Developer: Electronic Arts

Price: $4.99
Version: 1.1.16
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★½☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆
Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

The sport of mixed martial arts has exploded in the last five years. What was once a slightly more underground and under-exposed activity has now transformed into the multi-billion dollar industry that we see today. While replacing professional wrestling as the typical American household’s carnage of choice, MMA has been striving to receive even more mainstream exposure. Following in the footsteps of THQ’s UFC franchise, Electronic Arts have tried to recreate the visceral violence and brutality of the octagon with their own title, the very originally named MMA. Can the game live up to the pedigree of its star studded lineup, or are we looking at a drastically unprepared contender?

Right out of the gate it is impossible to ignore the downright stunning visuals. This is not your typical mobile offering and reflects a concerted effort to set a tremendously high bar for both appearance and animations. We are talking about PSP levels of polish here, the likes of which have been rarely approached on the iPhone. The character models appear lifelike, actions look fluid and the combat imparts the feeling of impact and intensity. Though there are several moments that distract from the immersion, such as the occasional clipping through the opposition during matches, everything seems genuine and authentic otherwise.

Unfortunately, the same attention to authenticity and quality cannot be said for the control scheme. The most glaring example of this is using the tilt controls to move your character left and right across the screen. Not only does this make for painfully awkward gameplay, but it also feels sluggish and unresponsive. Onscreen cues for punching, grappling and even kicking seem somewhat more fluid, but still seem to miss the mark and don’t necessarily mimic what would be considered to be the real action happening in the ring. EA stuck their neck out on this one, taking a definite risk with the control scheme, it just didn’t pay off this time out. Here is to hoping that they get a chance to try it again next season.

Speaking of the season, the career mode is where the meat of the MMA product resides. Here players will be able to design their own character, train them through a variety of different mini-games, and throw down with some of the biggest names in the sport. With genuine stars like Fedor Emelianenko, Jake Shields, and Alistair Overeem attached, this once again plays into the authenticity of what should have been a lackluster, unlicensed game. There is even in-match commentary, as is the case with every other sports game ever produced; it is a nice extra touch but grows repetitive far too quickly.

This should have been EA’s chance to plant a firm foothold in the landscape of portable mixed martial arts games, but sadly MMA feels like more of a misstep. While passable, this far under-delivers on the promise that a typical EA Sports title normally brings to the table. Maybe it is time for them to throw in the towel on this season and start fresh next year.

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