Shaddam, nicknamed "The Killer" smashes Deckerd with a brutal flying knee that leaves him flat on his back, then pins him to the floor. The slender martial artist struggles as The Killer stretches his neck in a submission hold. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he spies his partner Yasha, the Ninja Warrior, heft a heavy length of iron chain. The crowd screams for blood!
No, this isn't Atari's "Pit Fighter," nor is it some cousin of Mortal Kombat. This is a wrestling gem I recently discovered and haven't put down since. It's Taito's 1992 brawler, "Ring Rage," the TWF (Taito Wrestling Federation) Grand Prix. It's just another day in the arena for these guys.
Ring Rage combines the best mix of pro wrestling gameplay with excellent graphics, bone-crunching sound effects, some humor (outrageous moves, plus you can beat up the ref, cameramen, managers, etc) and lots of variety.
Using the recently emulated F3 hardware, this exciting slugfest features digitized graphics using live actors, much like Pit Fighter, although the animations are far more fluid and lifelike. There is some pixelation, but it's hardly noticeable during the action. The characters are large and colorful, especially Spike (that guy is HUGE).
Don't consider yourself a wrestling fan? Fine. Me neither. This game has plenty for the average fighting fan to enjoy as well. And it's a team sport too... up to four can play. Game modes allow for players to pair off and then square off against the other team. You can also go into the arena in a free for all, and the last man standing is the winner.
Multiple combat arenas (unfortunately chosen at random from a set list, depending on the mode chosen) include the traditional wrestling ring (complete with managers and chairs outside the ring), a "Steel" arena on the rooftop of a construction site (yes, you can throw people off the roof), a Steel Cage match (slam your opponent into the bars, yes!), and a "Street Match" that is more reminiscent of Pit Fighter: a warehouse littered with weapons you can use on your opponent (throwable crates, bottles, chains, etc).
The sound is crisp and clean. The announcer gives commentary and occasional praise for your efforts ("He does the Upper-cut! Oh, now he's cashing in his chips!"). You hear the Ref's infamous count ("One, two, THREE!"), the bell's chime, meaty punches, and all the sorts of sounds you'd expect to hear in a prime-time televised spectacle. You'll also hear a few other bits of speech thrown around, as your opponents shout, "I win!" before trying to pin you, and the "No! No!" from the audience when you pick up a deadly weapon to use on your foe or do something particularly nasty.
The controls are fairly straightforward. You get Punch, Kick, and an eight-way joystick. All of your combinations can be done using these simple controls. Double tapping a direction gives you a dash, which can have a Punch, Kick, or combination at the end. Characters engage in grapples when getting up close and personal, which requires fast button tapping to gain dominance, then a combination (one of four directions on the joystick, plus a button, or a button press with no direction) to perform a specific move.
Discovering the moves for the various characters was part of the fun for me, but it may frustrate some beginners at first, not knowing how to do Rodie's Back-Breaker, or Joe's Roundhouse Kick (and falling victim to them too often).
The basic gameplay, which involves reducing your opponent's health, then pinning him (punch+kick+down) for the count of three, is simple to achieve with the controls, though your opponents won't give it to you it up without a fight.
As I have said before, there's tons of variety in this game. The six playable characters and two playable bosses (available in limited fashion in two of the three game modes) have different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses (no palette-swapped ninjas or clones here).
The single/dual player campaign may be short (a series of five matches), but the game lends itself to extended play.
The three different game modes allow various types of play: cooperative or verses team play (Tournament, Extra Match), single or dual play against the computer (Tournament), and every-man-for-himself grudge matches and all-out mayhem (Battle Royal).
The most fun to be had, of course, is in multiplayer mode, as with most games of this type. MAME fans may be aware of playing this game via Kaillera, which allows internet play. Trust me, its loads of fun (once you get some people to put down DnDSOM and SFA2 for a second that is).
Challenge-wise, on normal difficulty, Ring Rage is tough, especially for the beginner (not knowing the special moves and what tactics to employ, etc). Your opponents are ruthless, most of the time, and in single player mode, your teammate isn't always quick enough to save you when you're caught in a hold. Winning the "Battle Royal" without cheating is tough as well, until you master the moves. Unfortunately, there isn't much of an ending to the game, but most fight fans probably won't care too much anyway, as most beat-em-up games aren't big on flashy endings. Thankfully the difficulty in Ring Rage really isn't in learning the moves, and the CPU doesn't seem to cheat, which is a problem with some games of the genre.
The game is not without its flaws. While it is great fun and provides lots of variety, it is less fun if one lacks a grasp of the moves (a "problem" with many arcade fighter type games). Though I would say that this is less a problem with this game as with other titles like "WWF Wrestlemania" or "Slam Masters" which use more pseudo-Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat combinations for their moves. One can pickup the basics fairly quickly, but many of the special moves seem to be random button slamming until you've had some practice.
Another problem, one that is perhaps familiar to most fans of old games is the presence of numerous spelling errors that result (*insert witty joke about wrestling fans' spelling ability here*), including the laughably bad "Wait More Morment" at the power-up test, and the occasional "alternate spelling" of Wrestling as "Wrestring." Also I think "Killer The Shaddam" is actually meant to be "Shaddam, the Killer."
Also, there is a LOT of button mashing in this game (not that there isn't strategy of course), and your fingers can get tired out fast, especially if one is playing on a gamepad, (I hate to think what it must be like using a keyboard). Emulation-wise, I hear that slower systems have difficulty with the Taito F3 games in general. I would recommend at least a p2 600, but that's just a rough guess. It runs great on a 1 Ghz machine.
The last problem I will mention in the current version emulated by MAME is that of there are glitches with the sound. The game begins with no sound, and it takes about a minute for some of the basic sound effects to start occurring (punches, hits, etc). After about two minutes or so, all of the sounds finally start working (crowd noise, announcer, etc). So after you play for awhile it's fine, just really annoying at first (simply resetting doesn't seem to help).
Conclusion: Folks, this is arcade wrestling at its finest.
Few probably have this title in their collection, but I would strongly encourage you not to pass it up.
Finally, if you want to know all the moves (the ones I have discovered anyway, there may be more hidden in there), please feel free to
check out the Ring Rage FAQ.