January 13, 2014
Let's just throw a few things out there: A single round in a boxing match is three minutes long. MMA rounds tend to be anywhere around the five minute length, and depending on what weight division fighters may go at it anywhere from three to ten rounds in MMA or boxing respectively. This means that on average a professionally trained athlete is expected to give it his all for a somewhere close to thirty minutes. Now granted these men and woman are also getting punched in the face over and over, but it stands to reason that there's only so much a human being can take without appropriate preparation.
So now we have The Fighter Within, a game that expects us to stand and maintain a variety of vague 'fight like' positions to mimic being in actual fisticuffs. Mentally you're prepared to get tired based on the fact that you know fighting is tiring and so pretending to fight should probably be somewhat tiring as well, right? Something has to give. Either we feel as though we’re part of the action and tire quickly, as the experience should be visceral and engaging, or someone will simply go through the motions until they feel enough is enough.
Sadly you’ll find most of the time spent in game is just going through the motions on a literal and figurative level. Punching, dodging, throwing and upper-cutting is all controlled by you via the Kinect sensor; which is the second part of the problem. The motions are awkward and in the end you're instead exhausted not from any semblance of a workout but because you've repeated the same punching motion two or three times just to have it register once. As a result you will likely force yourself to endure through the two hour campaign because deep down you know if the disc ever comes out of the console it'll likely never go back in again.
Throughout the campaign players will learn various moves as they progress from fight to fight, and to its credit it does a great job in teaching you the individual moves. Punches and kicks all work as you'd imagine but making your fighter jump backwards or forwards is done by leaning and Ki (what's gathered to unleash special attacks) is earned by holding both arms up in the air. Each fighter you encounter adds another layer to your repertoire of attacks until you've finally learned everything; which is disappointing in that once you've learned everything there's nothing to do except multiplayer. And let’s be quite frank here, the multiplayer is not deep enough to warrant more than a couple rounds of trial and error.
For as far as Kinect 2 has come, it's extremely limited in being able to detect player movements within the game, and this is the most obvious on the main menu where a punch is required to navigate each option. When motion controls are literally your only venue of selection they need to be as close to flawless as possible not to draw any ire, and sadly this isn't the case. It's a problem that's noticeable to start, but becomes more and more glaring the longer you play.
When the mechanics themselves are a struggle to navigate then the rest of the game is made frustrating by association, and what's disappointing is that everything you expect the Fighter Within to do, it never really touches. You've never taught (even in passing) how to throw a proper punch, because each move you do is representative of something greater your character does in the game. Dodging and throwing a hook may start up a quick combo, but in reality you only did one or two quick motions. So instead you spend most of the game doing a semblance of what fighting 'could' be, while your avatar in game carries out attacks that are more complex than you could possibly achieve yourself.
Unless you're satisfied with doing a simple punch or kick now and then the entire realm of complex manoeuvres the game has to offer is marred somewhat by the Kinect's ability to detect them, and whether or not this is the Kinect's fault or bad programming on the developer's end is somewhat of a mystery.
The most frustrating thing about The Fighter Within is that it feels only a critical decision away from being something genuinely fun, and there are so many things that could have been lightly implemented or tweaked that would have made it a better game overall. Adding some actual controller functionality for menus, dropping the reliance on absurd special attacks, stripping away throws or even just removing the semi-cinematic combos would all be steps in the right direction. As it stands right now the game is 10% motion controls and 90% gimmick, which is constantly interrupted by the Kinect's inability to register what you're doing at all points in time.
If anyone is going to take time out of their day to get tired from an imaginary fight by playing this game, the very least it could do is make us feel as though we're actually fighting. To an extent anyway. No one's expecting to feel as though they've done three rounds in an MMA fight, and no one should really have the expectation that walking away from the game you'll come out an expert fighter. But the goal of any game should be to have fun and there are just too many technical limitations for anyone to draw an enjoyable experience from The Fighter Within. Just like a real gym membership you'll use it once and then forget why you ever purchased the thing in the first place.