American Gladiators

There's one major reason why I could never take part in any version – new or old, American or British – of Gladiators: I have the body of a video game journalist. Needless to say, rare are the days when I get wolf whistled while walking down the street or asked for my 'work out techniques' down the pub.

But, if there's one thing I should be good at, it's Capcom's interpretation of American Gladiators. Surely all I need to prove my Gladiatorial might is my fingers at the ready rather than my non-existent muscles, right?

Wrong. Well, you do need your fingers, but it's also a question of crossing said fingers over each other, and over each other again, at alarming speed and with little thought for physics or the frailty of my dear old bones. Yes, some crucial quarters of American Gladiators are less a test of muscles, speed, or even reaction time, but rather a case of getting your fingers to do (almost) impossible things.

Aside from the actual controls, what American Gladiators serves up is pretty much what you'd expect from a TV tie-in. Able to tackle events either on a solo basis or part of a tournament, the latter sees you battling against one other contestant per round before reaching, and hopefully winning, the final bout.

Each round consists of three events, the idea to score points that are then converted into seconds to give you enough of a head start to win the final contest – a traditional eliminator event, complete with a (admittedly small) travelator to finish things off.

The three events are picked at random from a pool of six, each one using a similar set of controls to test you. Even if you're not a fan of the American series, chances are, if you've ever caught any edition of any form of Gladiators, the games on offer will seem familiar.

For example, 'Assault' charges you with avoiding fire from a Gladiator mounted upon high while you dart from post to post, picking up points for merely surviving or fighting back. 'Joust' is a simple case of fighting out on podiums with only a pugil stick to your name. And 'Gauntlet' is a question of barraging your way through four separate Gladiators trying to knock you to the ground. All six games, to varying degrees, focus on your speed, power and manoeuvrability.

The '5' key is the main focus of play and, in the central games, is primarily used as an action button, aiding you to pick up and fire weapons in Assault or press the handy red button every time you cross the bridge in Hit and Run. But, when it comes to the most essential part of play, American Gladiators' controls begin to overcomplicate themselves.

After fighting your way to a big head start in Eliminator, the '5' key takes control of a power gauge that has to be constantly filled (via insistent tapping) before you can carry out other actions, like climbing or rolling yourself around a barrel. The problem here is, managing to get your fingers to the other keys on the pad ('2' and '8' for the barrel, '4' and '6' for moving each leg while climbing across a ridge) is an unnatural process, randomly smudging your fingers and thumbs across the keys often the only way to gain some semblance of rhythm.

On anything but Gladiator's easiest setting, it's all too possible to see your hard work go to waste, your rival slipping past you as you try to bend both your mind and body around the keypad. In fact, even managing to come out on top proves nothing more than your determination to accommodate a messy control system and, perhaps, a liking for senseless pain.

It's a disappointing end for a game that, until its finale, neatly packages together a playable and jovial set of mini-games. But trying to take American Gladiators beyond its peripheral pleasures leads to a “world of pain” that even the fiercest of Gladiators wouldn't approve of.

American Gladiators

A neat collection of mini-games to paint a smile on the face of series' fans, American Gladiators suffers from some dodgy controls that cast a shadow over its final run
Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.