Supremacy MMA hands-on preview
When 505 Games announced Supremacy MMA last year, our first thoughts were not positive. We won’t lie; we didn’t think we needed another MMA game. THQ has that genre sewn-up with their UFC games, and EA Sports’ MMA is a very good alternative. We could not see what Kung Fu Factory could do to supplant them.
So what gives them an edge? “We’re not beholden to any sort of brand or organisation, we’re here to make all of our decisions and at the top of the list is great gameplay”, explains Ricci Rukavina, founder, CEO and creative director at Kung Fu Factory. In front of us is the game and Ricci is showing us its ins and outs. It is not what we expected.
We do not see any deep-voiced ring announcers, grand entrances, excitable commentators or flashing lights, instead we’re fighting in an underground arena with two committed warriors. It’s unlikely someone would come to our aid if we broke an arm. It’s a bit like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s fight against Tong Po in Kickboxer, but with the 80s soundtrack being ditched for ear-splitting heavy metal.
The gameplay is also very different from THQ’s UFC and EA’s MMA. While their branch of simulation can sometimes feel ponderous and sluggish, Supremacy feels precise and deadly. Every hit feels hard. We have even seen our fighter’s leg snap in half. There’s no chance of this being accused of being too soft.
The truth is Supremacy MMA is of a different genre from those games listed above, and this is something Ricci is keen to stress. He names some of Kung Fu Factory’s inspirations: Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Street Fighter. We think Tekken and Virtua Fighter are most recognisable in the game. It’s played mostly from the 2D perspective, with players jostling forward and back with a careful eye on every frame; however, hold down L1 and you can make your character sidestep to dodge and create new angles.
It’s not all punches and kicks, though – that wouldn’t be very MMA. Get up close, press X, and you can enter a clinch. From here, you can move around to the back of your opponent, take them to the ground, put them into a hold or just stand there punching and kneeing them. Whether you want to be in this position or not depends on your fighter and (more importantly) their fighting style.
Ricci has a submission wrestler and we have a savate fighter. Our fighter is quick and capable of throwing deadly punches and kicks, and we’re doing this to great effect, or so it seems. Ricci, it turns out, is just biding his time, waiting to lure our fighter into his trap. We’re suckers and fall for it. We get too close and Ricci pounces. He takes us down and throws us into another submission, which sees our fighter’s arm being bent to its limits. This starts a mini-game where we have to move the right analogue stick quicker than Ricci can, so we can get out of this lock before our fighter loses an arm.
This has shaken our confidence, and we’ve lost all that early composure. Ricci throws us into another clinch and starts punching us. We successfully break free by hitting Circle, and we start punching and kicking again, trying to keep him at a distance, but he sweeps our legs away, dropping our fighter to the floor before pouncing on him like a snake. It’s not long before we’re knocked unconscious. Our big mistake: we got too close.
You see, Supremacy is all about fighting styles, just as it is in an arcade fighter, as Ricci explains: “We’re really treating it more like an arcade game, where certain styles and certain fighters are associated with each other and you need to master that style and master that fighter, just like in Tekken and games like that”.
There are ten styles in Supremacy. Alongside the previously mentioned savate and submission wrestling are the likes of judo, karate and muay Thai. Your experience of the game will differ not only through the styles you choose but also through the styles you face. If you are a judo fighter, you will have to play strategically and less aggressively than you would with other styles – you need to find the advantageous positions.
Faithfully representing these styles is very important to Kung Fu Factory. As well as being a team full of designers with years worth of fighting game experience, they also have many videos of fights to reference and an office full of mats where they can test moves. They also have some trusted fighters to look to whenever they want to find out if they’re getting the details right.
The biggest name on their list is Jens Pulver, the first ever UFC lightweight champion and one of the best-known people in the sport. Ricci reveals, to our astonishment, that Jens is also an avid gamer:
“A lot of people say that, but this guy has levelled like five World of Warcraft characters. He is a huge gamer. He plays Call of Duty all of the time. He knows everything about every fighting game. When you get in a room with him and ask him questions, he is pulling things out and you think, “God, how does he know all of this stuff? Where does he find the time?” It is pretty amazing we couldn’t have found a better person to proof some of the details. He tells us stories about some of the first places he fought in. [He'll tell us] when we’re not getting something right.”
You can play as Jens and other well-known fighters, but don’t expect Supremacy to be awash with hundreds of known fighters, as you would find in other MMA games. It has fewer fighters, but they will feel different from each other. They will be associated with their own specific fighting styles and you will want to spend time mastering that style. There’s another reason why there are fewer fighters, and it’s one of the things that interests us most about Supremacy: Kung Fu Factory are putting a lot of focus on the fighter’s stories, specifically what drives them to fight.
Ricci takes me through the story of Malaipet, a famous muay Thai boxer.
“He came to America to fight for money, but not how you’d think about it. Other fighters would see he would win but they would see that he was always broke. It turned out he was sending all of his money back to his father who was about to lose his rice farm. So that was what he was fighting for, and why he came to America: to help his family keep their farm, which had been with the family for years. And, that is where the name supremacy comes from. It’s that a lot of these fighters, like Malaipet and Jens, have these stories where supremacy is actually why they fight and it is their highest goal and what they’re looking to obtain. We found that with most of these fighters that something is driving them and it’s usually a kind of deeper meaning which doesn’t have anything to do with fame or fortune.”
There’s an almost sombre tone about Malaipet’s pre-fight cutscene, narrated in his native language. It genuinely made us more interested in our fighter, and it added a sense of meaning and purpose to our upcoming fight, even if the arcade violence of the actual fighting did not quite match-up.
Supremacy also tells the stories of women fighters. They are making their first appearance in an MMA game. “You know that’s kind of a big deal. They haven’t really been in MMA games before for some crazy reason – and they’re great. They’re great fighters and we picked some really good ones”, says Ricci. Two of those fighters are Michele Gutierrez and Felice Herrig, who we recently interviewed. In the interview, they spoke of how happy they were to be breaking down these barriers for female fighters.
If this all sounds a bit too serious, don’t worry; Supremacy MMA doesn’t take itself too serious. Kung Fu Factory’s mantra is, make it accessible and fun. The controls are simple, Square is punch, Triangle is kick, Circle breaks you free from a clinch and parries attacks and X enters you into a clinch. Block is simply up or down on the left analogue stick, depending on whether you want to defend your upper or lower body.
We found ourselves instantly dropping into the game and understanding it, and even learning to quickly parry attacks and perform counters. Nevertheless, Ricci was still able to take us out with ease in the end because he had learned the combos and the more advanced moves. We could have fun and not feel hopeless, but it’s good to know that we’ll be rewarded if we put some time into learning the game as Ricci has done.
There are many advanced ways to approach the game. For starters, beside your health bar is a picture of a body and each body part will change colour depending on their damage. If they become red or black, they will be vulnerable to your opponent’s attacks. There is also a Street Fighter-style charge meter, which you can use to improve your attack or unleash devastating hits.
As for modes, it’s the usual selection: there’s an arcade story mode, which sees you progress through the rounds to the end; there will be tournaments; there’s a survival mode, which sees you carry some of your damage through to the next round; it has a gym/practise mode, in which you practise your combos; and of course, there will be online options.
There is also an in-built XP levelling system, which sees you take your character up through the ranks e.g. your fighter will have to rank up through apprentice boxer, smoker and amateur before reaching the supremacy level. Your route will be different depending on what fighting style you choose, but supremacy is the goal for all fighters.
In addition, working alongside the XP is a series of in-game challenges, which will see you trying to complete several fighter-specific objectives, such as ‘do a 15 hit streak’. It is another way to extend the singleplayer for those who prefer to play offline.
Overall, Supremacy MMA is an exciting title. It is not what we expected, and we are glad of that. Even if much work needs doing to complete the move-sets and iron out the bugs, it still feels sharp and precise. It’s certainly not a simulation game, but neither is it completely an arcade fighter. It’s somewhere in the middle. There is a lot of focus on tactics, countering and parrying, but that doesn’t mean it ignores the big combos either.
Of course, by going closer to the arcade fighter genre, they have entered into an even more competitive and stronger market. We will need some more time with it before we can say whether it’ll be out of its depth or not. We can’t see gamers ditching Street Fighter and Tekken for it, but we’re hopeful that it’ll be an enjoyable alternative, simply for the fact it has its own style. It also offers a genuine alternative for MMA fans who do not necessarily want a total simulation experience – and that’s certainly a good thing.