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UFC Personal Trainer Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 4/27/2011

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Let's face it: gamers are pretty likely to be out of shape. Many game publishers and developers over the years have tried to make getting fit fun, and it's often been done with wacky peripherals - from the Nintendo Power Pad to the PlayStation Move and the many Wii games using the balance board or controllers' motion sensors, nothing has really worked terribly well for keeping people working hard long-term, especially with all the accessories you have to buy and set up.

Microsoft Kinect is a platform that can change all that. Despite my complaints about Kinect's low camera resolution and limitations in small living rooms, it has been a great platform for building movement-based games without any extra accessories. And while I have no illusions that some soccer mom is going to find performing mixed martial arts exercises to be any more fun than, say, punching bricks in Your Shape: Fitness Evolved or jumping around in Kinect Adventures, I think it's safe to say that having real MMA trainers guide you through true fighting techniques is going to be much more effective to at least a subset of those of us who enjoy combat sports and desperately need to get more exercise. That's where UFC Personal Trainer comes in.

Forget jogging in place for fifteen minutes, and forget the Yoga videos your significant other is trying to get you to do with her. In UFC Trainer, your exercise comes in learning and executing real martial arts drills in front of three of the world's best trainers and coaches. The most notable of these is Greg Jackson, one of the most accomplished trainers in mixed martial arts history. He's currently training two UFC champions - welterweight Georges St. Pierre and light heavyweight Jon Jones - and he's in UFC Trainer, showing you the correct form for many basic and quite a few intermediate moves. Everything from a jab to an uppercut, a leg kick to a double-leg takedown, is here. Elbows, knees, kicks, and even a few jiu jitsu basics are here, and the difficulty is configurable so that you can get a better workout (with more exacting judgment of your actual moves, all thanks to Kinect's ability to track your entire skeleton).

UFC Trainer was originally intended to be a Kinect launch title, but THQ held it back for a few months to work on the game's interface and functionality - and after getting to see it in action, I think this makes it worth the wait. Not only can you do the hand-hovering seen in other Kinect games to choose options, but you can bark out voice commands ("Trainer, Pick One"; "Trainer, Skip Tutorial") to get around in the game's menus. You can turn on the options to auto-post your progress to your Facebook or Twitter accounts, and you can have the game populate a training calendar

You'll be spending most of your time in UFC Trainer going through drills with the three featured trainers (Greg Jackson, Mark Dellagrotte, and Javier Mendez), and while the guys in a fighter's corner are vital parts to their success in the cage, most current UFC fans' knowledge doesn't extend much outside the borders of the Octagon. To bridge the gap, the UFC has included the likenesses (and voice acting and attitude) of quite a few of the UFC's more popular fighters. These guys can replace the trainers in some of the most well-trafficked gameplay modes, like the pads-based drills and more.

What might surprise you in UFC Trainer is just how interesting it is to have your routine mixed up like it is here. You'll go through a pretty wild range of drills, and the game can judge you on your accuracy and speed as you go, and give you solid feedback on your performance. I got the chance to talk to Greg Jackson, who was at the THQ event showcasing this game, and asked him what equipment is available. He told me that the UFC does sell some gear you can use, like wrist and leg weights to add extra challenge, but that starting out, your own body weight is more than enough. And with the standard Kinect price tag of $50, UFC Trainer actually comes in cheaper than many other exercise games. (There will be Wii and PS Move-based versions of the game and I believe the price/accessories mix is still in the air for those versions, but the Kinect version is clearly the one that THQ is most proud of.)

One thing that THQ realized early on is that the potential for household damage is probably a bit high in a game where you're asked to punch so much. To that end, they're skipping on the spinning and turning moves, so you'll have to do the spinning back elbow (or turning side kick) on your own time. I don't blame THQ for that, as you can easily wreck your house, your family, or yourself doing that without proper training. Finally, there are exercises for two players to work on, but they use a limited set of moves that are much less likely to result in the players colliding with each other in any way.

Even though I occasionally do go to the gym and work a heavy bag with boxing gloves, I'm very interested in UFC Trainer - not only will it help me improve my strikes for the time I do spend in the gym, but it will let me get a workout without having to put on a pair of workout shorts or have to drive down to the gym. Admittedly, part of the draw of this game for me is in being an armchair MMA nerd and my lack of enjoyment in pretty much every other sport on TV - mileage, understandably, varies in that regard - but I think this will pull in a lot of people who have gotten bored of other fitness games.

UFC Personal Trainer is set for release on Kinect, PlayStation Move, and Wii this June.



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