In the classic boxing movie Rocky II, Rocky Balboa learned to beat better fighters by chasing a chicken. As an instrument for simulating face-pummeling and rib-cracking, Fighters Uncaged — the first Kinect fighting game! — is only slightly less ridiculous.
Fighters Uncaged is a fighting game played in the spacious part of your living room, where you have room to throw punches, kicks and headbutts. With nary a controller in your hand, your moves are tracked by the advanced Kinect sensor and used to pummel some virtual trash-talking dude on your TV. You can unlock a full dozen bad guys to beat up, all with a virtual hero you're violently puppeteering. Given how awesome video games are at violence, surely Ubisoft's Fighters Uncaged game should at least be as good as a Kinect dancing game, right?
People who eat steak raw, who prefer rough drafts to polished texts and those who want to sit a grandchild on their knee some day and tell them about the days when motion-fighting games on the Xbox 360 sometimes mistook punches for kicks and were, uh, single-player.
Nintendo's Wii has motion-based fighting games (boxing in Wii Sports). Sony's PlayStation 3 Move controller has motion-based fighting games (The Fight: Lights Out). So the Xbox 360's Kinect is going to have them too. You might as well know how even a poor one works so you understand where improvements are needed. Also, in theory, this is a Kinect game for macho gamers.
Does it work? Really, that's the question for any Kinect game. Does it function? Sorta. The controls should be so simple and intuitive. Stand in front of the TV and start doing fighting moves that will inflict pain on the bad guy standing in your TV. Your moves in real life are theoretically triggering moves by the guy you're controlling, who stands, back to you, at the bottom of the TV. The problems begin if you dare to assume any sort of fighting stance that involves one foot being closer to the TV than the other. The game may think you just threw a kick to the knee. No time to worry about that! A punch is coming right at you. Lean back, like the prompt shows, so you can dodge it. Don't ask me why sometimes that makes you do a headbutt. Straight punches work. Hooks work. Kicks straight up to the face work, so does chucking an elbow. The results are mixed.
Let me show you (Noise warning: in the second fight here, I shout to activate a super move!)...
Does it feel like you have precise, 1:1 control? Doesn't feel like it. Maybe you do, because sometimes I was able to wave my arm a certain way and that motion was replicated by the fighting hero on my TV. Much of the time, though, I found that my moves only caused things to happen when the game wanted them to. You can throw a dozen punches in your living room. Your fighter guy will only throw four, the ones that the game decides fit into the flow of the fight. Meaning: Sometimes I'm kicking and my guy just stands there.
Perhaps this is a Kinect game that can be played wrong? Fighters Uncaged certainly has a steep learning curve. The game is best played calmly, feet and chest squared to the TV, punches and kicks thrown with precision and not necessarily with aggression. The better the player is at triggering the actual dodge move (and not the headbutt instead), the more they'll be able to exploit opportunities to throw counter-shots. With enough patience a player might even discover that this game is similar to Punch-Out, requiring patience, dodging and the discovery of enemy fighter's weaknesses. One opponent can't deal with shots to the face; another has fragile legs.
So… hard to learn and even harder to master? Three days ago, I hated Fighters Uncaged. Few of the moves seemed to work. Over the last couple of days I've upgraded my reaction to mild dislike. The fighting controls do click eventually. Unfortunately, the structure of the game is awful. Not only is there no multiplayer, but the single-player gamer who wants to unlock more than the game's first six opponents must repeatedly meet an absurd standard. You don't progress in the game by merely beating opponents in best-two-out-of-three matches. You must trounce them with little of your health lost and much time remaining on the clock. You must annihilate, or you get nothing. That's a heavy demand for a game that has unreliable controls.
Is this at least a good Kinect game for the "hardcore" gamer? I can't think of anyone who would prefer Fighters Uncaged to some of Kinect's better titles. Sure, it's more macho than Kinectimals or Dance Central, but I'm skeptical that a Halo, Street Fighter or Alan Wake player would be content with a game this shaky. All gamers should demand controls they can trust. This doesn't have them.
Though my hostility to Fighters Uncaged has diminished since I first played it, the fact that my first reaction was hostility is a big problem. The game's motion controls are unreliable and, more importantly, inconsistent with what what you'd expect from the liberation of playing without a controller. You will not feel natural playing Fighters Uncaged. You will feel constrained, wondering why the game doesn't always react to you, wondering why it sometimes misreads you, wondering why a victory isn't enough and wishing that the satisfaction it provides when you land a spinning heel kick wasn't so rare a pleasure.
Fighters Uncaged was developed and published by Ubisoft for the Xbox 360, released on November 4. Requires the Kinect sensor. Retails for $49.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Fought through the first tier of fighters, unlocking 9 of 12 combatants in the story-free game. Won close to 30 fights and almost stepped on my cat in the process.