Smashy smashy, give us your cashy.
In the process of writing this review I stopped for a moment and considered – has there been a definitive MMA game? The THQ UFC games are pretty good but nothing that I would consider “definitive”. The EA MMA game wasn't as good and the Supremacy MMA game definitely wasn't it. But the team behind Supremacy – Kung Fu Factory – get another bite of the ultra-violent apple with Bellator MMA Onslaught which this time is a downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.
I'm far from the biggest MMA fan so I've got to be honest, when Bellator MMA Onslaught was sent my way I thought it was some fictional MMA organisation created in the absence of the UFC licence. So I was surprised to see actual video of actual fighters in an actual cage actually punching the blood out of each other. Admittedly I don't recognise any of the names in the game, but don't tell them as I like my bones on the inside of my body.
According to a trusted source (Wikipedia) Bellator is the second largest MMA organisation in the USA, and is broadcast on Spike TV (on a side note, Spike also publish this game – who knew they got into this business eh?) It differs from UFC in that it is tournament based rather than single fights, so one event focuses on a tournament to face the current division champion. Strange then that tournaments don't feature at all in Onslaught. There's a single fight exhibition mode (called a Super Fight in this game's parlance), but the main mode is “Championship Road” in which you face 7 random Bellatour fighters on the way to winning a championship.
Onslaught has a faster, more arcadey style than Supremacy, and is all the better for it. The fights rely heavily on counters, you can parry strikes, battle for the upper hand in clinches and roll around on the floor in ways that make the karma sutra look tame because you really don't want to be on the bottom. Each character has a super move called a “Bellatour moment” triggered by pressing LB when the opponent is staggered. Each fighter has their own, but they're just a canned animation so you'll see them all fairly quickly. They're quite strong but not game changing so really feel a little pointless beyond providing a bit of flash for the fight.
The fights themselves tend to be over quite quickly. There's a stamina meter that drains quickly if you're just carelessly unleashing blows on your opponent and you'll find either yourself the victim of a flash KO or submission because of it. So the fights develop a rhythm, and the fight system which doesn't seem all that interesting at first opens up with surprising depth. Although the most annoying part is that the game doesn't automatically pause when the guide button is pressed, which can be easily done when mashing the buttons during a submission struggle. I'm not just talking about online where that is expected, but in single player as well. Partly it's mostly my fat, uncoordinated fingers at work but there's a whole lot of bad design there and I lost a lot of games that way.
The presentation of the fights themselves are a mixed affairs. If you were to look at a screen-shot you'll probably notice it looks alright. There's a decent amount of detail on the fighters and arenas, but in motion it's just let down by the animation. Individual moves looks alright but generally lack meaningful impact, fighters flinch with each blow but they . Transitioning between moves isn't great either, with grounded fighters often just rotating round in to position if the canned animation hasn't quite got them into the right spot. General presentation is lacking too, there's no commentary, no intros beyond a disjointed announcer, no replays and possibly the most generic rock music known to man playing in the menus.
Switching quickly back to the positive, we have create a fighter where you can name a dude, dress him up (with unlockable clothing) and change his, very limited, physical features. Take him into the training mode where it shows all the different fight mechanics and tactics and train him until you have someone who can eat lightning and crap thunder. Split into “strikes”, “throws”, “submission” and “technical”. Each go towards your fighters XP with each level earning 2 skill points to spend on improving your fighter, with a level cap of 128. That's not enough to max out all the skills so it pays to have an idea of what type of fighter you want. For me, I chose wrestling so my man is a lean, mean grappling and submission machine.
You can take your “Meathead McPounder” online too, but you probably shouldn't as it is a terrible, laggy mess. There's lots of “warping” around which is an absolute deal breaker for a game this quick that relies on counters. I haven't had a single match where I've had anything near smooth gameplay. Quite often the fighters will be in one position, like struggling in a standing clinch only for them to twist around into another position in a split-second. A couple of times the fighters have been grappling, then I get the submission notification and only then get the submission struggle animation. Game over to me. I wonder how many of my opponents have suffered the same fate at my hands.
It's a real shame too, as I can appreciate what Kung Fu Factory have done withBellator MMA Onslaught. It's an improvement on Supremacy for sure, it's fun offline for a while but it feels like a game they couldn't justify putting out as a full-price boxed retail product rather than something designed as a downloadable title in it's own right.