Awkward controls make EA’s MMA game as much fun as trying to get out of a triangle choke hold
Because of the level of precision necessary to make a good fighting game, doing so on a platform with no buttons is difficult. And when the fighting just so happens to be ultra complex mixed martial arts, it’s even harder. MMA by EA Sports attempts to solve this issue with a control scheme that combines motion and touch controls, but unfortunately just ends up being rather awkward. It also doesn’t help that the game rewards button mashing much more than it does careful strategy.
The main mode of MMA is Career, which has you creating a new fighter from scratch and fighting your way to the top. You can customize your fighters look and fighting style, as well as select which weight division you want to compete in. The customization options aren’t extensive but are still passable: you can easily make the mohawk clad fighter of your dreams, complete with plenty of tribal tattoos. To complete the career mode you’ll need to battle 10 different fighters, moving up in the rankings with each win.
After each fight you’ll also earn additional skill points which are awarded based on how you fight. So if all you do is punch, your striking ability will continue to grow. This helps give you an incentive to try various fighting styles, as doing so will give you a more well-rounded skill set. You can also train before each fight to improves your skills. There are four different training mini-games, including speed bag, sparring, and heavy bag. When you eventually win the championship belt you can choose to either start over with a new character or move on to a different weight class. There are also challenge and exhibition modes to round out the experience.
MMA is a sport that’s all about technique. There are various fighting styles, each of which has their own unique attacks and holds. So, unsurprisingly, this means that the control scheme for the game is rather complex. Movement is handled by tilting the phone back and forth and dodging by quickly moving it towards yourself. Unfortunately, this control scheme is incredibly awkward and frequently unresponsive. Mercifully, you won’t need to do a whole lot of movement in the game.
Most of your time will be spent in close quarters combat, which uses a combination of taps and swipes to simulate attacks and holds. It’s easy to forget just how to go about doing everything, so the game will occasionally help you out with on-screen prompts letting you know how to get out of, or put someone in, a particular hold. But you don’t really need to worry about the techniques anyways. In virtually all instances, it’s easier to simply get your opponent into a hold and punch them in the head until you get a knockout. Button mashing, or the touch screen equivalent, reigns supreme in MMA, eschewing any need to memorize complex fighting styles.
As an EA game, it should be unsurprising that MMA features pretty strong production values. The fully 3D characters and environments looks great, and the game features a number of licensed music tracks and fully voiced commentary for the fights. However, while all of these aspects are initially impressive, they also repeat far too often. The ring entrances are the same every time, and the announcers will spout the same lines of dialog over and over again.
It’s pretty impressive that a game as complex as MMA has managed to fit on the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly fun. While it looks and sounds great and offers players the opportunity to use a variety of fighting styles, the frustrating control scheme drastically takes away from the rest of the experience. And since you can simply button mash your way to the top, there’s little incentive to fight like a real MMA fighter. The game simply doesn’t capture the spirit of the sport, which keeps it from being much of a knock out.