Story of a Gladiator – Review
Follow Genre: Beat 'em Up Arena Brawler
Developer: Brain Seal Limited
Publisher: Brain Seal Limited
Platform: Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4
Tested on: Switch

Story of a Gladiator – Review

Site Score
5.5
Good: Satisfying combat system
Bad: Repetitive grindfest
User Score
4.5
(2 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 4.5/10 (2 votes cast)

What do you get if you take the epic Russel Crowe film Gladiator and mix it with some good old beat ‘em up gameplay? If you answered Story of a Gladiator, you’d be right on the money. Story of a Gladiator puts you in the sandals of a gladiator and has you face waves of enemies in the arena. The film is rightfully considered a classic 20 years after its release. Will Story of a Gladiator share the same fate?

Story

With a title like Story of a Gladiator, you’d expect the story to be the main focus here. However, there’s no Shakespearian epic to be found here -or any character depth for that matter. What we do get is a paper-thin premise, although it covers all the bases. There are three unnamed protagonists to choose from – a Carthaginian, a Greek, and an Egyptian, but the story premise remains the same for each of them. Through a short cutscene, we meet our protagonist of choice. He is the sole survivor of a particularly gruesome war with the Roman empire. Having lost everything and everyone, our protagonist finds himself down on his luck in the streets of Rome. Here, he attempts to overcome his downfall by drinking and spending time with prostitutes. A chance encounter with gladiator champion Brutus turns out to be a life-changing event, as the protagonist decides to become a gladiator himself. 

Graphics

The graphics of Story of a Gladiator are rather unimpressive. While character sprites are beautifully drawn and shaded and the backgrounds look detailed, the stiff animations and lack of depth make the game feel more like a glorified Flash game than a release that should be on consoles. The sprites and the background never feel like they share the same space. The blame here is more on the animation -or lack thereof- than the artwork itself. The graphic artists are clearly talented, but the animations make everything look like paper cut-outs. Had the game deliberately taken this direction and pushed it even further, the result could have been interesting. There are countless other games that adopted the paper cut-out style, but since the game doesn’t go with it, it comes across as lazy animation. 

Sound

The game makes very good use of the sound of the clamoring audience in order to make the arenas feel much larger than they actually are. Combined with a suitably Gladiator-esque soundtrack and generic battle sounds, you’re left with a soundscape that is exactly what you’d expect. Admittedly, the music is catchy, but you’ll be too focused on the arena to really enjoy it, and the crowd sounds tend to overpower the music. Fortunately, the tunes can be enjoyed while you’re between fights. The little voice acting we get is also a highlight, with the narrator in the opening (and ending) cutscene as a particular standout. 

Gameplay

Story of a Gladiator is a 2.5D beat ’em up arena brawler that is structured around three single-player campaigns. The three campaigns consist of thirty-six levels in total, spread over three different arenas, with a boss waiting at the end of each. Aside from these campaigns, the game doesn’t really have anything to offer, so if you were hoping for say, an endless mode, multiplayer or perhaps even a boss rush mode, you’re out of luck. A tiny bit of playstyle variety is added through the three different protagonists: each of them has a small stat bonus that is unique to them. The actual levels themselves play out as you’d expect: waves after waves of enemies will rain down upon you, all determined to make sure you don’t leave the arena alive. Survive the arena and you’ll be showered in rewards: experience points that can be used to unlock new skills, money for purchasing new weapons, armor, and even animal companions. Each level also concludes with a rating of up to three stars to gauge your performance. If you’re feeling extra masochistic, there are several difficulty levels to choose from, but given the repetitiveness of the game, there’s not really a reason to play through all of them unless you absolutely love grinding the same levels over and over again. 

Controls are basic but responsive. At the start of the game, your actions are limited to simply attacking, although you can chain attacks into a combo as well as using your shield to block incoming attacks. As you battle your bloody way to glory and unlock new moves and abilities, an additional layer of depth is introduced with the Stamina mechanic. Every attack and special move burn stamina and if you run out, you’ll be stunned for a few seconds, which is often enough time for enemies to finish you off. It’s important to keep an eye on your stamina meter and make sure it doesn’t run out. This isn’t the only bit of micro-managing you’ll be doing while you’re chopping up other gladiators. You’ll also need to keep the audience entertained. You’d think that seeing a man fight off a pack of tigers with a trident would be worth the price of admission, but the Romans on the tribunes prefer to see multi-kills and decapitations. They’ll happily reward you for your efforts though: please the crowd and they’ll start to throw stuff into the arena, ranging from pouches of money and health-restoring food to rocks that will temporarily stun your enemies. 

The result is a combat system that is essentially balanced on the player’s end, with responsive controls and a sense of reward. Unfortunately, on the side of the enemy, things fare differently. Enemy AI is predictable and at times just dumb and the game relies on difficulty spikes that require you to buy certain skills just to get past them. You’ll end up grinding the same arenas over and over in order to earn enough coin to buy a new skill you’ll need to get past a new enemy, resulting in a game that devolves into a repetitive grind fest. With the limited amount of levels, and only three different arenas, the game becomes a chore quickly, and unless you’re hyper-focused on completing each level with three stars, the result is that there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the bones of Story of a Gladiator. 

Certain elements here make the game feel like it was originally intended to be a mobile game: the repetitive grinding to unlock certain skills makes you feel like these could just’ve easily been locked behind a pay-to-win mechanic in order to progress through the game much faster. The star ratings are also a common mechanic in mobile games, and further emphasize this feeling. The game isn’t available on mobile systems, but one can’t help but wonder whether this was Brain Seal Limited’s original intent before deciding to take it to consoles. 

Conclusion

At the core of Story of a Gladiator is a decent enough combat system, with mechanics like the stamina meter and entertaining the audience offering depth to what would otherwise be a brainless brawler. The obligatory but repetitive grinding to unlock skills, terrible enemy AI and unpolished presentation make Story of a Gladiator feel like a rushed game. This could’ve been a fantastic release if more time was spent on the weak points mentioned but as it stands, Story of a Gladiator feels like a missed opportunity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a foundation to be found here that can be expanded upon. Story of a Gladiator probably won’t earn a place in the pantheon of classic games, but a potential sequel certainly might. 

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Rating: 4.5/10 (2 votes cast)
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Story of a Gladiator - Review, 4.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats
Sebastiaan Raats


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