladiator, hopes to elbow its way into the conversation. Its aesthetic is different, not to mention less polished, but the core gameplay is almost identical: look for your opponent's tell, dodge in the appropriate manner, and then smack them around until they regain their ability to block.
It may sound unfair to compare a downloadable WiiWare title to a full-on disc game, but even in this light, Rage of the Gladiator shines.
First things first; as was the case with Punch-Out!!, the motion controls here are more trouble than they're worth. It's far from impossible to win with them, but in a game that focuses on timing as much as this one does, you need to be as precise as possible, and swinging your arms around is just not the best way to achieve that. The addition of MotionPlus doesn't really help much; all the peripheral does is give you the option of swinging the Wii-mote alone in various directions, as opposed to swinging the Wii-mote and Nunchuk separately, to execute different attacks. Stick with the classic setup: Wii-mote on its side, just like a NES controller. There are some things that even a Wii-mote can't improve on.
Relative to Punch-Out!!, Rage of the Gladiator's biggest point of departure is its look. Gone are the cartoonish outfits and ethnic stereotypes, replaced by ten rival gladiators (plus a hidden character) for you to fight in an arena. They have lots of personality, to be sure - you'll fight a snake-charming vagabond, a blue witch with a tail, a ninja, what looks like a seven-eyed, six-legged octopus, and a weird combination of lion, dragon, and snake - but there's a Magic: The Gathering vibe where the zany wackiness used to be. All of this goes along with the story, which is that in the great human city of Avalance, a prince is forced to fight for his life against a series of increasingly frightening and otherworldly opponents.
The overall presentation isn't quite as polished as that in Punch-Out!!, with graphics that aren't as refined and sounds that vary in quality (the intro voiceover is awful, but the epic music is quite good). We're willing to forgive that, though, considering the game costs $10 instead of $50. That's less than $1 for each opponent you face, and as we'll get to in a bit, you'll face them all at least twice.
There are some tweaks in terms of gameplay, too. Surprisingly, one of the most noticeable is a small shift in the controls. Whereas Punch-Out!! had you hold Up and press a button to jab, and press a button alone to throw a hook, the attacks here are performed by either pressing the button alone or in conjunction with Down. Up, meanwhile, jumps. In our earliest matches, we can't tell you how many times we successfully dodged an attack, only to jump when we meant to attack.
Also, the view is first-person rather than third-person. There are no knockouts. Rather than earning star punches for difficult hits, you build up a combo meter every time you make contact, and you don't lose it when you take a hit; once you've stunned an enemy, you can unleash a combo with the A button. Most important, rather than remaining small and wimpy the whole time as you face bigger and bigger opponents, you can spend the points you earn during matches to power up your character and learn more combos. This gives the game some RPG elements to go along with the fantasy theme.