After UFC Undisputed got off the first punch in the mixed martial arts gaming space, EA is looking to throw a counter punch with an MMA game of their own. To add some extra points to the judges score cards, EA is also bringing their version of MMA to our beloved iPhones. The question is: how does something with the depth of this sport work out on a small touch screen?
For any of you out there who are unfamiliar with fight leagues outside of the UFC, then you will probably not know who many of the fighters in this game are. However, if you are big fan of MMA (like me), then names like Fedor Emelianenko, Jason Miller, Eddie Alvarez, Jake Shields, and Alistair Overeem should get you plenty excited. For me I think the roster is impressive, but I wish they didn’t smash everyone into 3 weight classes instead of traditional 5, but that’s a minor thing that doesn’t really effect enjoyment in any way.
When you first boot up the game and select any of the available modes, (I will get to those later) you will be greeted with a fairly in depth tutorial that will go over the controls for the game, so you won’t be a like a fish out of water once the game really gets going.
There’s an obvious 800 pound gorilla in the room here, (no, I’m not talking about Brock Lesnar) and that is “how can I possibly control a game such as this on my iPhone?” The answer is with lots of tapping, tilting and swiping of course! There are no actual buttons on screen, and for this I do have to give EA some props for really trying to be original.
Every fight starts standing, so that is where I too, shall begin. While in the stand up the screen is divided into 4 quadrants, each one representing one side of your body and low and high. Different moves are executed via a tap or swipe in one of the quadrants. For example, to throw a left jab you would simply tap the top left portion of the screen, to throw a hook, swipe from the left to the right quadrant on the screen. To move your fighter, you tilt the device in the direction you want him to go. All of these moves are executed using a single finger, but fear not, because multi-touch is used for transitioning to other phases of the fight. To go for a clinch, or a take-down, you swipe two fingers either towards each other, away from each other or up and down. Each one will cause something different to happen, depending on your fighters skill set. For example, if your guy is a good wrestler and you swipe down, he will shoot a double leg take down, if not, he will go for the clinch.
Once in the clinch you start a new phase of the mixed martial arts experience. While here you can strike just like you would in the free standing phase of combat, but you also have to address the basic grappling aspects. You and your opponent will be trying to pummel for better positions, go for take downs, and possibly escape the clinch all together. These are accomplished just like getting the clinch. If you want to try to pummel in you swipe both fingers towards each other, or if you want a take down you swipe both fingers down. Once you attempt a move, or should your opponent attempt something, you will see two points on the screen that you need to tap to either make the move happen, or prevent your opponent from executing. These will not always appear in the same part of the screen, so you need to be ready. You can finish your opponent off in the clinch with strong knees and elbows to the head if your fighter is skilled enough. That said, more often then not the fight will end up on the ground, which is the final stage of MMA competition.
Should the fight go to the ground, the controls will function very much like the clinch, with different types of 2 finger swipes either causing you to escape, or get to a better position. The difference here is the addition of submissions. By swiping to fingers up your fighter will a attempt a possible finishing lock on your opponent. Once the submission is attempted the two touch points will pop up and based on timing and how much stamina you and your opponent have, you may finish him off. The more stamina you have, the more times you will get to tap the touch points, and therefor, the more damage you will do. This brings me to a complaint I have with the ground game here, and that is when a submission fails you always lose your position. For example, you could be in the full mount on your opponents and go for an arm lock, if he escapes you automatically get flipped over on to your back. This does not happen in real life most of the time and it takes away from the authenticity.
Overall, the controls feel about as good as they could get on the iPhone for the amount of complex things that need to happen in MMA. That being said the fact that I had to practically write a book to describe the controls should tell you they are a little over complicated. They tend to feel a little bit clunky most of the time and it’s really hard to remember exactly what swipe or tap is going to do what you want. As I said, I can’t imagine the controls being much better then they are, but that still doesn’t make them good.
Now that we got the basics of the controls out of the way, let me speak the game modes in EA Sports MMA. The main mode where you will spend most of your time is probably going to be the career mode. Unfortunately, the career mode is nearly as deep as I would like it to be. Basically you create a fighter with the few options they give, and get on your way. You start out as the tenth ranked fighter and fight your way up to the champion of whatever weight class you choose. After each fight there are a number of training mini games that help you get a little better for the next challenger. These are not overly exciting, but they are not awful either. Once you win the title the career mode is over, so no defending the belt. I would really have like to seen better depth from the career here, as with any game like this, it is what really brings the value.
The next option to get your fight on is the challenge mode. You are given a bunch of scenarios that you need make happen, many of which are recreations of actually fights and the way they went down. Some are also just ridiculous, such as having to fight Aoki with Fedor. (If you aren’t in the know, Aoki is a tiny 155 pound Japanese guy, while Fedor is a 235 Heavyweight Russian.) As you complete challenges you will unlock new ones. It’s a pretty good idea, that kind of helps to extend the game life that is missing to due to the lack luster career mode.
Finally there is the exhibition, which as you might expect is just a single fight where you match up any fighters you choose and go to work. These is the mode if you just wanna jump in, smash some face, and move on, without all the emotional attachment that comes with creating a guy and moving up the career.
The graphics in EA Sports MMA are not exactly what I was hoping to see. (Playing on iPhone 3GS) The fighters don’t look particularly impressive, nor do the rings and cages where the fights take place. A lot of times when grappling with an opponent, parts of your body will go inside of theirs and it looks really odd. I fully understand that it is a phone that I am playing game on, so I’m okay with the overall fidelity not being there, but the fighters smashing together like that really kills the look of the game in a big way.
The sound in the game is not as bad as the visuals as it brings legendary MMA commentator Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock to do the calling of the fights. This is great because when it comes to enthusiasm, no one beats Mauro. However, they tend to repeat the same things over and over due to the limited size of the game. The fight sounds are pretty good, when punches connect you get a good feel that they are actually doing something. There is a good sound track when in the menus, and a bunch of those songs are available as entrance music for your fighters.
Overall, EA Sports MMA is about as good as I can see an MMA game being on the iPhone, but that does not necessarily make it a great game by any means. I’m glad the game exists, and it’s fun as a very hard core MMA fan, but if you aren’t, I don’t think I would recommenced it. I wish I could say it’s the best thing going, since MMA is in fact the best thing going, but I think only the people like me who just want to be able to say, “look it’s MMA… ON MY IPHONE,” will really appreciate this game. For the rest, if you think you can get past the really complicated controls, lackluster career, and kind of off putting visuals, you may still want to check it out.