Think Punch-Out, but with fantasy creatures and fantastic weapons

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie Gladiator, so it’s possible I missed the part where Maximus was able to defeat his foes by memorizing the way they moved in patterns like Punch Out!!. Yet it must have happened, because that’s exactly what Gracius, the hero of Rage of the Gladiator, faces in his battle to transition from WiiWare hero to iOS conqueror. To his credit, he handles it pretty well.

A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the Wii version: Gracius is a prince of the land of Avelencia, but has been framed for the murder of his father, the king. Clearing his name means fighting in gladiatorial combat, because that’s just how these things work. Unfortunately for Gracius, these aren’t your great-great-great-grandfather’s warriors he has to face. Avelencia happens to be populated by quite a few monsters and magic-infused combatants, including a snake charmer, a medusa and a beholder.

As you take control of Gracius prior to his first trip into the arena, you’ll have to be a quick study of the lessons given to you by the old drunken boxer Master Yee. The Wii’s motion controls have given way to an intuitive system of attacking swipes and defensive button presses. It works well, though on a full-sized iPad, it’s hard to figure out a comfortable way to hold the tablet and still be able to reach all of the virtual buttons.

Of course you can’t just go in there swinging away, or rather, you could, but you aren’t going to last too long if you do. Winning battles in the arena requires careful timing of attacks after you’ve successfully blocked or dodged, along with the occasional counterattack when an opponent is just starting to strike. You’re not wrong if you think Infinity Blade when hearing that, but the unique and varied patterns used by your opponents really make it feel more reminiscent of the Punch Out!! games dressed in gladiatorial gear.

Victories allow you to fight the next monster in line while giving you coins to spend on better weapons and armor. The selection isn’t great, but upgrading as soon as possible is still a good idea. Each win also grants you a skill point that can be placed into various offensive and defensive bonuses, and you’ll have the opportunity to unlock special moves that are activated by a meter that fills up when you deal damage, some of which are as entertaining as they are effective.

Rage of the Gladiator

Rage of the Gladiator has three difficulty levels, and you have to beat one to unlock the next. The enemies appear in the same order each time, but they learn enough new tricks to ensure that you can’t beat them with the same tactics. It’s a welcome feature and a better take on difficulty than just giving the bad guys more speed or health, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a relatively short game.

That it’s a fun time while it lasts is due in no small part to the way that the developers at Ghostfire Games and Gamelion Studos have given all of the enemies plenty of personality. They’re a gabby bunch, and it’s hard not to smile when the first enemy you face constantly whines to his deity to give him more power, then dejectedly accepts his fate when he ends up with nothing. Plus you can always skip the dialogue if you’d rather get right down to business.

Those opponents have been a facelift since their Wii days, and the difference is noticeable. There’s some blockiness during close-ups, but all in all it’s a big upgrade. Gracius does his thing from a first-person perspective, so what he looks like isn’t as important.

Taking a game from Wii to iOS probably wouldn’t work for a lot of titles, but Rage of the Gladiator manages to do it with style. It turns out the motion controls weren’t essential to the experience, and anyone who enjoys boxing, gladiator or mobile action games in general are probably going to find something they like here.