US: 20 Sep 2011
Despite the explosive growth in popularity of the sport of MMA in the past several years, it is still considered by many to be outside the mainstream. The fact that it exists as something of a niche might explain why MMA games haven’t sold fantastically well. But given that THQ and EA have released MMA games with a good deal of depth, it could also be that there has yet to be a game that’s as accessible for the casual fan to play as the sport can be for the casual fan to watch.
The title of Supremacy MMA would lead one to believe that it is trying to position itself as exactly this kind of game. But it quickly reveals itself to be a largely traditional fighter, without much connection to the sport that it claims to align itself with.
Even with the involvement of sanctioning bodies, a relatively stringent rule set and a focus on fighter safety, MMA is still viewed less as an athletic competition and more as a barbaric spectacle by many. It’s important to note, then, that the gritty, underground mayhem in Supremacy MMA is not really representative of MMA at all. In reality, the aesthetic is much more inspired by properties like Fight Club. While this may largely be considered a semantic issue, it’s actually rather disappointing for those that have been trying to legitimize MMA as an athletic competition rather than glorifying its roots as pure bloodsport.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a simple case of misbranding. The game is deliberately attempting to position itself as an alternative to the more simulation-oriented MMA games that have already been released. In this console generation, there have been three major MMA games so far. Two were branded UFC games published by THQ and developed by Yuke’s, a studio with a long history of pro-wrestling game development. The third was EA Sports MMA, developed by a company that clearly has a solid (if generally safe) approach to sports game development. All three of these games were critically well received. However, the UFC games sold poorly enough that a prolonged release schedule was chosen in favor of annual entries to the franchise with modest updates, and EA Sports MMA barely registered a blip on the sales charts. This is significant because the bulk of MMA is being marketed largely toward a young, male demographic, and it would seem that there would be a lot of gamers that fall into the same category.
Supremacy MMA is clearly attempting to market itself to that same fanbase on the assumption that it’s the simulation mechanics that have kept previous MMA video games from selling particularly well. This is further evidenced by the inclusion of legitimate MMA fighters on the roster. But with most top level talent already spoken for by either the UFC or EA, Supremacy is populated by people on the fringes of the industry, either former starts far past their prime, like Jens Pulver, or fighters like Bao Quach and Malaipet, legitimate fighters that wouldn’t be known to any but the hardest of the hardcore MMA fan. Ironically, though, it is exactly those most familiar with the intricacies of the sport and the minor personalities featured in Supremacy that are likely to be turned off by the game’s gritty take on this kind of competition.
So as a title that brands itself as an MMA game, Supremacy MMA falls flat simply because it has very little to do with the sport that it’s claiming to bring an exciting edge to. The issue then becomes how well Supremacy functions as a fighting game, without respect to MMA. In that sense, it certainly fares somewhat better, but it still comes across as a touch half-baked. With a scant number of fighters, and no option to create your own, Supremacy’s roster is symptomatic of the relative shallowness of the rest of the title. The controls feel loose and unresponsive and in some instances are far more complicated than they should for an arcade-inspired title. As such, the combat is characterized by button mashing far more than is ideal for a fighter. Further, the roster is somewhat unbalanced, given that grappling attacks are more effective than striking ones. There’s fun to be had with the game, but it lacks staying power beyond its initial spectacle.
Realistically, Supremacy MMA probably sounded like a much better idea on paper than the game it became. What might have worked better is a game with mechanics similar to NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, titles which are wrapped in a package familiar to fans of their respective sports, but with the most entertaining elements ratcheted as far up as feasibly possible. To be fair, that may have been what the developers were going for. But it doesn’t come across that way, and those expecting Supremacy MMA to be that game should know up front that, though there are some enjoyable elements, it is most certainly not. As an MMA game, it misses the mark, and as a traditional fighting game, it simply doesn’t have the firepower to compete with the flagbearers of the genre.