With EA Sports MMA and THQ’s UFC Undisputed series going for a simulation-based approach, the door was wide open for an alternative - an NFL Blitz-esque game that was rooted in reality to a degree, but could also feature really fast-paced action too. Kung Fu Factory sought out to fill that void with an ultra-violent approach to the sport free of licensing restrictions. Unfortunately, the end product is one that while fun, is also highly flawed in some very important areas.
Take 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. Here, in order to do that, you have to press a shoulder button and move the left stick to awkwardly move around the cage. And it’s not just awkward because you have to press two buttons - it looks really weird visually, like they only animated part of the actual movement. In an odder move, all you have to do to block is flick the stick up or down - so they made blocking a breeze, but something as essential as moving around the environment into a small chore.
There are other control issues as well - unless you counter into one, you have to hit a button and press down on the left stick to apply a submission, but cranking on it requires you to move the right stick. You can still get a submission, provided your opponent is nearly defeated, but it’s more cumbersome than it needs to be. Controls also aren’t as responsive as they should be - there’s usually 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 whole game is greatly hurt by all of these control problems because you can rarely do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it.
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 one 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 (activated by tapping a pair of shoulder buttons) 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. I also like how easy it is to get from one position to the next - it either requires you to press the left stick once at the right time, or properly time your QTE-style button commands when you’re either countering or being countered. I also like 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. 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 no create a fighter option, which is just baffling since it’s been standard since the first UFC game, and the roster only has 12 fighters - 10 male, two female. Now, each fighter does have over a dozen outfits, which is nice, but isn’t an acceptable substitute for more roster members. The female fighters are all real, while the male roster only features two real people and eight fictitious ones. You can’t have mixed gender fights, so men can only face men and vice versa for the females. 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 is included, but doesn’t include tournaments, and is both quite laggy and buggy - and bizarre as a result. I experienced small amounts of lag at a minimum in every fight, and had numerous fights where things clearly didn’t work as they should. It showed me as having countered a leglock, the animation for the counter would start, then things would stop and my opponent would get the advantage. In another one, I did a 130 hit combo on the ground that SHOULD have ended the fight, except my opponent’s life bar was stuck at ¼, then I got up to simply make SOMETHING happen since it seemed like the game wouldn’t let him up anyway, so I did that, then the submission meter appeared while he had a standing striking battle and I won after a series of punches that magically turned into things that flashed on-screen for a frame.
So yeah, the game needs a patch or two, but until that happens, I’m going to enjoy partaking in the strangest online play I’ve ever experienced. I really haven’t had a gaming experience be so outright weird since my first match in Showdown: Legends of Wrestling, where Mr. Perfect somehow pinned himself with a schoolboy cradle. I didn’t have anything quite that crazy offline here, although there are times when shots will connect but not register due to poor hit detection, or you’ll just suddenly go from one position to the other with no transition animation. It’s pretty clear that the game as a whole needs some bug-testing - especially with regards to the online portion.
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.
Visually, SMMA has some nice-looking parts to it. Ground and pound animations look really good - they‘re smoothly-animation and the brutal elbows to the ribs and face really come across as fight-ending blows. However, standing strikes lack any visual impact - sure, they cause bruising and bleeding, but there’s little reaction beyond that for them. The environments look really good, although strangely, there aren’t any entrances, so the venues are only shown off during the fights themselves and in the arena selection screen. Going from a seedy warehouse converted into an MMA venue, then making it to the high-production Supremacy MMA building all feels like a big deal because of how different each place looks from one another.
Unfortunately, The character models are a huge step down from what modern-day MMA gamers are used to. Skin just looks like plastic, faces lack definition, and tattoos look like green smears. However, given that the game’s primary advantage over the leading MMA games is its level of violence, I’m glad to say that it at least accomplishes that goal. The bone-snapping of limbs is impressive, and match-closing blows to the legs and armbars lead to some sick-looking limb movements. Plus, the blood splatter on not only the bodies, but also clothing and the canvas looks good, although the slow-mo blood during an adrenaline rush is a bit too cartoonish for my liking.
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 is one of those bad games that is at least worth checking out once if you’re an MMA fan. It’s an altogether bad game, with gameplay either being severely lacking in major ways or just buggy beyond belief. However, it does have some really good ground and pound animation, and some other redeeming features that make it at least worth trying once. It’s still not good enough to warrant a full-priced purchase in any way. There’s enough here to get some fun out of it with a rental, but not enough depth to warrant a purchase for most. Realistically, unless you just love it as a rental, it’s not worth more than $10-$15 tops. Multi-system owners should check out the 360 version, largely because it’s easier to spot the bright and colorful 360 button cues in the heat of combat - otherwise, they’re largely identical.