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UFC Personal Trainer Review

By Jeff Buckland, 6/29/2011

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How many times have you bought a fitness game and expected to lose a bunch of weight, only to get bored of it and quit within the first week? We've heard plenty of these stories and I've taken part in my own versions of them more than once, but this time, I'm hoping it sticks. And since I'm a fan of mixed martial arts, I'm thinking that UFC Personal Trainer will keep me motivated. What I can say after several sessions leading up to the game's release date, though, is that staying on schedule is going to be a challenge, and it's not all because of a round belly.

UFC Trainer takes routines built by real MMA trainers - Greg Jackson, Mark Delagrotte, and Javier Mendez - and puts them on Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360. You can do single routines for one or two people, set up a custom set of routines for a full one-time workout, or pick a 30- or 60-day program along with a particular focus (strength, weight loss, and the like, which changes up which exercises you will do) to make a real commitment. Because Kinect is perfectly capable of seeing you roll around on the floor, you'll have to do things like push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, and other, similar exercises, and the game mixes these more generic exercises with MMA-focused ones that test your reaction time and speed - and give you a great workout in the process. You'll have a full range of boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai strikes, along with workouts that mirror what fighters do against the cage and on the ground. You'll also be asked to stretch both before and after routines, and it's a pretty full range of stretching - my first session was only about 14 minutes long, but then there was another ten minutes of stretching, too, mostly at the end.

If you're looking for instruction on how to become a fighter, this is not a good place to start, as UFC Personal Trainer doesn't really teach you good form in the dedicated MMA-oriented drills. Even though Kinect is precise enough to notice that, for example, you're dropping your left hand when throwing a right straight, thereby leaving you open for a theoretical counterpunch, the game never bothers to tell you. You can throw leg kicks like a wild man or a little kid, and you'll still get credit for them. This game isn't really about teaching you how to properly box or throw kicks, and if you're looking for that, well, there's still no substitute yet for going down to an actual MMA gym and paying for a real trainer.

What's weird is that a lenient as it is during the game's most unique and prominent MMA-related exercises, UFC Trainer is much stricter in the more general-fitness routines, and what's worse is that it sometimes does a poor job overall of telling you precisely what you're getting wrong. Not all of the techniques are explained terribly clearly, and since the game doesn't make you precisely duplicate a rendered character's motions, it can be confusing until you learn which side the game wants you to start on (when it says right arm, it really means right arm, even if the dude on-screen just casually did a rep that you might want to "mirror" by using your left arm) and precisely how far you need to extend to get credit for completing the exercise. If you're going into UFC Personal Trainer really out of shape, the game is going to know - it asks your height and weight when setting up a new player - but it doesn't seem to modify the routine based on things it should be deducing from that information. For example, a guy that's 5'8", 250lb, and did poorly in the initial fitness test is going to be excessively sore if you focus almost entirely on his core muscles in the first day's routine, but that's precisely what the game will insist on. And if you can't get the technique right, you're tired and don't bother to pause the game to take a break, or you simply find that your motions are not being counted for whatever reason, the game will actually boo you if time runs out. That's not something people want to hear when they're trying really hard to get in shape.

Rant aside, the developers have made up for a few stumbles by adding a full set of features here that you would expect out of a modern-day fitness game. You can get advice on fitness, see your overall progress, and post your results to social media, and THQ has even gotten ahead of nearly every other developer making Kinect games by adding voice-based controls to navigate menus and such. That's good, because holding your hand up to select things is a little difficult when you're lying on your back and are about to start another routine from the same position.

One possible problem you might encounter is that UFC Personal Trainer needs a lot of empty space for you to work in. One of the more far-reaching exercises has you lying on your back with your hands above your head, sideways so that your body is parallel to the TV screen. For the Kinect to see your body beyond your elbows and knees, you might find that the game requires much more space than other Kinect games, especially in a tiny urban apartment or dorm situation. If you suspect that a tight space could keep you from doing some exercises, then the solution is to create custom routines that don't put you on the floor. It's not a perfect solution, but it will get the job done.

Despite a few issues, I feel that UFC Personal Trainer is the best exercise game I've played so far, and while it's hard to try and divorce my status as a huge MMA fan while making that statement, I think it'd still be true if I wasn't a fan. It is important to point out that the game isn't designed to teach people real MMA techniques like how to turn their hips or shoulders over for maximum power in a kick or a punch, nor does it go into precise footwork or movement drills like MMA instructional videos do - even though I think there still might be room for that in a sequel or maybe a different game. Additionally, the two-player exercises are kind of limited, presumably because the developers didn't want people accidentally colliding with each other when standing side-by-side. Still, what's important here is that the exercises have a ton of variety and things are generally backed up by solid production values. The inclusion of three trainers keeps things fresh, since each has his own take on what to focus on, and THQ also threw in more than a dozen striking drills by big-name UFC fighters, all with their own likenesses and voices during the exercises - these go a long way to breaking up the dullness that can often set in when exercising.

Fitness games are usually made to appeal to your short term "need to get in shape" desires, and few of them cater to your long-term goals of keeping motivated and actually going past those initial few days of workouts. It's why so few people stick with video game exercise routines. While opinions of course differ and many people likely have lost weight and built lean muscle with these games, I feel like UFC Personal Trainer is the first one to really focus long-term - with lots of ways to mix up your drills and keep them from getting monotonous, fun MMA workouts, and comprehensive 30- and 60-day plans. No other fitness game goes this far to motivate you to continue after the first week.

Overall: 9 out of 10



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