Review: Bellator: MMA Onslaught (Xbox 360)

Genre: Fighting/Sports
Developer: Kung Fu Factory
Publisher: 345 Games
Release Date: 07/04/2012

If you are a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, then you may be familiar with Bellator Fighting Championship. If you are not familiar with the company, Bellator is the 2nd largest MMA organization in the US now that UFC hasn’t either purchased or beaten out the competition. Bellator is unique in that it runs primarily on an 8-man tournament format for different weight classes with the winner of the tournament then becomes the number one contender for that division and gets to fight the champion next. This is why their motto is “Where title shots are earned, not given…”

Bellator has stood out with this format since the tournament style makes it easy to break it down into TV episodes so that people can follow the progress of the tournament as they would a season of a TV show. They also tend to focus more on lighter weight divisions that UFC did not focus much on until they absorbed WEC into their company. With an easy to follow format and exciting fighters, Bellator has grown as a company while avoiding the mistakes that other companies like IFC or Affliction made that led to their eventual downfall.

I was happy to see Bellator getting an official video game based on their brand to help get the brand further recognition. As much as I like UFC, competition in the market is always a good thing, for both video games and fighting leagues. The brand was handed over to fighting game veterans Kung Fu Factory, whose team members in the past of worked on Mortal Kombat, helped out with UFC Undisputed 2009, and most recently created Supremacy MMA. The developers involved obviously have an interest in the sport, and while Supremacy MMA was not a very good game, there were good ideas in the game and the attempt at a simplified control system was interesting.

Which is why it is really disappointing that when given the license for an organization on the rise like Bellator that the game is really terrible.

Let’s start with the different modes. There’s a Super Fight mode, which essentially is an exhibition fight in the game. Choose the fighters, number of rounds, difficulty, and arena and you are set. Then there’s a Path to the Championship mode, which is odd. This mode is essentially like an arcade fighting game ladder style sequence of fights where you take on one fight and then move onto the next one. Why I say this is odd is that it is the only alternative to the exhibition mode in terms of fighting modes. Considering there are exactly eight characters, and the driving point behind Bellator’s televised seasons are eight man tournaments, why they included this mode instead of a tournament style format is confusing. The only reason I can think of for this is that two of the fighters are from a different weight division. Still, this doesn’t prevent them from being matched up against all of the other fighters, so it surprises me that they would not use the dominant format of the show within the game.

Aside from these modes there is also a create-a-fighter mode. Like everything else in the game this is a very basic mode. You can choose a face but can’t adjust it and there are only a handful of choices – same with body type, shorts, and tattoos. The entire set up is very basic, and you will not be able to replicate your favorite fighter using this system. I do recommend that if you play the game, you create a fighter first, if only because there are a series of challenges you can complete as a created fighter that also work as a tutorial for the fighting system in the game. Also, as a created fighter you gain experience in every fight, earning skill points which can be used to then create a better fighter. The experience system and the ability to gain experience across all of the modes is one of the best things about the game.

So eight fighters, two fight modes, no tournament mode, and you can create a bland looking fighter.

The graphics are decent enough. The characters in the game look like the fighters they represent, and the cage and backgrounds look okay. There is a kind of slight cel-shading going on, that is similar to the art style that was used in Supremacy MMA. While the bold lines and slightly unrealistic look worked for that title, it doesn’t really fit the realistic portrayal of Bellator here. If the art style from Supremacy MMA had been the only thing borrowed from the game, my nit-picking might end there. However, a lot has been taken from that game, down to the fighting animations. This actually detracts from the game in many ways, since Supremacy MMA was meant to be an over the top underground MMA fighting game it had moves that were not only illegal, but most likely fatal. The front suplex and fireman’s carry animations spike an opponent in the game right onto their head, and while this is fine in the other game, it is completely against the rules of the company this game represents. Not only that but the re-use of animations just feels lazy, as though they just reskinned their not well received fighting game with a different coat of paint and a slightly modified striking system and called it a day. The box art is some of the worst box art I’ve ever seen, and the menu just looks dull. I really don’t understand why, if this is meant to show people what Bellator is all about, there are no videos highlighting some of the action from that company.

The audio is weak as well. The sound effects are ok, but the background music is painfully generic and unlike other MMA games there are no announcers for the fights.

The game controls like a mix of the fighting system they used for Supremacy MMA, and the one found in the UFC games. You move with the left joystick, and strikes are located on the face buttons: X for left hand punch, A for left foot kick, Y for right hand punch, B for right foot kick. Combos can be pulled off sort of like a traditional fighting game with different strings of attacks that are modified with the direction you are moving the character and which button you initiated the attack with. The right stick is for grappling. When standing pressing up or down will execute a takedown, and left or right initiates a clinch. Once you’re on the ground, moving up on the right joystick will get the fight back to standing, left or right is for advancing position or blocking an attempted pass, and down will start a submission attempt. The left trigger blocks strikes, the right bumper is used for leaning away from or parrying strikes. The left bumper is used to trigger Bellator Moment, occasionally you might strike the opponent in such a way that it leaves their defenses open, the game will slow down for a second and you can trigger the Bellator Moment, which makes the character do a more powerful strike in slow motion to the opponent.

This set of controls isn’t too terrible. One of the things that is a problem with the UFC games is the amount of complexity that is involved in the control scheme. Trying to explain swaying, half quarter turns, positioning, and so on to someone who isn’t familiar with the sport can make the game hard to get into for a new person playing it. By contrast the fighting system in this game is simpler to learn.

Of course it also lacks any sort of complexity in the actual tactics available, and for that matter some of the input lag that was seen in Supremacy MMA is also in this game. It’s annoying when I press buttons for a combo and a second later the game reacts, and there are occasions when I’ve entered a combo then hit a different button and the game just repeats the last strike in that combo again. Also, a problem fellow reviewer Mark had with the Vita version of Supremacy MMA in his review, there are far too many times when I’m pressing the joystick in a direction and the game reads it as a different direction. When I hit up to stand up and instead change position, or try to lock on a submission, or go for a takedown and end up clinching, that’s really annoying. Trying to reverse takedowns requires precise timing, which means that you will mostly pull it off only with luck. Parrying also requires good timing, and when you do parry it doesn’t seem to interrupt some combos. Meaning you might counter a punch and instead of leaving the opponent open for a counter they continue with their striking and you get hit with the next move in the combo.

That’s not as bad as how terribly balanced this game is. They’ve added in a stamina bar, and if it gets low enough the fighter starts flashing red and can be instantly knocked out if hit. Aside from the lack of realism of one fighter suddenly glowing red, it becomes easy to just set the difficulty on medium or hard and let the computer waste its stamina bar while you block its attacks, then KO it when it starts to glow red. Ground and pound is overpowered to the point where there is almost no point into doing anything but take the other guy down and elbow their face in. The stamina bar is also tied to submissions. There is a button mashing minigame that starts when a submission is applied. You mash buttons until you fill a meter – how full the meter is depends on stamina. So a lot of fights can also be won quickly by kicking the opponent in the midsection a few times to damage their stamina bar, then taking them down and applying a submission move. Submissions take little stamina to actually use, regardless of the level of mastery. Standing and striking is useless compared to these other tactics. When creating a fighter you can choose different movesets, and tailoring a moveset into the different ways this game is broken is easy to do. Create a guy who has an attack combo into a takedown, then move to mount and punch to win. The fighting system is so unbalanced that there’s little point to ever changing the amount of rounds you can fight, I’ve literally had two fights in one hundred leave the first round, and most are over in less than two minutes.

As if the fighting system wasn’t already more unbalanced than a teeter totter with Roseanne Barr on one side and whatever is left of the anorexic Olsen twins on the other, they’ve committed what I consider to be one of the greatest sacrileges of Video Games; microtransactions that affect multiplayer. In the created fighter Fight Lab menu you can buy Boosts. Boosts are advantages, more attack power, more defensive ability, more XP earned per fight, etc. for the next 5 fights. You earn a single boost every ten levels your created fighter gains, but can also purchase these separately for $1 each. These Boosts do not only apply to the single player game, they also apply to the online mode. In fact there’s an achievement for using Boosts ten times during Ranked fights.

WTF? Why would any fighting game encourage the use of paid advantages in their Ranked Fights? Microtransactions are one things, they’re in every game now or as DLC. It is one thing to sell something that doesn’t have an effect on gameplay, like more arenas or something, but when you start selling advantages so players can gain an upper hand completely unrelated to skill level and let them do so in your ranked matches then you’ve completely tossed the idea of balanced online play out the window.

Not that it matters much, because I’ve never seen another player online. There are people on the leaderboards, so I assume someone else is playing the game, but I’ve never managed to find another person playing at the same time as I have. So while I can’t comment on how well the online works, I can say that people can buy performance enhancing Boosts, which I’m sure aren’t NSAC approved, so I’d stay away from it. Of course the only other option is to play against the eight fighters in the game, and since a lot of attack animations are the same and the easiest methods of winning remain the same for each fight, it becomes repetitive very quickly.

The game has zero originality, unless you count the whole microtransaction thing as being a unique feature, otherwise the game borrows most of the underlying structure on the other MMA game made by Kung Fu Factory, down to the art style and animations of that game.

I can’t see this as appealing to Bellator fans or MMA fans in general. Nearly every aspect of the game feels unfinished or unbalanced. You can buy UFC Undisputed 2009 for less than this game, and even though it came out years ago it has a larger roster, a better fighting system, more modes, and is just more fun to play. Bellator: MMA Onslaught may be the worst MMA game I’ve ever played, and that includes the older UFC games on the Dreamcast and Playstation.

That’s not hyperbole. As a fan of Bellator, I’m angry that this might be the first exposure to the product for some people. Bellator is a fun and exciting MMA show worth watching. This is a terrible game that aside from the likeness of some of the top fighters of the promotion is nothing like the product it represents. If you are interested in the product, I’d suggest purchasing the first season through Amazon’s video on demand. It’s a little more expensive, but it is a much better value for your dollar. Bellator: MMA Onslaught is lacking in every way: few modes, few creation options, small roster, recycled animations, input lag, unbalanced gameplay, poor AI, and microtransactions that you can pay to gain an unfair advantage online.

Note: Since I started writing the review I noticed that 345Games has updated the Bellator Facebook page with an update about an upcoming patch. This patch will include changes so that throws deal more damage, something I’m not sure is needed since they’re easy to do and most put you into an advantageous position on the ground to deal heavy damage already. The submission system is going to be tweaked to prevent it from being as overpowered as I described. Other tweaks can be seen in the patch notes on the Facebook page, after reading through them, while it might solve some issues it doesn’t appear to fix most of the problems I have with the game. I will attempt to update this review after the patch is out to see if the game plays any better. However, please note that the opinion of this review is based on the game as it is prior to any patches.

The Scores
Modes: Awful
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Awful
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: Dreadful Game

Short Attention Span Summary Don’t buy. It’s an embarrassment to Bellator, MMA, and fighting games.



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One response to “Review: Bellator: MMA Onslaught (Xbox 360)”

  1. Aaron Sirois Avatar

    Damn. So it’s even MORE imbalanced than Supremacy MMA? Insane.

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