In the name of complete honesty, I must preface this review with a disclaimer: I know nothing about mixed martial arts. I have never paid for a pay-per-view event, nor can I name any fighters that are not named Brock Lesnar or Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Literally everything I know about MMA, I learned from video games. That said, Supremacy MMA is just as much a fighting game as it is an MMA simulator. Everything from the incessant death metal to the outlandishly gritty stories and over the top violence is hyper exaggerated. This game is clearly trying to turn the knob up to 11, and it does so primarily though an infusion of an arcade style fighting system. While this type of genre blending may sound exciting for those of us who enjoy fighting games, ultimately it’s one of the game’s biggest flaws. By attempting to incorporate lackluster arcade fighting mechanics into an MMA framework, Supremacy MMA delivers a middling experience in both genres that’s unable to appease fans of either.
Supremacy MMA’s number one selling point is its violence. Without any sort of licensing, Kung Fu factory has been allowed to really push their M rating. However, as with other unlicensed sports games, this comes at the expense of the people and locations that you care about. While the game does include a handful of real-life fighters to choose from (Jens Pulver, Jerome Le Banner, Shane Del Rosario), the majority of the characters are fictitious.
In the game’s "Supremacy Stories" mode you’ll find yourself picking a fighter and exploring their unique narrative throughout a series of fights, interspersed with motion comics. The “Femmes Fatales” mode is exactly the same, but as the name implies, it’s with ladies. Admittedly I’m a sucker for story modes in fighting games, and while Supremacy MMA doesn’t offer anything particularly ground-breaking, on the whole it’s well done. Despite the fact that the stories themselves aren’t particularly interesting, they’re so over the top that you’re willing to go along for the ride. All of the narratives are fairly short and yet this seems to be the perfect length. Any longer and they’d probably over stay their welcome. After all, you can only take so much violence and death metal.
Other modes include tournaments, training gym, and tutorials. None of these modes seem to be more than surface deep. I found the Pop-Up Video style tutorials to be particularly unhelpful.
One of my biggest problems with games like EA Sports MMA is that the controls never felt responsive enough. Punching with a stick has always felt weird to me. Ostensibly this was to provide the sense of realism and analog control that you see in other simulation style games a la Fight Night, but personally this has never been my thing. When I hit a punch button, I want to see an immediate and predictable response from my fighter on screen. Supremacy MMA attempts to offer that type of game-play. Although it’s a long way removed from other 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter or Tekken, I’d make the case that all three games reside in the same genre.
If the giant “FIGHT” command prior to each match doesn’t make it abundantly clear, you’re playing a fighting game. As soon as you get into the action, the first thing that you’re going to notice is that you move primarily along a two dimensional plane. The second will likely be the big fat health bar at the top of your screen. Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, but the only way to win a fight is to deplete your opponent’s health. While this sort of convention is a foregone conclusion in fighting games, it’s seems like an odd choice for an MMA style fighter. Submissions holds are reduced to simple button-mashing mechanic, which if used successfully, knocks off a small chunk of your opponent’s health. This means that winning by submission is more or less akin to a super finish in Street Fighter. No more spontaneous fight-ending submissions. For fans of MMA, this comes as a huge disappointment because it means that you lose the dramatic swings in momentum that the sport is known for. Instead of taking a single successful submission to win a fight, it now takes upwards of six or seven. To compensate for this you can chain successful submissions together. If you fail, your opponent will gain the advantage and can then force you into his own submission hold. Ultimately this reduces ground-game into intermittent button mashing and stick waggling as you wrestle for a better position. I hate button mashing. Not since Konami Track and Field in 1983 has joy been derived from repeatedly hitting a button as fast as humanly possible. In the off-chance that any developers are reading this, please stop putting this mechanic into games. It’s not fun anymore.
The frustrating nature of the ground game is magnified by the ineffectiveness of the basic punch and kick attacks. Each fighter has a standard punch and kick that can be modified to strike high or low by pressing up or down on the left stick. There’s also a charge attack unique to each character that can be held for extra damage. With that said, trying to win a fight on these attacks alone is nearly impossible. Regardless of how many blows I landed, eventually my opponent would manage to take me down and beat me senseless. Far too many times I found myself lying on back being pummeled over and over again by the exact same three hit combo, without the faintest idea of how to escape. I felt like I was fighting my controller more often than I was fighting my opponent.
For an MMA game attempting more of an arcade feel, the lack of depth in the standard attacks is damning. With only two attack buttons, there are very few combos per character and far fewer that actually seem effective. It’s almost impossible to build up any momentum in your attacks, and the standing combat is left feeling painfully sporadic. While it’s possible that this is supposed to capture a more true-to-life MMA feel, when combined with the other arcade mechanics mentioned previously, it seems very much out of place.
The other two face buttons are reserved for the grappling and counter system. Grappling can be performed with the press of the X button (on PS3), with another press to perform a takedown. Counters can perform with a well-timed press of the O button. In both instances there’s a prompt on the left side of the screen to tell you when each action can be performed. While the prompt itself is appreciated, its location leaves something to be desired. More often than not, you’re forced to decide between watching for the prompt and paying attention to your fighter.
I actually think that Supremacy MMA is a pretty good-looking game. While there’s certainly nothing in there that’s going to blow you away, the graphics do feel up to date. The character models are a bit bland, but on the whole they look good. As you fight they’ll bleed, and break bones semi-realistically. The animations can get a little repetitive, but the hits look hard and are fun to watch so the repetition doesn’t bother you. The submissions can be especially brutal. The only real technical problem I have with the graphics is the occasional lifeless body being knocked into the geometry. Luckily, this type of physics problem is rare.
The environments look great and were easily my favorite graphical touch. You’ll be able to fight in all sorts of locations and cages all around the world. There’s everything from Brazilian Capoeira mats to a crowded hotel dining room. Even though they all share a similar gritty esthetic, there’s more than enough variety to keep you interested.
I found the online options (at least on the PlayStation Network) to be poor at best. Actually finding a game can prove to be difficult, and even if you do, there’s about a fifty percent chance that the lag will make it unplayable. Local multiplayer works as well as you’d expect it to, but requires that you actually have friends interested in playing the game. Maybe you do. Personally, I do not.
In the end, I guess I’m confused who this games audience is supposed to be. As an arcade style fighter it’s not particularly deep. The basic attacks are useless, and the grappling/takedown mechanics are more frustrating than they are fun. Remember, no one likes button mashing. As an MMA style fighter it’s not particularly gratifying either. The inclusion of a health bar means no mid-fight submissions and a lack of licensed content means that you’re stuck with the dregs of the MMA world in terms of character selection. Even if the story mode is enough to keep your attention, it’s hard to justify the $50 price tag. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a fan of MMA or just arcade fighters in general, there are significantly better games available in both genres. Unless you’ve played all of them already, I recommend you hold off on this one until it hits the bargain bin.
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed)
Developer: Kung Fu Factory
Publisher: 505 Games