EA Sports MMA iPhone Impressions

Posted November 17th, 2010 at 11:02 am

By: Brian Sipple
Thanks to its main catalyst, the UFC, mixed martial arts has launched itself towards the mainstream of our culture since the beginning of this century. THQ acquired the rights in 2007 to develop titles with the UFC name and saw a huge initial success with UFC 2009 Undisputed. Not to be outdone EA decided to enter the genre with its own non-licensed MMA product that still managed to grab names like Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko.

EA Sports MMA hit the App Store a short time ago and is currently going for $4.99. For the time being the only MMA offering for your iPhone features over 20 real life fighters as well as a personalized career mode where you can customize, rank-up, and compete with your own fighter to try and dominate the octagon. The game provides a few entertaining moments, but ultimately its functionality issues render it unable to go the distance.

MMA’s controls center around the premise of moving your fighter by tilting the iPhone. A tilt to the right or left moves your fighter closer or further away from his opponent, while a tilting the phone inward or outward lets your fighter sidestep. It’s an ingenuous idea for such a game where the left and right hands are needed to control attacks, but like you’d probably expect, it results in movement that feels heavy and unresponsive. Imagine trying to drive a semi around the Nurburgring and you get the idea. The tilts require too much effort to the point of distraction, and your fighter’s reaction time is anything but swift.

Attacking controls make up for this a little bit by allowing the player to keep both thumbs on the screen at the same time. This allows for command between an abundance of left and right side attacks, clinching, grappling techniques, etc. You can high swipe towards your opponent for a strong punch, low swipe towards him for a roundhouse kick, or swipe down with both fingers to go for a takedown.

Ground maneuvers are often assisted by on screen indicators that alert players of their best option. This simplifies things considerably, but combined with delays in response time it tends to break up the continuity of the action. Rather than feeling like a free-flowing process the groundwork is remotely reminiscent of a turn-based game and doesn’t feel worth the frustration.

Stand-up fighting packs a better punch but still isn’t without its flaws. Punches and kicks all have a realistic weight to them and you definitely know if your opponent is hurting. Landing a counter punch or flat out KO’ing a guy is truly delightful. Just like with ground combat though, poor movement and slowed animations muddle any sense of badassery the game tries to establish. Even after realigning Bas Rutten’s jaw I wasn’t sure if I should feel like Randy Couture or Steven Hawking for having work through the strenuous control process.

MMA does bring some graphical flair with it, taking advantage of the iPhone 4’s retina display to render finely detailed fighters, arenas, and crowds. Nasty cuts and bruises appear well in accordance with how fighter has taken hits, and you won’t need the HUD to tell you if a guy is on his last legs. However I did catch the occasional glitch where a landed punch or kick will go straight through another fighter a la Mortal Kombat. Also, fighters’ tattoos can appear a little sketchy, with some looking more like a sticker tat than actual ink.

Other design components hit the mark as well. From the clean menu interface and stirring soundtrack, to the exhilarant crowd noise and entrance pyrotechnics, a lot indicators point to an emphasis on detailed presentation. Commentary could still use a little work; I didn’t even know there was a second man calling the action until my sixth fight. However it is nice that the announcer’s vibe stays consistent with the tone inside the octagon.

Exhibition and challenge modes are useful for a quick fix, but the meat of EA MMA lies in its career mode, where you create a fighter and work your way up to earning a title belt. The level of customization is impressive and it offers plenty to do between choosing your fighter’s appearance, personality, entrance music, fighting style, and point distribution for attributes. These points are earned though good performances, either in fights or in training mini-games like sparring and weightlifting. Hardcore MMA fans will enjoy what the mode has to offer, but once again there’s not a great deal of incentive to keep at it when the fights themselves are the least entertaining aspect of the experience.

EA MMA has the framework of a strong contender; A fleshed out career mode and catchy visuals could be enough for serious fans to get their fix. However the game’s high points can’t outmatch a frustrating gameplay experience that ousts most of its entertainment value. The controls are built around an intuitive premise, but MMA is never able to bring it to fruition.  At a $5 price point EA MMA needs more time in the gym before it’s worthy of a shot at your wallet.

Thanks to Brian Sipple for taking the time out to put together these impressions. -PP