Nostalgia time: when I was growing up, the local arcade was *the place* for birthday parties, and just across a mall food court from the only major cinema, so just about every other weekend I’d find myself in there for hours. They had a good assortment of games, and as I matured I found myself drifting from the machines that essentially convert tokens into tickets (for exchange with miscellaneous dollar-store trinkets) to gaming for the pure pleasure of it. Shooters, platformers, side-scrollers, there are numerous titles that I vaguely remember, but only one is thoroughly etched into my memory to the point where I still recall every level: Primal Rage.
Atari’s 2D-fighter came out in 1994, as part of the amazing trend in the 90s where horrific violence of your Mortal Kombat and Samurai Shodown variety was widely celebrated in arcades, to the consternation of parents’ groups everywhere. In the game, you play as one of seven ancient, ~30 ft-tall gods battling for territory in the post-apocalyptic “Urth”, which has reformed into a single supercontinent shaped like a dinosaur skull. The King Kong connection, if not immediately obvious, is that in addition to the five dinosaurs you have two giant primate gods (one with ice powers, the other who pukes and farts to attack), all rendered in glorious stop-motion animation. Each god has their own contingent of loincloth-clad worshipers who scamper undertoe during the rounds; you can gain health back by eating them (and, in one of the greatest Easter eggs I’ve ever seen, you can toss them back and forth until a volleyball net appears).
There’s a variety of character types, fun move-sets, bonus mini-games, and gruesome finishers, so the game became quite a hit. Eventually other merchandise manifested, including home ports, and a couple of lines of toys from Playmates. My favorite of these were the smaller action figures, each of which came with a card, numerous accessories, and a real action feature (e.g. Armadon had a spring-loaded tail, Vertigo could be used as a squirt gun, Sauron and Diablo could eat the worshiper that they came with). They were lots of fun for playing around with, and I naturally collected the entire line (photo stolen from Gallemotch on flickr, as my own are in storage somewhere).
A second wave hit, repaints of the monsters to reflect player 2’s, but imagine my manic elementary schooler shock when I saw among them two new monsters, not featured in the game: the sabretoothed tiger Slashfang and skeletal dragon Necrosan. These monsters, the box art explained, were for Primal Rage II! Man, I couldn’t wait!
….over twenty years later, I still can’t wait. One of the great, bizarre tragedies of gaming history, despite a promotional push that got tie-in toys into every Target store and a four-issue tie-in comic teasing us with preview art, Primal Rage II got released, briefly, to only two cabinets, and pretty much became a thing of legend. The storyline eventually did manifest in 1997 as the novel Primal Rage: The Avatars, however, which was a strange, relatively monster-less affair that raised even more questions to what the game would have been like.
Nowadays, in an age where pretty much every obscure thing you thought was lost forever is becoming available (e.g. Wolfman vs. Godzilla), you can finally see gameplay of Primal Rage II on youtube. It’s a thing to behold; certainly different than what we would have expected as a pure sequel, it focuses on human avatars who can summon/channel the gods, a concept a wee bit ahead of its time when you account for the Digimon/Dragon Drive/Shaman King/etc boom that hit immediately afterwards. As weird and potentially alienating as it may be, it still seems like an incredible waste and a shame that it wasn’t ever made available for home consoles at least.
For the original game, I can’t speak as to the quality of every port (the Gameboy version was rubbish, though), but the most recent re-release I’m aware of is through the PS2/Gamecube collection Midway Arcade Treasures 2, and I’m sure there are plenty of emulators as well. This is no substitute for the full arcade experience, but as the machines get rarer, that might be the best way to feasibly get your fix. Now if only we got an HD-re-release…