Brace yourselves. Fighter Within is a Kinect-only fighting game that brings us motion fighting where you’ll be flailing your arms, legs, and doing other silly moves in hopes to not only beat up your opponent, but that the game will register what you’re trying to accomplish by waving said limbs about. When you try go to recalibrate your Kinect because you think it’s something on your end not making the game work properly and as advertised, but it’s not, then you have a problem. Welcome to Fighter Within!
If Fighter Within was released for Xbox 360 as a Kinect only game, I would have most likely written it off, as we’ve all seen the track record that most, but not all, Kinect only gesture based games have quality-wise. That being said, I had high hopes that with the new Kinect 2.0 sensor that comes with every Xbox One, that this might not be the case so much anymore. I guess that’s why they call me naive.
Having been using the Kinect for other applications and games without any problems at all, I was quite perplexed when I started playing Fighter Within, only to find that old issues that plagued the original Kinect with half-baked gameplay and unresponsive controls, has returned sadly. It’s a shame to, as this will no doubt be used by the naysayers of Microsoft decision to include a Kinect with every Xbox One, and definitely not what was shown (and proven already) of how good the new Kinect CAN be. Fighter Within falls into the typical Kinect-only stigma that mashes up terrible controls, unresponsive gameplay, finicky gesture gimmicks, and an experience that doesn’t warrant the full purchase price in any way. The new Kinect does work, just not with Fighter Within, at all.
From the moment the game starts up you’re going to start getting frustrated when you have to navigate the opening menu. You’re given an option to choose, but aren’t actually instructed on how to choose it properly. Naturally you’d assume that you have to hold your hand over your selection, or punch at the selection chosen given that this is a fighting game in nature. Nope; none of those work and you’ll spend time trying to even get past the first screen until you luckily somehow get it to work. You need to hold your palm out to select, push inwards as if it’s a button, then pull backwards. That is, in theory. Actually getting the game to acknowledge your choice is a fight within itself that will give you more frustration than anything else in the entire game. The problem with selection options is that if you move your hand out of the selection area it resets and you need to attempt to select it again, and again, and again. Oh, and you’ll have to battle this ‘selection boss’ after each fight with an opponent too, so look forward to that.
Oddly, Fighter Within asks if you want to complete the “Initiation” mode, which not only teaches you how to play as you progress, but also doubles as the story mode. This really isn’t explained either, so you have no idea if that’s the campaign mode you want to choose or not. Don’t hold your breath for a compelling plot line, though I doubt you are given it’s a fighting game, as it’s executed poorly, not only in story, but execution as well. While there is technically a story, I won’t delve into it for a couple reasons. Firstly, you’ll complete the game in two hours. Yes, two hours is the length of the campaign, though you might see it as a blessing in disguise. Secondly, Matt, the protagonist you play as, is the most generic looking guy you can imagine and frankly, the story isn’t all that good or flows well. It essentially only serves as a transition between opponents you’ll fight along the way (many twice or three times) and the writing (and acting) is so terrible that you won’t care, as it seems they are actually trying to make it compelling. Once you stand doing the same moves for about two hours you’ll complete the story mode, but that’s not all! Once finished, you unlock the Arcade mode where you can pick any of the characters you met along the way and fight as them against each of the other opponents. The main mode with the “story” was a thin experience, so you can guess how well it is with simply fighting one after another.
For a fighting game, the mechanics are exactly as you would expect and will have you throwing punches, kicks, blocking, counters, throws, leaning, jumping, and more. While your standard jabs and kicks will have no problem registering, trying to do the flashier and more time specific ones are going to be challenge on your sanity. While most of the most work most of the time, it’s simply not good enough for a fighting game. Luckily none of that matters as you’ll simply be using the same move over and over if you want to win quickly, as it’s poorly balanced; but I’ll get to that shortly.
You can perform straight punches either high or low, the same with kicks, hooks to the side, head butts, and other special moves that are contextual to the environment around you, like using a pole to swing around and hit your opponent. After a few fights you’ll even be able to charge your Ki, Dragon Ball Z style, to unleash your most powerful, and completely imbalanced (in your favor) attacks again and again. Using any of the non-basic moves are total guesswork on when they’ll decide to register the proper move or not. Having to hold one arm up and one down to throw is awkward and rarely works unless you frantically move your arms, which then results in punches. Counters are even worse and take precise timing, something that you simply won’t get with the gesture recognition. You’re even able to pick up weapons on the ground to use to inflict more damage, but I wasn’t actually able to pick one up a single time my whole playthrough since it wouldn’t’ recognize my bending down.
There’s a few more problems that plague Fighter Within that goes right down to mechanics and simply poor design mistakes. Firstly, the game isn’t balanced in any way. The only difficulty spikes were the special matches where you’re forced to perform a ring out instead of a KO or had to survive a set time limit with your blocking (that rarely works). Then there’s the whole overpowered Ki move issue which I’ll get into below. Also, the game is riddled with cutscenes, during the fights, not between. Yes, you read that right. Did a Ki move? Cutscene. Did a 5 high punch combo? Cutscene. Managed to somehow counter? Yup, cutscene. This completely wrecks the flow of actual fighting and you stand there for a few moments watching the screen perform these flashy moves rather than doing them yourself.
Then there’s the biggest game breaking issue; the Ki moves. To use these moves you need to hold your arms above your head, as if you’re charging up your power. Once the meter fills one of the boxes (up to three), you can then unleash a special Ki move regardless of distance or what your opponent is doing. When each of the boxes fill with Ki, you can perform other moves as well, but the standard one uses only one stored block of power and does the same amount of damage as the higher tier moves. So you want to charge your Ki and simply either use the basic Ki attack as the first box fills, or unleash three separate basic Ki moves with all three boxes filled. The problem with this is that the moves are unblockable or counterable, so there’s absolutely no reason to use any other moves in the game and trying to fight with the gesture controls. You can and will win the game doing this single move over and over, even on the final “boss”.
Visually, the game looks decent, but this is an Xbox One game, so I honestly expected more. The problem is that you rarely get to see how good the visuals are because the story is done in that cheesy non-animated characters talking to each other rather than any actual cutscenes or visuals of any kind. The fighters themselves look decent, but the only time you get to see any real detail is when your enemy unleashes a special attack or combo against you and it slows down time and zooms in to show the expression on Matt’s face. When this happens, Fighter Within looks quite good, concidering you can see individual hairs and other details on the fighters. The problem is that once you unlock those overpowered Ki moves, you won’t really get hit again by much.
There is a local multiplayer option, but to be honest, I was only able to get a single match of this in with the wife before she gave up because “this is stupid, it doesn’t work”. Can’t say I blame her. Playing through the game, even with a two hour clock time, felt like a chore and quite boring. Half of the fights were for no real reason (though the plot will try and convince you otherwise) and fighting the same opponent two or three times isn’t that exciting either.
The fact that I honestly thought I didn’t calibrate my Kinect properly at first is a telling sign that this was very rushed and simply doesn’t feel like much effort was taken to put a good product on the shelf, especially when they are asking the full $60 price tag for it. When almost every launch game is quite enjoyable, this is easily the black mark on the launch lineup for the Xbox One. The fact that you’ll finish it in a single standing doesn’t help matters, as even the multiplayer can’t save this title. You’ll actually be fighting against pressing “OK” just as long, if not longer, than the actual fights themselves last.
Simply put, Fighter Within doesn’t work. Sure it lets you throw some punches and kicks, but it’s such a thin experience that I not only warn you against getting it, but ask to avoid it all together. This game has all the problems that plagued the first Kinect and gave power to the naysayers of what Kinect was trying to accomplish. It’s such a shame that the single Kinect-only game at launch is this poor in quality and fun. Even when you see Fighter Within in the bargain bin, avoid it unless fighting against pressing the “OK” button is what you’re looking for.