Carnage of one kind or another has long been a staple of our fascination with dinosaurs. Give a child two dinosaur toys and you can be reasonably certain that within a few minutes they’ll be banging them together and making growling noises, spilling imaginary blood and viscera onto an imaginary, primordial landscape. It was only a matter of time until the dinosaur toys turned pixilated, and thus we got what I consider to be the pinnacle of (the admittedly small) group of dinosaur beat’em-up games: Primal Rage.
Debuting as an arcade game in the 90 s, Atari's Primal Rage was a traditional 2D “versus” simulator set in the very traditional mold. Players selected from a menagerie of quasi-prehistoric beasts and battled it out across a variety of landscapes. In this, it was not particularly different from the later Jurassic Park: Dinosaur Battles, although the latter was arguably far better animated. What sets Primal Rage apart, however, is its back story.
Cataclysm. A falling asteroid slams into our civilized world and wipes it clean, killing millions and transforming the worlds surface. The land burns, a twisted hell of radiation soaked jungle and naked stone, and from the devastation of the murdered cities come forth the new gods.
The carnosaurs Diablo and Sauron represent Chaos and Hunger, respectively. One seeks to burn the world; the other, to devour it.
The dromaeosaur Talon is the god of Survival, fighting for his tribe. Vertigo is a lovecraftian, serpentine monstrosity that embodies madness.
The herbivorous Armadon is lord of life, arising from his meditations to battle for the growing world.
Finally, the two giant apes (for since King Kong, giant apes and dinosaurs have gone together like chocolate and peanut butter) Blizzard and Chaos represent Good and Evil.
The surviving remnants of humanity worship these beasts as totems, but the new gods hate one another. Constantly at war, the beasts fight over the ruins of the old earth, and one of them will eventually succeed in reshaping the new world into something more to its liking.
There’s something strangely compelling about this scenario, relayed in bits and pieces through images and text throughout the game. Owing a little to classic kaiju films and a lot to Topps “Dinosaurs Attack!” trading cards, Primal Rage went above and beyond in delivering an entertaining world, and one that held a good deal of potential for an actual story. Indeed, Atari must have thought so as well, since they more or less immediately put a sequel into development, released a licensed comic and novel, and put out toys to allow children to bash their favorite monstrosities together in the real world. Unfortunately, this flood of merchandising ran headlong into the game’s other defining feature: bloody violence.
Primal Rage was a gory game. Its characters bit, smacked, clawed, and tore bloody chucks from each other, in addition to a variety of special attacks that ranged from the predictable (super powered bite) to the gag inducing (acidic golden showers.) There was something of an uproar when parents discovered that not only were the dinosaur attacks exceedingly visceral, but other unpleasant bodily fluids were involved. Understandably perturbed, they kicked up enough of a ruckus that Atari rapidly pulled the game off the market and released a censored version that kept most of the blood but removed the more objectionable content. But this was the end of Primal Rage’s brief brush with any kind of relevance, and the game sank into obscurity, dragging down the sequel with it. There were and are a few die hard fans of the game, but by and large people moved on to other things and the franchise never really recovered.
I think it’s a shame. While vile and nasty, it had more of a story then others of its type, and the creature designs were rather creative. Perhaps if Atari or some other company remade it, it would finally find the audience that it deserves, and we could once more have a chance to bang our toothy toys together and growl.
This was originally published over at The Faster Times and is reproduced here with permission.