The increasing popularity of mixed martial arts must have had the suits over at THQ headquarters in a brainstorming frenzy - as a publisher, THQ long ago snapped up the rights to the biggest MMA franchise of them all, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which stands head and shoulders above the competition. With a successful UFC Undisputed fight series already doing the annual rounds on our gaming consoles, those involved have surely been trying to come up with new ways to capitalize on the sought after license. Microsoft’s Kinect device, along with other motion control systems, opened up new avenues for revenues, and while many would have thought that a full UFC Undisputed title with Kinect implementation would have been the simple answer, THQ took a different route: combining the famous UFC brand with the ridiculously popular workout game genre. Far from being just a cash-in on a fast moving genre though, the resulting UFC Personal Trainer has turned out to be an effective tool for those looking to get fighting fit.
Take note of my use of the term "effective tool" in that last sentence, however. It’s a pertinent phrase, because like many other titles in this genre, UFC Personal Trainer isn’t really a game in the usual sense. And even less so in this case. We play games to have fun, for entertainment - that’s really the point of the whole business to begin with. Playing UFC Personal Trainer is about as much fun as dragging a tractor tire up a steep hill. Commit yourself properly to the training systems on offer here and you will soon be bent over in exhaustion, wishing for the session to end. This is a fitness title which wants to work you harder than any other. Obviously at the end of the day it’s still up to you how much effort you put in, but take it seriously and you could well see serious results.
It’s well known in fitness circles that fight training is some of the most effective overall body training possible - in order to have what it takes to survive in a hand-to-hand sport combat situation, you need a combination of strength, agility, endurance and heart that you don’t need for many other sports. By employing many of the techniques which real MMA fighters use during training, UFC Personal Trainer gives the man on the street a chance to work towards that same level of fitness, without the bloody noses and broken bones.
What sets THQ’s offering apart from the host of other fitness titles out there is the integration of MMA into standard workout plans. There are still plenty of generic exercises sprinkled throughout the workout schedules, push-ups and so on, but it’s quite impressive to see how many MMA-inspired actions have been implemented too - fight-based actions that you would never really think of including in your normal routine. These exercises mimic the movements used when fighting an actual opponent, so naturally you have to use your imagination to see how they would be used in a practical scenario, but they are solidly grounded in what those muscle-bound UFC fighters are doing to one another in the cage. Without even knowing it, you will soon have learned all about classic punch combos, crushing takedowns, and fight-finishing ground’n’pound aggression. Even the very act of getting up off of the matt becomes an effective training exercise.
Along with the numerous fight workouts - divided between three well known UFC trainers, each specializing in a particular fight style - there are also a few more straightforward activities to get the sweat flowing. These are the kinds of things that would fall under body conditioning as apposed to technical fight training - things like focus mitt workouts, freestyle heavy bag sessions, speed bag work and tire flipping. Working through these activities will get your heart pumping, but are perhaps too simplistic to keep one interested for very long. Also, the lack of actual equipment makes these exercises far too easy compared to their real life counterparts - flipping a huge tractor tire repeatedly in reality is an intense full body workout, but this version is little more than an explosive squat. Conversely, hitting the imaginary focus mitts is a more fulfilling workout than you might think, firstly because you get to train with one of a selection of real UFC stars, and secondly because the movement detection is more accurate than you might expect.
Consistent motion detection is essential to any Kinect game, and UFC Personal Trainer does a solid job of reading your movements accurately. You are always asked to make sure that you are properly positioned within an octagon in the bottom right corner of the screen, and as long as you stay within that area you can be sure that the cameras will do their thing. When you’re pushing for that last bit of extra effort to squeeze out a few more reps of an exercise, the last thing you need is for the sensor to let you down. There were times where I felt I was being cheated by Kinect, but to be honest it was normally because I was getting tired and my form was dropping. Sadly there isn’t nearly enough dynamic feedback from your on-screen trainers - often you’ll be doing a routine incorrectly but won’t really know why, which can be annoying.
The on-screen trainers also aren’t the most beautiful beasts at the barn dance. Fair enough, many of these chaps aren’t much to look at in the flesh either, but the character models really could have been far more lifelike. Thankfully their movements are all faithfully recreated, with smooth, realistic animations - essential when it comes to demonstrating the exercises for you to follow. Elsewhere visuals are relatively bland, from the drab training gyms to the uninspired navigation screens and general presentation. Again, this is meant to be a training tool, not a flashy, triple-A fight game, so the window dressing isn’t as important as what’s inside. Still, it’s strange that it all comes across so tame and clinical, especially considering the high-energy production that comes with your usual UFC events.
Unremarkable visuals and presentation aside, UFC Personal Trainer does what it sets out to do - it provides you with an excellent platform on which to build a potent workout schedule. Those in it for the long haul can get stuck in with either 30 or 60 day training programs, focusing on weight loss, strength building or endurance, while the rest of us are catered for with a vast selection of workout plans of varying intensity, so there is something for all levels of fitness. While improving overall fitness is clearly the central goal here, there is also enough of a focus on the MMA side of things to give you a basic understanding of fight science too. As you can imagine, the results you see from using UFC Personal Trainer will depend directly on the amount of time and effort you put in, but those with the required dedication will reap the rewards of one of the most effective workout tools we’ve seen on the Xbox 360.
- A full suite of MMA-based exercise techniques
- Dedication will show genuine results
- Official UFC license allows for real fight legends to train you
- Drab presentation
- Some exercises are just not as effective without the real equipment