The line between fighting sim and arcade fighter is easy to discern. In the red corner you have the Street Fighters and the Tekkens, with their hadoukens and golems. In the blue corner you'll find the realistic mix of manoeuvres and physics boasted by the Fight Nights and the Undisputed. There's rarely any crossover.
But here comes MMA Supremacy, looking to step right over that line. The game is based around the world of mixed martial arts, and features an underground style which opposes the televisual tailoring of the UFC. However, it also takes clear inspiration from the school of arcade fighters.
This makes for an intriguing juxtaposition. While the combatants throw strikes and attempt submissions in ways which mimic reality, they also dance to the beat of an adrenaline gauge in the shape of a spinal cord.
But to ponder over where Supremacy sits on the sliding scale of simulation would be missing the point. Although Kung Fu Factory wants to make an MMA fighter that's more accessible than its most obvious competitors, it also wants to inject the sport with a bit of character. Because if there's one common hallmark of simulations, it's their tendency to feel somewhat clinical and sterile.
Kung Fu Factory's creative director, Ricci Rukavina, is keen to avoid this when it comes to MMA Supremacy. His development team has a collective portfolio which stretches from the original Ultimate Fighting Championship on the Dreamcast to this generation's highly acclaimed UFC Undisputed 2009. With that kind of pedigree backing him up, it sounds like he's in with a shot.
But it's the involvement of former UFC Lightweigh Champion Jens Pulver which could have the most significant influence. Pulver began fighting in the UFC way back in 1999 and became known by the name Lil' Evil. He won the Lightweight Championship in 2001 and went on to defend the title twice.
The second time he was fighting against the now legendary B.J. Penn – a man who knocked out his first three UFC opponents in the first round. But when Penn finally faced off against Pulver in the Octagon, he lost to a majority decision after being forced to battle through all five championship rounds.
Pulver then relinquished his title and left the UFC to fight for other promotions, including Pride and World Extreme Cagefighting. But six consecutive losses since 2008 have damaged his once prestigious reputation.
However, the MMA Supremacy team remain some of Pulver's biggest fans. They spent time with him during the course of their research and took his tale of unwavering determination to heart. According to Rukavina this helped the studio devise the Road to Supremacy – a story-driven concept which focuses on a fighter's motivations. For some, it seems, it isn't just about the fame and money.
This ties into Supremacy's status as an unlicensed game. It doesn't feature any real life fighters, just a subtly exaggerated cast of characters. These include MMA all-rounder Jack Saxon, non-demonic kickboxer Dante and a karate practitioner who looks suspiciously like B.J. Penn but is named Yuki Hashimoto. Every fighter has their own backstory which will be told via animated storyboards.
In keeping with the game's gritty theme - strip clubs and slaughterhouses make up two of the arenas - many of these stories will chronicle a rise from the very bottom. During our demo Rukavina showcased the introduction sequence for Ilya, a Russian wrestler whose grappling skills have earned him a place on the Olympic team. But after Ilya breaks his arm and is unable to compete, he switches to MMA in a bid to prove his supremacy.
It's a bold move for any fighting game to place such a strong focus on narrative. The good news is that the team is taking the MMA mechanics just as seriously, judging by our short demonstration of the fighting system.
The combat revolves around limb-based controls with additional layers added in the shape of counters, throws and a rock-paper-scissors ground game. Rukavina stressed that because each character has a dedicated fighting style, players will need to protect certain body parts in order to keep their signature techniques bolstered with offensive momentum. Fail to notice a build up of bruises on your Muay Thai fighter's legs and the appendage gauge will show the more limited KO potential of your next flying knee.
All this onscreen information gives Supremacy a much busier presentation style than its MMA peers. Not only are there health, adrenaline and appendage gauges to be distracted by, but the names of certain moves flash up as they're performed.
This ties in with an experience system which gradually levels up your fighter's moves. But if you prefer a display with fewer distractions you'll be able to streamline the amount of garnish on-screen.
So far, MMA Supremacy is shaping up to be a competent fighter which could draw players in with its trendy underground edge. The combat is less about simulating fights which begin and end with both combatants grappling on the mat and more about an arcade-style control scheme. The idea is to make moves look believable moves without getting bogged down in extreme realism.
The question is, can an unlicensed MMA game can make a splash in an increasingly saturated market? There's no arguing with the pedigree of Kung Fu Factory's pool of creative talent, but reports suggest rival title EA Sports MMA underperformed significantly at retail. A game built so a smaller budget will have to do something very special in order to captivate both the MMA and mainstream gaming audiences.
Like Lil' Evil, Kung Fu Factory appears to have dedication and determination in spades. So with a while to wait before the arrival of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the new Mortal Kombat, MMA Supremacy could well fill the gap for fighting fans.