When I owned my Sega Genesis as a kid some of my favorite games to play on it were the Streets of Rage titles and Golden Axe titles. I played those games over and over as the side-scrolling, beat-’em-up gameplay just felt so good and that’s not even mentioning the other great things about them such as the soundtrack. The point is, I have a certain fondness for games in that type of genre and I recently got to play a game called Story of a Gladiator that just so happens to have been inspired by those two aforementioned titles. Will this game be remembered alongside those greats?
Story of a Gladiator on a basic level is a 2D, hack ‘n slash arena brawler. You can play through three different campaigns in the game where the goal in each one is to win 12 battles and defeat the boss at the end. Each one grades you on a three star performance but outside that there will be no real reason to replay the game once you are finished which will likely only take you a few hours. Your controls consist of attacks, a block button, and later on things like a dodge roll move. Combat in the game felt very responsive to me as I moved myself into position to attack an enemy, combo’ed to another, and dodged out of the way of an oncoming attack. When using your attacks you need to keep an eye on a stamina meter though as if your character gets tired you lose the ability to move for a few seconds. Needless to say if this happens while you’re surrounded by enemies it likely won’t end well for you.
When gladiators fought in arenas they would usually be spectated by a crowd of people hoping to see who wins. In this game the crowd plays a part in your battles as things you do can please them. Such actions include performing decapitations, chaining kills together, and so on. If the crowd is pleased they will throw stuff into the arena such as money, food, or items that will stun your foes. I’ll admit this is a pretty cool thing and it always had me wanting to do well to earn the crowd’s favor. As for what you are fighting the opponents that you go up against range from other gladiators like yourself, more elite type enemies, and a variety of animals such as tigers. There is a lot of variety to them and you’ll have to learn different ways to attack different ones.
As you complete battles your character will earn XP that unlocks new abilities such as the dodge roll or an extension to your stamina meter. It’s important to keep improving your character as the game gets a lot harder as you get further. In fact some battles I just wasn’t able to beat when I got to them which caused me to have to go back to previous battles to grind XP. The game can be a bit grindy in that sense and I didn’t have as much fun when I had to do this. A nice thing about your abilities though is that you can re-roll yourself should you find that your points would be better spent another way. Another thing you earn while playing is money that can be spent to outfit yourself with better weapons, armor, buffs, and animals like your own tiger that will fight for you.
Visually Story of a Gladiator has some highs and lows. The character designs look fine along with the level art but the animations themselves are kind of janky and not as smooth as they should be. There isn’t a lot to the music either as most of the time you are just listening to the crowd noise and the sound of weapons hitting. Trophy/achievement hunters out there will be happy to know that this game is a very easy completion. The game has 20 trophies in total including a Platinum and most of them are very easy to get just while playing and not thinking about it.
Story of a Gladiator might not be remembered like the classics it was inspired by but it’s a pretty good beat-’em-up in its own right. The combat is smooth and responsive and it’s fun to level up your character and use new weapons and abilities to smash apart enemy gladiators. It does get to be a bit grindy at times and has some visual hiccups but if you can look past that you’ll enjoy this trip to the arena.
*Story of a Gladiator is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.