Bellator: MMA Onslaught Review
Mixed martial arts promotion Bellator has been rising in popularity, first with a deal to show live events on MTV2 and then on Spike (to kind of replace the UFC, which has since left to go with Fox). Apparently, someone somewhere thought this was a great time for a new MMA game with the Bellator name on it, so they contracted publisher 345 Games and developer Kung Fu Factory to make one. When put on the task, the developers seemed to not ignore the challenges of making an MMA simulation, but they've tried to sidestep it entirely by making their downloadable game, Bellator: MMA Onslaught, a traditional fighting game with only MMA really on the surface. This leaves players stuck between two worlds - and fans on either side of the fence (simulation and arcade fighting, that is) both unhappy.
Bellator includes only eight fighters, each of which has had a great showing in the promotion in the last few years. Still, you pretty much have to have watched at least some Bellator to know of any of the fighters in this game (guys like Pat Curran, Patricio Pitbull, or Joe Warren), although they most certainly are respected fighters in the minds of serious MMA fans. With only eight licensed fighters, the developers smartly included a create-a-fighter system where you can customize combos and choose move sets, and finally take him into the other fight modes to improve his abilities. Unfortunately, the only single player modes you get are an eight-fight-series mode that resembles a fighting games' Arcade Mode, as well as exhibition-style superfights to setup against the AI or another player.
Once you get in the ring, you can see where your money went: not very far. The game's jerky animations make attacks look very robotic, while the takedown and grappling system is very simplistic. Sure, you can do things like block, parry, and counter attack when standing, but if you get taken down, pretty much your only recourse is to go for a sweep or stand it back up - which only requires flicks on the right stick. Fights usually end up in first-round knockouts as you're simply done once either your health or stamina are run down to zero, and you'd generally have to try very hard just to get a fight into the second round - even with the five-minute clock counting down at a speed faster than real-time. Sure, the fighters look recognizable and some of the strikes are pretty decent, but just don't expect anything on the level of, well, pretty much any MMA game released in the last decade. Bellator might be a half-decent game to goof around with when you're drinking with your buddies, but just don't expect much more than that.
The problem here is that mixed martial arts is a boring and limited type of basis for a pure fighting game. If we're going to have a fantasy fighting system with few roots in simulation, we might as well have a wacky cast of fictional characters with cool styles as well. Fighting game fans are not going to latch on to this - especially when deeper games like Skullgirls, VF5 Final Showdown, or SF3 Online Edition are all the same price - and MMA fans are going to be very disappointed with the lack of simulation here.
There's a range of other little things missing, too, like the lack of any in-fight commentary, no knockout replays, and no career mode of any kind. There is online play, but for some reason I couldn't find anyone to fight against, so I just let that go. At a price tag of $15, Bellator: MMA Onslaught is trying to rope in both fighting game fans and fans of real MMA, but they've failed to connect with either side. The fighting genre is chock-full of great games right now, including quite a few at budget prices, and MMA fans are generally sticking with UFC Undisputed 3 at this point. Maybe the next Bellator game can be a full-featured MMA simulation experience, but this first title is just not going to work.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy purchased over Xbox Live Arcade.