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Hands-on with Bellator: MMA Onslaught

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t kept up with MMA since they stopped letting sumo wrestlers fight decidedly less sumo-y fighters. I likened those days of mixed martial arts to the Wild West: no rules, just a man and his gun, err, fists. And a ref. And sometimes a bell. So maybe some rules, I guess.

It seems, though, that Kung Fu Factory, the developers of Bellator: MMA Onslaught (and Girl Fight) also has no rules. At least, in regards to what they are willing to do to make this game work. They are making a game worlds apart from the UFC Undisputed franchise. Undisputed is about realism and nuance while Onslaught is about making things happen, which is a good move as far as I’m concerned. There’s a reason why both simulator and arcade racing games can succeed side by side; people want and need both types of gameplay. It’s probably somewhere between Undisputed and its own former MMA franchise Supremacy MMA in terms of realism.

Kung Fu Factory knew what they wanted to make and they made it, but here comes a bit of the happenstance nature of the Wild West: they’re willing to change just about anything for the fans. If it hadn’t come across as accommodating to the fans, it would have appeared desperate as the three folks from the studio I sat down with seemed obsessed with pressing the notion of anything can change if the players want it. If they want new moves or fighters, the studio will try their damnedest to make it happen.

Or it could have been all fluff, who knows.

But the game, from what I can tell, is pretty fun. After they walked myself and another member of the media through the create-a-fighter system (consisting of appearance tweaks, base fighting styles, and tech trees with expendable upgrade points) and a couple of bouts between the developers, the controllers were put in our hands to give it a whirl followed by a very quick breakdown of the controls: blocking on the shoulder, buttons for left/right punches and kicks, and right stick for all things grappling. It’s very simple, and very prone to button-mashing.

Maybe it’s because neither of knew what we were doing or we were just tired from the endless hours on the show floor, but we were just giving those buttons hell. For those controllers, it was probably their Vietnam. But I also have a sneaking suspicion that the simplified controls had something to do with it. Punches and kicks are all well and good for depleting your opponents health bar (and your stamina bar), but there seems to be a few frames of paused animation before and after the attempts to connect. Not getting immediate visual response from your physical input is great for fostering a mash-happy environment.

And the grappling is also fairly conducive to whatever the button-mashing equivalent is for analog sticks. To initiate a grapple, you flick the right stick. To break out of a grapple, you flick the right stick. To transfer to a different hold or position, you flick the right stick. It definitely simplifies the brain-wrenching complexities of the Undisputed games, but perhaps Onslaught goes too far. As opposed to just hammering away on the face buttons, on the ground, I hammered away on the stick, block, and face buttons.

Blocking, however, does seem key. Given that my and my opponent’s skills were largely commensurate since we’d only played zero times before this, it came down to who could pick up key mechanics faster, and my clinch move was blocking. While he tired himself out on a flurry of sweaty limbs, I blocked until he waited for his stamina to refill and then I went to town with my own instruments of pain. Then, before he could retaliate, I would go for the grapple and throw him down to the ground.

Once I got the hang of it, it felt less like a fighting game and more like a puzzle or strategy game (which I guess you could say for a lot of fighting games). I only had one resource and one base to manage and it was pretty much all macro, but with the simplified control options, it drops the allowed time for pondering down to zero. Instead of debating in your mind which move your foe will counter with what move you are doing, it becomes you anticipating what your opponent is thinking you are doing. Undisputed had your chasing each other in a maze of hundreds of corridors; Onslaught has you face-to-face with a hammer in hand.

Published by 345 Games, Onslaught is in a partnership with Spike TV, which I guess is the next best thing. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any TV or online tie-ins like with Undisputed. I mean, they will cross-promote the hell out of each other, but you won’t get to predict UFC matches with other players or compete in do those pseudo-broadcast prize fights, but Onslaught also isn’t coming out of a huge (formerly?) publisher like THQ.

But who knows, that could change. It is the Wild West, after all. Look for it this July on PSN and XBLA.

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