If you're craving a less kid-friendly experience on the Kinect at launch, then your options are limited to just one game--Ubisoft's Fighters Uncaged. Sadly, not only does it fail on nearly every level to offer a compelling fighting experience, but its broken motion controls also make it immensely frustrating. Lifeless animation, generic visuals, and a baffling scoring system all serve to sap the fun out of playing. And, in a crazy omission, there isn't even a two-player option. Uncaged isn't so much a game as it is a way to make you want to bang your head against a brick wall in despair.
The premise behind Fighters Uncaged is as short and generic as they come. You play as an up-and-coming street brawler named Simon, who must battle his way through other brawlers in underground leagues to save his father from a kingpin. Aside from a mention in the manual and a short cinematic intro, you hear nothing about the story once you start playing, which makes this setup completely unnecessary. The game offers up just one mode, called Fight. But, before you can get down to fighting, you must endure an excruciatingly dull tutorial that teaches you the basics in a drawn-out fashion.
You view your character from behind in an over-the-shoulder perspective, with your opponent directly opposite. To fight, you mimic the moves you want your character to perform. For example, punching out directly in front of you launches a jab, while arcing your swing launches a hook. An onscreen animation demonstrates the movement, after which you must perform it three times against an instructor before you can progress to the next move. The game handles lateral movement of your character, so all you have to worry about is performing one of the kicks, punches, and dodges on offer.
The tutorial stretches on for what seems like an eternity because you not only have to perform each move three times, but you also have to repeat the process for both limbs--it's like attending a fighting school for toddlers. Furthermore, once you've completed basic training, you then have to fight against the instructor three times in best two-out-of-three matches before you can actually jump into the leagues. There is a skip option, but using it means the game thinks you haven't completed the training, so you can't progress anyway.
While most of the basic moves are easy to learn, there is a noticeable lag between performing them and having your actions reflected onscreen. This means you often throw a punch, only to think it wasn't recognized and throw another one, causing the game to suddenly launch two in quick succession. Thus, fights quickly degenerate into the Kinect equivalent of button mashing as you swing your arms and legs in the air, trying to get the game to pick up your movements. This only gets worse if you subject yourself to the advanced training, where you're taught moves like roundhouse kicks and combos. They require much more subtle movements, such as sliding your foot along the floor for a sweep, and are rarely recognized at all.
If you somehow manage to drag your way through the tutorial, then you can take part in the leagues. You start off in league three, where you face off against six other fighters with names as cliche as Rider, Ratface, and Mover. The aim is to progress to higher leagues, where you battle against increasingly tough though no more interesting or entertaining opponents. Fights themselves are an exercise in frustration as the game struggles to recognize your moments. This removes any sort of depth because you can't plan your attacks or launch advanced moves.
One of the most confusing aspects of a fight is the scoring system, which fails to reward you for your hard work. To reach league two, you have to gain a certain number of crowns, which are awarded if you score above 6000 points against an opponent. However, how you score points is never clearly explained, so even if you beat an opponent, you might not get any crowns at all. This means you have to go back and fight opponents repeatedly until you score points to progress, without ever really knowing how you did so.
To make matters worse, there aren't even any decent visuals to look at while you're fighting. The character models are lifeless, with stilted animation and a poor design that plays off of generic street stereotypes, such as leather-clad bikers and tattooed thugs. The 2D prerendered environments just add to the misery, with little detail and no animations. Even the music is poor, with a grating 10-second hip-hop-style loop repeated ad nauseam in every menu.
Fighters Uncaged is a prime example of how not to make a fighting game for the Kinect. The presentation is poor, the scoring system doesn't reward your hard work, and worst of all, the motion controls are simply broken. There's not even a multiplayer mode to, at the very least, let you eke some enjoyment out of fighting a friend. The only thing you'll get out of this game is a sweat, as you manically punch at the air in frustration. No matter how eager you might be for a Kinect-powered brawl, Fighters Uncaged is one game that's worth leaving locked up.