I was very disappointed by Supremacy MMA last year because it had a chance to fill a niche for an arcade-style MMA game and blew it. The gameplay was largely awful, the controls were cumbersome, and nothing outside of the XP system was really any good. I was hoping that the Vita version would fare better, but sadly, that isn't the case. What was bad before is still bad, the graphics, which were good at points before, have been downgraded quite a bit, and online is more of a disaster. SMMA does use the Vita's hardware for things, but none of them really help the game much, however, the controls are slightly better than the console versions.
Before, simply moving around the cage - an easy thing to do in every game featuring MMA, dating all the way to ‘96’s FirePro Wrestling S and the first UFC game in 2000, required you to press a shoulder button and move the left stick to awkwardly move around the cage. Now, you just move the left stick to move. That really shouldn't seem like a huge improvement, but it is, and does make it much easier to avoid enemy attacks and allows the game to truly feel like a 3D fighter instead of one with limited 3D movement.
Submissions have been made much easier to do as well. Before, you had to hit a button and move the left stick to apply one or hope you countered into one. Now, all you have to do is move the stick and hit X - it's much easier and makes playing as a submission-heavy fighter far more fun. Sadly, there's still a delay between your button press and the on-screen action, which leads to counters not working when you intend or strikes not landing when you want them to.
The Vita-specific features are perfectly fine but nothing spectacular. You can activate the super-powerful adrenaline rush mode by shaking the system, punch by touching the top of the screen, kick by touching the bottom (be wary of doing that with the female fighters though - while Ronda Rousey isn't in to snap your arm, you could fall victim to some strong kicks to the head).
The actual fighting itself is quite unbalanced because standing strikes do little damage compared to ground ones. So if you’re a ground fighter, you’ll have a marked advantage over someone whose strength comes from their standing strikes. Unfortunately, the developers divided everyone up into styles like boxing, judo, and muay thai, resulting in only two of the fighters actually having MMA as their specialty here in an MMA game. The action is also hurt by a distinct lack of positions to fight in - basically just giving you a few mount positions and a standing behind the back grapple. There’s also depth lacking in every area, since you can’t really do much in any position, resulting in all fights feeling very similar to each other. Also, despite having a variety of fighting surfaces included like rings and cages, there’s no cage or rope usage, and the actual fighting area is restricted to the area right in front of either the ropes or cage - basically putting an invisible barrier between you and the structure you’re seemingly inches away from. It winds up making KOs near the cage seem ridiculous though since your opponent just slumps down and hits an invisible wall. Even the earliest UFC games animated a head falling into the cage.
It isn’t all bad though. The adrenaline rush feature is a nice way to keep the action fast, and allows you to do more damage in a limited time - perfect for a come from behind victory, or to truly show your dominance over someone else. However, this version features some really strange slowed-down animation that completely kills the flow of a fight. However, I like how easy it is to get from one position to the next and that you’re able to win from any position via knockout - something that is realistic and also was in the early UFC games, but isn’t in the newer ones, so that’s one thing I’m glad to see as a throwback to older games.
Feature-wise, SMMA is incredibly lean. Offline, you can play a relatively quick story mode for each of the fighters, with the mens’ stories taking maybe an hour to complete if you don’t skip anything, and the female ones far less time since they're only two fights long. While this was an issue in the console versions, it actually works nicely for the Vita version since they're so bite-sized, you can either beat the womens' ones in no time, or at least make significant progress in the mens' ones. I would recommend using headphones though, as there's a ton of swearing in the storylines.
You can also take part in two kinds of tournaments - a gauntlet mode where you face a massive ladder of opponents ala Mortal Kombat, or a traditional fighting tournament with brackets. And of course, there’s the usual one-on-one mode. There’s still no create-a-fighter option, which is just baffling since it’s been standard since the first UFC game, and the roster only has 14 fighters - 12 male, two female. Sadly, that's an upgrade from the console version, which only had 12 fighters total. Sure, each fighter does have over a dozen outfits, but isn’t an acceptable substitute for more roster members. The limited roster means you’ll have a lot of fights against the same guys, even though weight classes aren’t a factor.
Online play was terrible in the console versions due to a ton of bugs and glitches, and it's still pretty terrible here. I wish the Vita allowed for some kind of video-out so I could actually record how bizarre it is to have a fight, go for a punch, have it register via blood flying from my opponent, but not actually see the punch thrown until after the blood starts. There's a lot of lag, and there's also no penalty for people who just drop out of a game, so the whole online experience is more annoying than it is fun in every way. The original game needed serious fixes to the online setup and I was hoping the Vita would feature at least some improvements to it after seeing the major leaps made with submissions and cage movement, but that didn't happen.
It’s the worst-playing MMA game I’ve played, but is still fun in very short doses and does at least deliver a visceral fighting game experience. Despite its major gameplay issues, especially online, I do have to give Kung Fu Factory some props for their key innovation in SMMA - allowing to earn XP for every character in every mode. You unlock outfits with it, and it also gives you a list of in-game challenges for each character. Some are simple, like performing five counters in a single fight, while others, like winning only with standing strikes, are more challenging. These are a blast to try and accomplish, and it feels rewarding to beat a challenge you‘ve been struggling with for a while. It’s one of those features that on paper, isn’t much, but in practice, is really addictive and provides a more tangible reward for playing as everyone than just being able to say you did.
The console release of SMMA didn't look all that great outside of the violence, and now some of that has been eliminated. Before, you'd have some impressive blood splatter on the mat and on the characters, along with bruises that built up, but now that's all gone. However, the bone-snapping of limbs is intact and still impressive, as are match-closing blows to the legs and armbars that lead to some sick-looking limb movements. Tattoo work somehow looks worse than the console version, and reminds me of the PSP version of UFC Undisputed 2010 where they wind up mostly looking like smeary kids' drawings that kind of resemble what they should. Thankfully, the tremendous ground strike animations are still really brutal, and the submission animations look pretty good as well. There are some brutal slams, including a fireman's carry drop that slams folks right on their head and neck
SMMA delivers the goods in one area of the audio - the effects used for connected shots sound devastating, and the same applies to the loud thuds that occur during huge slams and throws. However, otherwise, it’s mostly grating. The voice acting from the fighters during the story mode is usually either lifeless or needlessly obscene, and there’s no commentary to speak of. The licensed soundtrack is full of death metal that all sounds the same. It fits the fast action well enough, but isn’t exactly what I’d call a joy to listen to.
Supremacy MMA: Unrestricted is a rare example of a handheld release being given some pretty major improvements compared to the console version. The developers clearly took the criticism of the console versions to heart and made an honest effort to improve things. They didn't fix everything, but I do appreciate the improvements to submissions and cage movement. However, it's still a lackluster game overall, but does have some really good ground and pound animation, and some other redeeming features that make it at least worth renting. It's definitely not worth its $40 asking price though.
This review is based on a retail copy of Supremacy MMA: Unrestricted for the PlayStation Vita provided by 505 Games.