Over the past few years, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown to an epic level of fandom, especially in the States. Led by the UFC, fight fans are regularly treated to dynamic match-ups that pit the best fighters against each other. While the UFC and EA have an acrimonious relationship based on EA’s widely publicized brush-off of MMA in the past, that hasn’t stopped EA from realizing the error of their ways. Despite the lack of the UFC license, MMA by EA Sports forges ahead with plenty of fan service and name recognition that gives this series debut a fighting chance.
Strikeforce is the fight promotion that MMA by EA Sports is based on. While the organization isn’t nearly as stacked with world-class fighters as the UFC, there are plenty of big names and former UFC stars that are on the roster. Of the 24 fighters, household names like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Ken Shamrock, and Fedor Emelianenko are represented well.
Fight venues in MMA by EA Sports are located all across the world, with several rings selectable in venues outside the United States. Unfortunately, the different rings are purely cosmetic, and there are no strategic implications at all.
EA has put together an interesting control scheme specifically made for the iPhone. With MMA being so deep, factoring in many fight styles and positions, we had fears about how intuitive the controls could be on a touchscreen handheld. Our fears were justified as the gameplay mechanics are uneven and frustrating.
Fighter mobility is handled with the accelerometer. Tilting the device moves you back and forth, and a quick flick up or down makes has your fighter sidestep to avoid strikes. This never feels fluid at all, and it makes us wish for a virtual control stick.
Striking feels much better, though. Using a series of taps and swipes, pulling off punches and kicks is a breeze. With a stamina meter in play, you have to be strategic about how frenetic your pace is in the fight. Using the clinch or shooting for the takedown is easy enough with synchronous swipes, but things get muddy from here on.
Welcome to my roundhouse.
When you’re fighting from the ground or in a clinch state, advancing your position requires a combo of swipes followed by a quick-time event prompt to follow-through on the move. In theory, this should work fine, but the execution is horrible. Far too many times, the game does not register presses and the computer will have their way with you. This is especially bad because most of the action takes place on the ground jockeying for position and submission techniques. The only way to be reliably successful is to keep the fight standing.
We were mighty impressed by the feature set and presentation elements of this MMA game. Besides the obligatory exhibition fights, there is a relatively deep career mode to plow through. The mode puts the emphasis on creating a fighter and taking them to the championship title. Winning matches earns skill points and there are fun minigames to train in between fights.
Challenge mode offers up fight objectives that are loosely based on historical fights. You’re tasked with missions like knocking out a fighter or submitting someone in a certain round. Beating challenges will unlock fighter bios and open up new challenges.
The fighting atmosphere is replicated successfully, too. Fighters have entrances and the commentary is well-done. Crowd graphics look like cardboard cutouts, but the trade-off in having a solid frame rate makes it worth it.
MMA by EA Sports is a frustrating game because there is so much promise here. For all the things the game gets right, it’s completely undermined by the control problems. We’re very hopeful that some of these issues can get shored up in an update. MMA fans should check out this effort, as it’s the best game of its type on the App Store, but be prepared to deal with some glaring flaws relating to the ground, clinch, and submission aspects of the combat.