Bellator is an interesting company. It was founded around the time of Viacom and EliteXC’s fallout and has since grown in to the second largest mixed martial arts promotion in America. It has done so with some smart planning, good partnerships and a lot of luck.
The company’s tournament based structure grew to flash fame early on with highlight reel victories from fighters like Yahir Reyes and Toby Imada. This interesting new company would garner interest from Viacom who at the time was coming up on a contract negotiation with the UFC. Viacom tested the waters by putting the tournaments on MTV2 during the negotiations. Dana White and the UFC eventually left their Spike TV for Fox which forced Viacom to fill the void. Bellator would fill that void.
Now, Bellator’s contract with Viacom has produced a new entry in the form of Bellator: MMA Onslaught. This game comes from the company’s go to game developer 345 Games, creators of guilty pleasure games like The Deadliest Warrior. With a background in odd fighting game bases, they have had plenty of room to grow with fighters. Has 345 created another challenger for the UFC, or is it simply a distraction for the main event?
Bellator: MMA Onslaught looks, acts and plays a lot like the UFC’s flagship Undisputed series or even EA’s MMA game. If you pick the game up and expect it to play like those, you are going to get finished. Quick.
See most MMA games work on focusing purely on the sport of MMA. Bellator: MMA Onslaught doesn’t. Here we see the team focus on the fight itself. Getting to a 3rd round isn’t easy as you have so many available options of attack that a decision seems the most unlikely of circumstances for a fight.
This is actually a bit closer to a Street Fighter game than you would like to think. That’s because this game is all about meter management.
Your fighters have an actual life bar. It does have some leeway in management as it regenerates both between rounds and in the match. Even still, we’re talking about a sports game with a health bar. Already you have taken all the technique of time management and thrown it out the window. Here we have a strong emphasis on the two men enter, one man leaves situation.
This is further highlighted by the games use of meter management. That’s right fighting game aficionados, meter management. Right below the life bar is a second bar that assesses your energy. This is actually more crucial than you would think. Attacking and being attacked all reduces the bar. Once it gets to cautionary levels, you take more damage. When it gets in the danger zone, you’re open for the quick knockout or submission. This is an interesting way of showcasing the danger most fighters can get in by wildly attacking opponents. It could easily be criticized, but it makes sense. Any fighter that charges head first in to a fighter is going to get hurt. We finally have a game that showcases this.
Your fighter can also create a “Bellator Moment” by stunning an opponent and quickly tapping the left trigger to do a devastating attack. This system gives the game some prettier knockouts which brings something new to a fight. The stun isn’t automatically set up so you have to hurry and get your opponent before they fall backwards.
The game is essentially broken in to the three categories of striking, ground work, and grappling. Each of those categories are full of moves you typically don’t see in a normal match. The fact that you can pull off a German Suplex with the flick of a button is ludicrous.
Even having a submission result in a button masher could be considered silly. It is however a show of strength. When fighters are caught in submissions, it results in one of the combatants powering through the move. Whether this is keeping the opponent locked in or whether its sneaking out of a move, the effort is still the same. The button mashing system really does make sense in an overly simple way.
This simpler way works because it is different from other MMA fighters. Essentially there are three different actions that all moves in the game have. Attack, block and counter are the only options you have. The first two should be fairly obvious, but it is in the third that we really see the game separate itself. Most reversals are hard to do in other games because they are hard to do in real life. Here it’s all about managing your opponent as well as your meter. Duck or parry the strikes so you can set up a punish, block or counter the submissions so you can get on top, counter the throw by gaining control in the clinch.
A flick of the right thumb stick up and down or back and forth will net you some movement in your grappling and submission defense. It’s really as simple as that.
The system works because it is relatively simple to use once understood. If your fighter is tired, he takes more damage. If you are in the clinch you need to transition your way out. On the ground? If you aren’t a ground fighter get the hell out of there. If you are, tire him out and flick the right stick to initiate a submission. For every situation, there is a way to read and adjust to the attack and what makes Bellator interesting is that it all can be done with a simple button press.
Despite the many different aspects that go in to these games, setting up the finish is arguably one of the easiest things to do. That makes the game a bit more satisfying, if you are on the winning side of things. However, getting caught in something is way too easy. That’s why the most important aspect of the game is understanding your opponents next attack and stopping it. Thankfully the system 345 set up is solid enough to give you a wealth of options.
[+Easy to Master] [+Simple Controls] [+Flashy Fighting Moves] [+Interesting Meter Focus] [*Promotes Big Finishes] [*Button Mashing Submissions]
Bellator isn’t as pretty as some of the bigger fighters. It’s roster isn’t filled with big names, nor is it exceptionally deep. The character customization is woefully shallow. Most of you probably figured that out when it was set up for an XBLA release instead of showing up on store shelves.
It makes a valiant effort to get there though as the game instead tries to present a very similar looking game in there own way. The attacks, submissions and throws are much more interesting (even if they aren’t realistic). Body damage and sweat effects are visible, even if they aren’t all that well defined.
Not surprising from a company that owns MTV, the audio in the game is actually kinda good. Menus and more importantly, Loading screens throughout have a heart pumping sound while the game showcases random factoids. Since there isn’t really enough history to fill the facts list, it is actually nice to have something to listen to while you read out that a fighter trains with Xtreme Couture. There are a surprisingly diverse number of facts available, but some of them are really simple.
The offerings on hand as far as choice goes is small. There are less than 10 fighters and of those, 2 are twins. The game gets away with this because each of the fighters seems to be a master in their own realms. Some are excellent strikers, others are deadly submission artists. They all counter each other out instead of simply dipping in to the same formulas. Since the roster is so small, weight classes are essentially dissolved.
Options like exhibition fighting, online and tournament modes are here and they are what they are. One of the game’s highlights is in it’s RPG customization mode. Customization for your fighter is slim pickings, but the thought put in to this mode is well done. Your custom fighter starts off with 8 or so options in face, pants, etc. If you are trying to make a George St. Pierre clone, you will just have to pretend it looks like him. Since the game focuses so much on style, you can actually hand personalize his attack moves.
The mode is nothing more than a tutorial system, but the effort put in to managing the fighter and explaining the core system is commendable. Through RPG style level progression, you gain XP to progress forward unlocking skill sets like advanced ground defense and other customization options for your fighter. Learning take down defense and clinch striking is easy, but you are awarded bonuses for doing it in a quick time. This all sets up a boss fight condition where you have to showcase the skills you mastered by getting a knockout through a counter punch or some other prerequisite.
A challenge system like this is deep and interesting enough to make it the highlight of the game. If only you could actually customize the fighter to something a bit more to your liking.
[+Fun RPG Challenge System] [+Good Audio] [*Shallow Roster] [-Weak Appearance Customization]
Bellator: MMA Onslaught is 1200 MSP ($15). This is a fully realized arcade title and that’s the going rate for the system and it equates to 1/4 of the MSRP of a retail title like UFC: Undisputed or Supremacy MMA. This seems about right for that cost. What you see here is a familiar fighting game with a different approach. It has a short roster which might hinder some, but the create-a-fighter should make up for that.
On the DLC side of things however is an interesting booster pack mode. Essentially, you are allowed to buy limited use upgrades to your custom fighter. For only 80 MSP ($1), you can purchase an item that strengthens the fighter for 4 matches. Acquiring these through the creation mode is available, however it seems a bit of an unfair perk for a game that focuses so much on teaching fighters this basic system.
[+Priced Right] [*DLC Bonus Items]
Bellator has a good system to it. It isn’t intimidating and that’s something good to get from a sport with so many different variables involved. The developers at 345 games were very late to the party, yet they still made something their own.
What we have with Bellator: MMA Onslaught is a solid new entry to the MMA formula that sports fans and fighting fans should take a look at. The interesting changes they put on an established formula makes for something that even those happy with the bigger games should take a look at.
[+Easy to Master] [+Simple Controls] [+Flashy Fighting Moves] [+Interesting Meter Focus] [+Fun RPG Challenge System] [+Good Audio] [+Priced Right] [*Promotes Big Finishes] [*Button Mashing Submissions] [*Shallow Roster] [*DLC Bonus Items] [-Weak Appearance Customization]