Last gen was full of disappointing motion games from all three console platforms. I had high hopes for several motion games that attempted to put the player in fights, such as Fighters Uncaged for Kinect and The Fight for Move. As was often the case with motion gaming, the controls simply didn’t work well enough, consistently enough, to make it worthwhile. For a fighting game, that’s frustrating and damning. Fast forward to Kinect 2.0, with promises that motion tracking, low-light performance, and basically everything is far better. Of course, it’s up to the developers to really use that tech and prove it to the consumers, but it’s not all that reasonable to expect everything to be on target at launch. While there are some Kinect 2.0 enabled games available now for the Xbox One, none looked as exciting nor relies so fully on Kinect as Ubisoft and Daoka’s Fighter Within.
A sort of spiritual successor to Fighters Uncaged, Fighter Within is a single or local two player versus fighting game whereby the player is the controller. Twelve fighters and about as many arenas are included, and the game can recognize about thirty-three total commands, most of which are applicable to every fighter. At first launch, there is a 3GB update you’ll want to apply before diving in. From the main menu, you can see a small representation of what the Kinect sees — as long as you are centered up and the Kinect is showing at least down to your ankles and to the top of your head, you should be in good shape. No silly calibration mode or action is required, although the game will flash up an error image when it detects that no human is in the view of the Kinect. For my setup, my Kinect was at the edge of the table, in front of my screen, about three feet off of floor. I was standing about six feet back. In this setup, I never saw that Kinect detection error pop up.
The menu can be navigated with a standard controller, or you can go Tom Cruise (as in Minority Report) and grab and slide the rectangular menu options around. To make a selection, you hold your hand up and hover over the object you want, and press forward once. It worked well enough for me, and I was pretty quick to hop into the single player mode known as Initiation, which tells the story of Matt Gilford. This mode introduces you to the controls one or two commands at a time as you also “meet” the game’s characters and play through a decent story mode. There are twenty-one encounters here, and it took me only about four hours to play through. Afterwards, you unlock the twelfth playable character (usable in Arcade, Duel, and local versus modes), and his arena. The story is told in between fights, with dialogue exchanges between Matt and the character he’s getting ready to fight next. Once you win a round (best of two out of three wins the match), there is usually another very short, instantly-loading dialogue exchange that also moves the story forward. I think these were included to give the player a quick breather. It’s easy to accidentally skip these sequences though, or you can do so intentionally if you want to get to fighting. To skip these, simply throw a few quick jabs at the screen and you’re taken immediately to the start of the next round.
I thought the game did a good job of introducing gameplay controls on an almost “need to know” basis. They don’t overwhelm you with too many commands at once, and before you can start the next fight, you have to successfully execute the new command one time. Within the main menu’s options, by the way, there is a gesture recognition area whereby you can practice executing the motions and basically compare what you’re doing to what the game is recognizing, something I never had to do fortunately. Another option you can toggle is the ghost animation that appears behind your fighter. This animation will offer a suggestion or perhaps you could think of it as a reminder of what actions you might want to try (dodge or finishing attack, etc).
Of course, fast and accurate recognition of the player’s motions is crucial in a motion fighting game. I’ll say that for the most part, Fighter Within does a fine job. You can absolutely expect mis-reads and even dropped reads, but within just a short period of playing, I could tell that this was probably going to be at least the best motion fighting game I had played yet. The motions and there subsequent recognition worked pretty good, and I liked some of the in-game mechanics, too. One of these in-game mechanics is the Auto Counter, which the AI used on me quite a bit (mostly my own fault, although several times I thought they cut themselves a break), but I have yet to see the AI make this mistake. The Auto Counter mechanic is used to deter people from just spamming straight or hook punches, and I think that’s a great idea. The other player, on the receiving end of the punches, need only to hold his hands up (or down, covering his stomach) to activate an auto-counter in the event that the attacking player is simply spamming their attacks. You can also manually counter high and low punch attacks, too — high attack counters are performed by holding up your fists by your chin and then crouching and punching at the stomach. Low counters are executed by maintaining a block and then kicking forward. If however the one being attacked isn’t blocking, within about five hits of either straight or hooked punches, a combo is automatically executed that knocks the player down, which does a fair bit of damage, but also “resets” the fighters.
Another way to deal with a blocking opponent is to throw them, but this was one of the motions that gave me some trouble. To throw, you’re supposed to reach out with both hands, one higher than the other, but my success rate wasn’t great, maybe about half the time. Then again, the AI rarely stands and blocks, so, throw opportunities weren’t overly available. Anyway, in addition to straight and hook punches, which can be thrown to the face and midsection, as well as blocking to both of those regions and throwing, players can of course also kick. Unfortunately, there is really only one kick in the game, and that’s a basic roundhouse style kick. There is no ability to adjust this kick’s height though, so even if you’re capable of kicking face high, the player will still only go for the midsection. That is unless you have a character, like Maze, who can do a Burst Kick, which is done by doing three quick roundhouse kicks with the same leg. This can be blocked, but, when executed, Maze will perform three high kicks, sending the foe to the ground. Other kick related motions include sort and low forward kick motions, used in part of the low counter and for performing Push Kicks.
Push Kicks, Swaps, Slams, and a several other key actions require Ki. The game gets its name from the idea of Ki, an inner power than many martial artists believe is the source of their power. Early on in the Initiation mode, the game’s concept of Ki is presented. To generate Ki, you have to hold your arms in a W shape, with your head being the middle point, if you will, of that W. When you do this, your character gets in a traditional Ki generating stance and a three section meter starts to fill up. Some players charge up quicker than others, and others, like the Muay Thai champ Chayan, can even generate Ki simply by landing normal attacks. Each character can perform some kind of special attack with one bar of Ki, like Matt’s cool headbutt, and all players can Swap positions with their enemy by using two bars of Ki. The motion for Swap is to make a cross-block or an X by stacking one wrist on the other. Doing so will go into a scripted animation which leaves the players now on opposite sides of the screen. This can be useful to get yourself out of a possible Ring Out situation or to get closer to a pole that you can jump off of, or a stick that you can reach and grab. Finally, having all three Ki bars filled up and performing a large two handed shoving motion will initiate a slam attack that does a lot of damage. The moment after the first bit of damage is taken, a quick mini-game appears for about five seconds, during which time the player has to very quickly make a pushing motion with both hands, simultaneously. The first few times, I was making a punching motion with open fists, quickly alternating hands — but the correct way to do this is to do both hands together. I never lost enough one of these mini-games after that.
Fighter Within is practically all about the controls and thus the motion of the player, so let’s continue looking at what’s offered. Several players have Revenge attacks, and while they look very different, that same uppercut motion is what triggers them. A small marker on the HP meter indicates when Revenge is ready to activate, too. Players can also perform a finishing move on their foe if they aren’t blocking and they are low on health. This is done by swinging on leg directly back; it works well for executing a devastating finishing attack or one that simply pushes the enemy out for a Ring Out condition. If you happen to be next to a pole, which didn’t happen all that often for me, you can jump up to use it for an attack. You have to jump up moderately high, a little bunny hop won’t do it, which I think is good. Also, if there happens to be a staff or stick nearby, you can crouch down and reach out with your hand to grab it and automatically use it for a hit or two against your enemy. Interestingly, it seemed like I had to reach out with my left hand to make this work the very few times it was even possible to use.
Two other very important motions that you will use in practically every match is the sway. To create some distance, you need to sway your upper half backwards. This will cause your player to hop back, giving you room enough to charge Ki or regroup. You can also sway forward to make your character jump towards the enemy, closing the gap. Some Ki moves can be executed at that longer range, but you can’t connect any normal kicks, punches, or throws like that. The fact that the player can only ever be either directly next to or just one small jump away from their enemy was a letdown, and combined with the cool, but still repetitive animations of some the Ki moves, this made Fighter Within feel like it was on rails, somewhat.
So as you play through Initiation, learning these moves, you will also learn about the story itself. It’s pretty cheesy, but it was better than nothing. Matt, the protagonist, is a good fighter, and he wants to join with the Phoenix school. Their rival school, the Dragons, are all about doing whatever it takes to win, while the Phoenix school is more about trust and respect. The two schools are set to battle again in a tournament, with the winner given the opportunity to possess the Book of Ki and write a new chapter in it. This book is said to be from the BC era and each chapter was written by a different tournament winner. It is said that the Book contains secret, life-draining attacks that Phoenix believes should be kept secret, while Dragon wants to get their mitts on it. The story is pretty forgettable, but it had a decent twist or two that worked in its favor.
This isn’t the type of game you get for the story though, so while it may be eye-roll inducing at times, it’s not all that important that it be good. Besides this Initiation or Story mode, you can also play the Arcade mode with any of the characters. Random matches against the AI, eight to be exact, keep you from the end of the character’s story. Enemy AI can be set to a certain difficulty level or you can have it on Auto, which means it increases as your profile’s rank goes up, starting at yellow belt and then roughly twenty plus belts later to like a 10th Dan Red belt. Oh, the Bio in the main menu gives the player a little insight into the characters, but the ending is just an Achievement and maybe a Totem, which is a perk that you can either enable or disable altogether from the options. When enabled, the player can call upon their Totem by raising one hand straight up to the sky. Within the Initiation, you get the Bear Totem, which causes the enemy to become dazed, giving you time to throw, put on a combo, or just charge up your Ki. Beating Arcade with Maze gave me the crocodile Totem, which increases attack power. I should add that getting stunned, which happens when you get auto-countered or try to crouch and punch a midsection, only to get caught with a roundhouse, leaves you in a daze. You can only block and perform high/low counters during these several seconds whereby the tide of a match can change.
Other than the Initiation and Arcade modes, you can also challenge the AI or a local buddy to a fight. Limited testing of this suggested Kinect 2.0 could keep up and the experience was pretty fun. Whether played solo or with a friend, Fighter Within will get your heart-pumping fairly quickly, a side benefit to playing.
As for presentation, Fighter Within looks and sounds alright, not outstanding, but not bad either. The cast of characters looks diverse, and their voiceovers aren’t bad at all. There isn’t much of a soundtrack, but I would have liked to have seen the ability to disable the Narrator’s voice. For every single combo, counter, and special attack, you hear the same spoken dialogue — it just gets kind of old.
With that, let’s get to the summary…