Quite why it's taken so long to combine the testosterone-fuelled sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) with fitness software is beyond us; the predominantly female-targeted exercise game may rule the sales roost, but with UFC rapidly gaining popularity the two mediums have finally come together in UFC Personal Trainer: The Ultimate Fitness System. Is it a knock-out combination?
Like most fitness games on Kinect, you start out with a basic fitness test, after which the game will assign you a fitness level and let you choose what you want to work on: cutting weight, building muscle or improving fitness. This is achieved either through choosing a single workout or following a 30 or 60-day programme, with all exercises approved by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). While the calendar workouts start out relatively easy and short, they soon intensify and with just one or two rest days a week you'll soon feel the burn.
Of course, UFC's not like other fitness games, as it's based on a very visible example of what you're working towards: a cage fighter's body. Although there's no fight footage here, there is plenty of video instruction from real-life trainers, psyching you up and giving you plenty of what sounds like legally-required advice to see your doctor first.
Once you're past the video and into the exercise itself, the game proves itself a capable workout partner. A virtual UFC trainer takes you through the exercise at hand then gives you a few practice attempts, before starting the clock and challenging you to perform a certain number of reps. If you perform well, they'll even challenge you to keep going and see how much more you can do — if you're after a gruelling workout, the game certainly delivers. Couple that with the ability to use your own weights and resistance bands for certain exercises and you've got the basis of a truly worthwhile fitness package.
Generally your movements are detected well, with simple sound effects letting you know if you've performed a rep successfully, and an on-screen 3D rendition of your body that normally glows green, but changes to orange or red if Kinect is having difficulty picking you up. Most exercises have a gauge showing your speed, as well as a separate indicator showing if you performed the rep successfully, providing most of the feedback you need. If you can't quite nail a particular motion, however, the game has nothing to help you with: no vocal advice, just a disappointed-sounding audio effect.
For reasons unknown to us, some floor exercises make you face the sensor while others have you parallel to the TV: when doing press-ups you're head first, while sit-ups are side-on. The game doesn't fare badly with floor exercises, but we did notice some errors with our sit-ups and side-stretches, and as much of the feedback is visual it's often inconvenient to perform an exercise when you're turning away from the TV. It's not a deal breaker, but it can break up your workout enough to make it more arduous than it needs to be.
It's also worth mentioning that you'll need quite a lot of room to get the most out of this game. While many of the exercises have you rooted to the spot, you'll need to be a fair distance from your TV for many of them, particularly ones that have you prone and facing the camera. As always, keep your available space in mind when making your buying decision.
A common stumbling block for Kinect games is navigation, but here UFC Personal Trainer fares pretty well. The brand's octagon styling makes for pleasingly chunky buttons, with options sometimes spread across multiple pages to avoid overcrowding. The voice recognition isn't so smooth, despite being pared down: instead of reading the button tags, you simply say "trainer, pick..." and the number of the option you want to select. It's too hit and miss to replace your hands, though.
There's a far better use for Kinect hidden away in the game's sub menus, though: you can take photos at various stages of your fitness program, showing how your physique is improving through time. Stat-fans are also well catered-for, with a personal profile tracking all number of facts and figures, though there's no online hub or website to share this information with.
There are a few online multiplayer modes however, with one neat addition being the ability to set a best score on a selected minigame and send it to your friends to beat, adding an element of constant competition to proceedings. If you're not online, you can still play a handful of exercise minigames side-by-side with a friend, which should help to keep the fitness fire aflame.
Graphically you've not got a lot to look at: most exercises are set in dark, steely training gyms, with the odd flash of colour from a red boxing bag. The 3D models of the trainers and fighters are pretty good, though they boast practically identical animations, which is a little strange. There's a lot of talking too, though again most fighters and trainers say the same thing over and over again, which soon gets irritating.
UFC Personal Trainer: The Ultimate Fitness System is a strong and well-featured fitness package that makes good use of its licence to offer a challenging and varied workout. Occasional issues with motion detection don't soil a polished and even strangely enjoyable exercise game.