While Chi and I came upon the UFC sport at roughly the same time, it is clear that Chi developed a fondness for ultimate fighting that far surpasses mine. It isn't that I didn't appreciate the individual skill of the combatants or their desire to win, but it was hard to get by the sheer brutality of the matches and the apparent lack of rules or code of ethics. Looking back on those early days, I have to own up to fact that I didn't really give the sport a fair shot. The UFC can not be appreciated at a glance, it has to be seen a few times for most people to grasp the intricacies of the competition and the level of intelligence and talent a competitor needs to win. Once examined below its surface, it is apparent what the UFC has to offer and not coincidentally, the same is true of Crave's latest.
After turning on the Dreamcast, I was not all that impressed with what I saw. Although the graphics are nicely done, the selection of fighters look pretty ordinary -- it's hard to get excited about a cast of guys in spandex with names like Pete Williams and Eugene Jackson. It was only after giving UFC a complete goings-over that I began to see its great potential. Each fighter, however plain, comes with his own unique fighting style. It's not just a cheap mention in the instruction manual that tells you this either, it is readily apparent as soon as the action begins. Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman, for example, are completely different fighters, and you have to approach their matches accordingly. Rutten -- known for his powerful kicks -- could do monumental damage from afar while a hulk like Randleman could end a fight quickly by getting you on the ground. Each wrestler plays to his strengths during the match so you can't go into a fight haphazardly. Strategy becomes even more crucial thanks to the unusually realistic computer AI. Some might say that it is too difficult, but in fact it only underscores the level of planning and technique needed to win matches and to progress in the game.
Like Chi, I was impressed with the surprising amount of unique moves that can be performed with little more than the four face buttons available on the Dreamcast's standard button pad. After only a few matches -- and learning the importance of things like back mounts and the guard positions -- I was handling my fighter with aplomb. Reversals and counters had quickly become second nature, and I was constantly amazed at what kind of moves the computer (or myself) was capable of pulling off when in a pinch. And what's more, a victory is just as legitimate whether it was from a well-executed reversal that rolled into a submission move or one by means of a relentless flurry of kicks and punches. This puts the onus on the gamer to plan ahead and stay focused throughout the match since tides can turn with unforgiving speed.
That isn't to say that there aren't some nagging issues in the game. I feel Chi should have further stressed how unforgiving the play modes can be. In UFC mode -- a tournament with up to eight fighters -- I had to fight until I was the last one standing. This earns the winner a silver belt and unlocks the Championship mode. Here in a sort of Iron Man tournament, I had to last through 12 consecutive matches without a full replenishment of energy at any point. This would be fine with me, but there wasn't ever a chance to continue from where I lost. Instead I had to start all over from the beginning. Of course, as I improved in skill I had to restart less, but that doesn't make it any less forgiving. One wrong move near the end of a tournament sent me back to square one in a hurry. There are some more minor issues like the horrible lip-synching job done on Bruce Buffer; or how facial textures don't always match the body textures -- resulting in heads that stick out from bodies; or the way the camera sometimes sticks in counterproductive positions during the course of a match.
Overall, such a variation on the fighting theme is so refreshing that I can ignore these bad points for the most part and enjoy the game for the true representation of the martial arts combat that it is. On all fronts, this is a truly gutsy release by Crave Entertainment, and those who give it a fair chance will surely agree.