When I saw the Kinect I thought about how much it looked like a more expensive EyeToy knockoff, until I saw Ubisoft’s workout title in action. The final version of that title didn’t quite live up to expectation but the potential was obviously still there. A few other titles like Dance Central have tried adding a ‘workout mode’ but none of these titles ever really nailed it. I just couldn’t find a game that would translate to me working out consistently. Fast forward to a THQ event to show off Red Faction Armageddon and unveil Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and I got to see a quick demonstration of UFC Personal Trainer. Stepping in front of the Kinect for a few minutes I knew rather quickly that this could very well be the product that managed to get me motivated.
Working with THQ I managed to start my workout plan a little earlier than normal. I’ve had UFC Personal Trainer for the past 30 days. Other than a one week break for E3, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the game, putting it through its paces. While we will talk about the specifics and mechanics on the title itself, the best measurement of a workout title is in a few non-tangibles and, of course, my weight. Four weeks ago my starting weight was 274lbs. I’ve been in martial arts all of my life so I do carry a lot of weight in my legs, but admittedly, plenty of that was also carried in my midsection. Let’s talk about how the title did, and then we’ll get back to this number.
UFC Personal Trainer is a collaboration between THQ, Heavy Iron Studios, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, or NASM. The objective was simple –motivate players to push themselves to get in shape in a fun and challenging in a way beyond sit-ups and push-ups. THQ has been working with Zuffa and the UFC brand for a few years, so pulling some of the best trainers in the business only made sense. Gathering up MMA training experts Mark DellaGrotte, Greg Jackson, and Javier Mendez, Heavy Iron set out to create a comprehensive workout system that could help transform a few of us couch commandos into something a little less soggy.
This title is set for release on the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, but this review will focus on what is ostensibly the ‘primary’ platform – the Xbox 360 when paired with Kinect.
The game opens up asking you for some basic information. You’ll select your gender, height, weight, and whether or not you’ll be using weights with your workout. In my case, I decided to see what this title could do without adding additional resistance. After the game collects this information it immediately asks you to perform a Fitness Test. The test is a four part baseline evaluation consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, and your active heart rate. My scores were decent, but my heart rate was too high so the game pegged me as a beginner. Thankfully, you can adjust this at will so I popped mine to the advanced setting.
At the main menu you are presented with six options – workout, quick workout, activities, programs, player tracker, and multiplayer games. The game supports voice commands such as “Trainer, pick 1” or “Trainer, pause” so you don’t have to use a controller. In my living room I found that my surround sound filled the room causing my voice to be drowned out – the controller is a viable option if you are inclined. I wanted to do the 30 day program so I started in the Programs section.
In the programs section you can choose from three fitness goals – losing weight, building endurance, or building strength. You can also select either a 30 or 60 day program for any of those options. You’ll start off with arm circles to warm the shoulders, some squats, hamstring stretches, and some balance drills for about 5 minutes to get the body ready to work out. At this point you’ll start the seemingly random workout portion of the game. These vary pretty wildly as there is a mix of MMA and NASM-approved exercises for a total of 70. With that much variety you can imagine my surprise when the game repeated the same exercise twice. Overall these workouts felt like something I could get out of a DVD and I knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t something I’d stick with – there was no enjoyment to be had here. After we finished the workout it was time to cool down. Since the game had somehow selected nothing but groundwork for my routine, it was puzzling to do all of the arm stretching at the end. After a few days of doing these grinding workouts I was starting to notice that while the exercises may change, the warmup and cooldown never did. I also noticed that no matter what I did to try to correct it, I was losing a lot of reps during ground work. The early version I saw was supposed to ‘take it on faith’ if it lost track of you, but I was unable to find this feature in the final product. I mentioned that I’ve been studying my entire life, so it takes longer than a 12 minute workout with a 5 minute warmup and cooldown to give me a workout. Unfortunately, and I have no doubt that shark-finned lawyers are involved, you cannot skip the warmup or cooldown phase, meaning you have to throttle down completely to start another workout session. It takes every bit of wind out of your sails.
Flipping Tires, jabbing, and dodging
I decided to give the Activities section a whirl. When I first saw this title it was showing off the “Hit the Mitts” section. Hit the Mitts pairs you up with one of the numerous mocapped (or at least face-capped) UFC personalities including Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, John Jones, Shane Corwin, and others and letting them coach you through hitting mitts with the strikes they call out. There are over a dozen routines split between easy, medium, and hard. You’ll have a few unlocked to start, but you’ll have to complete the one prior to unlock the next in line. Just as it was at the event, this was one of the most compelling areas of the game for me. The coach will call out things like “jab, jab, cross, elbow, knee, kick” and various combinations in quick succession. The Kinect does a very solid job of detecting your strikes. I was able to get through every routine with only two missed strikes.
Switching over to Free Striking bag, I selected from a 1, 3, or 5 minute free session with the heavy bag. Without the resistance of a bag it does feel a little unfocused, so I can’t say that I did this portion often.
Moving over to the speed bag, the game asks you to alternate your punches in a rolling motion similar to a real speed bag, keeping the speed needle in the green. The game will prompt you to throw a right hook to reset the bag to restart. This particular exercise does a good job of working the shoulders as well as the biceps and triceps.
Flip the Tire is pretty transparent – you aren’t flipping a real tire, so you are more accurately just doing squats by a different name.
As I blew through the exercises I found that I enjoyed the Hit the Mitts section the most, but I also found two glaring issues. The first was obvious as I train to be equal on both sides – you don’t use your left leg for anything. You don’t throw left knees or left kicks during any point on Hit the Mitts on any difficulty level. The second was a combination – longer load times and inability to simply go to the next exercise. Installing the game to the hard drive cuts the otherwise long load times down to about 7 seconds, but the fact remains that you have to back all the way out to the main menu after every session. This means you’ll hit the mitts for anywhere from 90 seconds to about 4 minutes, and then have to back out to the main menu, select the workout again, select your workout coach again, and wait for the game to load, bypass the instructional section that tells you where to stand, and then either endure or skip the ever-present tutorial. It’s simply unnecessary hoop jumping.
Bring on the pros
You don’t bring guys like Mark DellaGrotte, Greg Jackson, and Javier Mendez to the table without taking great advantage of their very diverse skill sets. There is a section called Workouts that does exactly that. For those unfamiliar with these three trainers, Mark DellaGrotte is a world-class Muay Thai boxer and instructor. Javier Mendez is a kickboxing champion and gym owner as well. Greg Jackson is a powerhouse out of New Mexico that specializes in the ground game. All three trainers are legends in their own right, but the fighters they’ve trained are the names you hear headlining every UFC – B.J. Penn, Clay Guida, Michael Johnson, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Mike Swick, Patrick Cote, and many more. All three of them have brought their own strengths to the game, giving us a dozen workouts each that are pulled directly from the routines they’d put their own fighters through.
I’ll admit at this point that after being somewhat disappointed at the showing of the 30/60 day programs, I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for the trainer-guided section. I was wrong. The second I stepped into Mark DellaGrotte’s virtual gym I was hooked. With most of my training being in heavy striking styles, I found myself immediately at home with the knees, elbows, jabs, crosses, and kicks that Mark threw at me. Similarly, the groundwork, core work, and various other programs kept me moving in a logical way. The exercises felt far more guided, and properly formatted to ensure that the workout you get is more evenly distributed on your body. If you want a 30 day program to try to build strength, endurance, and cut weight evenly, this is the place to do it. Honestly, I think this section is where I got the most bang for my buck.
There is a multiplayer challenge and social media tie-in aspect to the game, but I’ll freely admit that my weight loss is my challenge and mine alone. I’m not broadcasting my success or failure for the world to see (well, other than the few hundred thousand that’ll read this review..ahem) so I really didn’t spend enough time in these sections to properly review them.
Meat and (no) potatoes: My diet plan
Exercise is not enough to change your body type, and diet isn’t a surefire way either. To properly tackle this challenge, I had to do both. Stepping away from the game for a moment I’m going to talk a little bit about my diet. For the last month I’ve been using a Ketogenic diet to control my caloric and carb intake. In week one I limited myself to 50 carbs daily, with E3 week reducing to 40. Two weeks ago I dropped that to 30, and this week is pulled down to 20. For frame of reference, there is 27 carbs in a single 8oz can of Pepsi. This means that I eliminated all non-diet soda, almost all sugar, all bread, all rice, milk, and fruits from my diet. Essentially, it means that I’m eating a lot of meat, eggs, broccoli, artichokes, peppers, cheese, avocado, salads, fish, bacon, and other non-carb loaded foods. It is a difficult diet, and it is expensive, but with a little preparation and the consumption of fresh foods rather than processed ones, the results can be dramatic and quick. Checking labels, hitting the Internet, and using some creativity you can come up with some pretty fantasic meals. For instance, I had an awesome New York Strip Steak, a large artichoke, three thick slices of tomato topped with fresh mozzarella cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette drizzled over it for dinner – that doesn’t sound like diet food, now does it? (Pictured is a shrimp / shredded cabbage wrap in low-carb tortillas with a steamed artichoke and the same mozarella-topped tomato slices)
The hard part about cutting carbs is that you need something to replace that energy source. I discovered two things that gave me the energy to push through the inevitable walls that come up during heavy training – G Fuel and Gamma-O. The testosterone booster in Gamma-O helped keep my metabolism riding high, and the G Fuel did a fantastic job of replenishing my electrolytes. The added benefit of an impressive list of antioxidants like acai, pomegranate, and papaya also combine nicely into something that tastes good and only costs you 10 calories. That’s the equivalent of 5 Tic Tacs for those playing the home game. Whether you are burning that energy playing UFC Personal Trainer or something like Kinect Sports, both of these things make an excellent fuel source for anyone trying to get or stay in shape.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on T.V., so please consult your physician before you begin any exercise program or diet change. It’s not just ass-covering nonsense – you could seriously hurt yourself if you change to the wrong plan or too quickly. Similarly, don’t be a hero – nobody will be impressed when you have a heart attack or tear a muscle trying to impress someone else. Work at a reasonable pace, stay hydrated, and stop when it hurts.
“You don’t want to exercise with cold muscles”
Actually, damn it, I do. There is one aspect of video games in general that drives me nuts and that is repetitive voice work. Whether it’s Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon screaming “ATTAAAAACKKK!!!” every 4-7 seconds, hearing the infamous Navi saying “Hello! Listen!”, or hearing “Oh, please. Let me reintroduce you two: Rider meet horse, horse meet rider” out of Motion Sports, repeating voices is something that should be a thing of the past in the age of great compression and higher disc capacities. It shows a lack of testing as nobody playing the game for 50+ hours to check for bugs would be able to endure it. Again I’m sure shark-finned lawyers are involved, but the game tells you non-stop that “you don’t want to exercise with cold muscles”, “That should get the blood pumping” and a handful of other phrases that are repeated during warmups. Similarly, everyone has the same script with little deviation during the Hit the Mitts section of the game. The on-screen prompts are pretty clear with what the game wants out of you, so you can safely turn off the voices if you are inclined.
The only other axe to grind that I have with UFC Personal Trainer and that is the caloric burn values. Some of the 4 minute Hit the Mitts sections claimed that I burned over 300 calories in that time, but the 20 minute workout with a coach burned roughly the same amount. Obviously one of them is incorrect or I’d be at my target weight already! It’s easy enough to patch, but for those basing their caloric intake and caloric burn values on what is presented could both the delicate balance of maintaining their weight or dropping it, be careful with those numbers.
So here we are, 30 days into my training program. While it is hard to quantify my cardio values without a lot of testing equipment, I am not as tired at the end of class as I was a month ago. There is one value I can quantify easily though – stepping on the scale this morning I now weigh 260lbs. That’s a loss of 14lbs in 30 days. Say what you will about the little things that make UFC Personal Trainer a little clunky to use, I used it and I got results. In the end, that’s what counts.
While you wait to pick up your copy, check out this video of the game in action.