There are a handful of swipey fighting games for Android, making the style prevalent enough to practically be a genre unto itself. Since these generally involve one-enemy-at-a-time combat (Whether it makes sense or not. I’m looking at you Arkham City: Lockdown), the gladiatorial theme is a fitting option, and has been used to good effect in games like Blood and Glory. Originally released for Wii, Rage of the Gladiator promises to stick out from the rest with Punch-Out!!-like gameplay and console-quality content. It fulfills this promise to a point, but the demons that so typically befoul freemium titles rear their ugly heads once again and cramp this game’s otherwise excellent style.
In Rage of the Gladiator you play the role of Gracius, a gladiator with a penchant for oversized bludgeoning weapons. You are the son of the recently assassinated king of Avelencia, a fictional city-state with a Greco-Roman flavor. Falsely accused of murdering your royal pop, you are now forced to fight in the arena to prove your innocence. This story is explained in short concept art cutscenes shown after major boss battles. There’s nothing all that exciting here. The key takeaway is you’re a gladiator and you have to fight stuff.
What does set Rage of the Gladiator apart is that instead of waves of carbon-copy minions, every enemy fights as if it were a boss character. Each has its own unique personality, set of attacks, and scripted taunts. The types of baddies run the gamut from Greek mythological creatures like the Minotaur and Medusa to fantasy enemies like an orc and a Lovecraftian horror/beholder rip-off. There are 30 fights in total, but after the first nine the game repeats the same opponents in a cycle before a new one is added (and cycles again until the 30th fight).
The combat is first person. Buttons on the screen provide a left and right dodge, a jump dodge, and a shield block, and the game tells you which to use for each enemy attack. Offensively, you can swipe left and right repeatedly to form combos and counter attack by timing a swipe just before an enemy swings. There are also a number of special moves you can learn and upgrade, which can only be employed after you’ve built up enough mana over the course of the fight. Each boss has a distinct feel and demands adaptive responses and careful timing. It’s more puzzle-like than most fighting games, and the combos and special moves are more-or-less secondary to timing and proper defensive maneuvers.
Another thing Rage of the Gladiator has going for it is just how good everything looks. The game has decent particle effects, detailed models and animation, and an overall style with plenty of color and character. The graphical quality is adjustable, so older devices can still hold their own. The sound is also pretty good, with a variety of suitable combat noises, voice-acted taunts from enemies, and “epic” music typical of the genre. The voice acting is a little childish and goofy, but it still adds a welcome dose of personality.
Unfortunately, the game relies on grind to prolong its shelf life and encourage in-app purchasing. Nowadays this is all but a given with freemium games but you’re really going to have to like the gameplay for this not to be an issue. For one, a star-based rating system determines when you can move, so you have to fight the same thing a second and third time with new victory conditions (beat the enemy before a timer expires, avoid such-and-such an attack, etc.) to accrue the stars needed to move on. The final boss requires 81 stars to unlock, which essentially means about nine fights each against the same nine enemies with only slight variation.
What’s worse, being able to advance eventually depends on your equipment, and without IAPs you’re coerced into redoing fights you’ve already won to earn the gold for the next tier of crap. Sometimes you’ll get a chest holding a cool item after a fight but without spending gems (the IAP currency) there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll destroy whatever is inside. There’s also a stamina bar that is exhausted slightly after each fight, so if you quickly play through too many matches you’re forced to wait until the bar replenishes to fight again. This didn’t really slow my gaming down but if you’re the type to glue yourself to the screen for marathon sessions this could be a negative.
It’s a crying shame such quality content is marred by ploys to nickel and dime the player. It’s a freemium game through and through, which means ads, pleas to share and like on Facebook, and worst of all, the ol’ pay wall grind. But if the gameplay sounds intriguing and you’re not opposed to a bit of monotony or in-app purchasing, Rage of the Gladiator is still worth checking out.