Oh - a pretty boy, eh?

Rage of the Gladiator may not be ready to step into the WiiWare ring just yet, but when Ghostfire Games invited us to a little sparring session with their first-person fighter we accepted immediately. We came away battered and bruised, but still very impressed with how Rage is shaping up.

Each of the game’s three control methods feels completely different. Holding the Wii Remote horizontally reminded us of classic NES fighter Punch-Out!!, with (1) and (2) controlling punches and (DPAD) used to evade and jump. It's a simple system that's sure to please old-school fight fans, and it's good to see Ghostfire accommodate classic gamers in this way.

Remote and Nunchuk is another option, which serve as your left and right arms and using (STICK) and (DPAD) to move and perform low attacks. It takes some getting used to attacking with both hands, and throwing low blows into the mix doesn't help, but there's an introductory tutorial that'll have you feeling ready to take on anything within minutes. Both these control systems are completely serviceable, but the one we were most keen to try out was MotionPlus, which was by far the best option on display.

His snake head is a wuss, y'know

Using the add-on literally adds a new dimension to the gameplay – you can now swing upwards and downwards, landing crushing blows on enemies’ heads and chins. A Remote swing in each of the four directions launches an attack, and although there’s a short delay between the action and the attack it still works quite well. You can increase the attachment’s sensitivity too, something we haven’t seen in too many other titles, but the default setting of 40% works well enough to start.

Earlier comparisons to Punch-Out! gain accuracy when tackling the game’s first adversary, Harlan the Crusher (a minotaur by any other name). . The key is to learn your opponent’s attacks, then dodge and counterattack with good timing, landing heavy blows and combos when an opening presents itself. The reliance on precision timing and patience make it stand out against many other fighting games which rely on hitting first and hitting hardest: here that approach will get you nowhere. With each successful attack fills an energy bar that allows access to devastating super combos, though at the beginning you only have access to one.

This is Ixthid. He's horrible.

Defeating bosses gives you experience points and the chance to upgrade in one of three areas: Attack, Defence and Magic. Putting points into the Attack tree grants increased hitting power and critical hits; Defence ups your armour’s protection; and Magic governs your energy’s regeneration. With only half a dozen or so points per fight, and five points in one area needed to unlock the next tier, you have to make some tough choices but ones that ultimately will develop your fighter in the way you want. You can’t simply repeat easy fights hoping to accumulate more experience – you only gain points from your first fight against an enemy, putting the emphasis firmly on learning your opponent’s moves rather than repeating easy victories.

Rage of the Gladiator is really coming together – the decision to include MotionPlus was a very smart one, making the combat far more engaging and satisfying. The other control schemes work well too, but we had by far the most fun using MotionPlus. With chunky and well-styled graphics, great sound design – including unusually good voice acting – and truly challenging enemies, we can’t wait to get our gladiatorial gloves on the final version in the near future.

There's plenty of other Rage of the Gladiator coverage over on its game page, including videos, screenshots and the news on the game's official contest, which – we can now confirm – is going to be extremely difficult.