Yes, The Fight: Lights Out isn't so much a fighting game as it is an cunningly disguised exercise title designed to appeal to macho males who find the prospect of using EA Sports Active or the Your Shape series too emasculating to bear. And to its credit, it does succeed in getting you to work up a sweat. That's good, because as an enjoyable fighting game, it doesn't really fly.
I remember watching the initial reveal of The Fight (then called "Motion Fighters") and daring to hope that this could be the sort of serious boxing I had dreamed of back when the Wii was first announced, rather than a bunch of fun, but goofy, wobbly-headed pugilists. I was willing to forgive the laggy control and somewhat rough-edged look of The Fight's on-stage GDC demo because hey, it was pre-alpha, right? Things had to improve before launch, didn't they?
Yeah ... not so much.
Take this mess of iffy hit detection and hit-or-miss blocking, tack on perfunctory online multiplayer and a half-realized match gambling system, and you have a game ... sort of.
After an annoyingly long mandatory install and initial loading sequence, you're tossed into the grimy, desaturated gym of your trainer, Duke (played with fierce intensity by the leathery star of Machete, Danny Trejo). Duke shows you the ropes, amusingly demolishing immersion and undermining his badassery at the same time by brandishing a pair of Move controllers, sensor balls lit with delicate pastel hues. Still, Trejo earns his paycheck and is probably where the majority of the budget went. It certainly doesn't seem like much of it went to improving the gameplay past that pre-alpha slice.
Starting choices are rudimentary: a handful of character customization options, only one arena out of the 12 available, and a paltry sum of points to upgrade your character's skills. Combat is cloyingly basic as well, at least until you begin learning new techniques from fallen opponents. Many of the "dirty" moves you'll learn (elbow strikes, hammer fists) are the game's most effective attacks, routinely making it past the AI's near-constant guarding. The problem is, with rare exception, your interactions with The Fight's actual meat-and-potatoes fisticuffs don't work so well.
Despite constant calibration prior to every bout, the PlayStation Eye often lost track of the Move's sensors, even as I obeyed Mr. Trejo's commands to keep my feet planted in one place. Also, regardless of the Eye giving me an excellent rating on both lighting and background stability, it had a ton of trouble tracking my head . And while the type of punches I chose were accurately mirrored, they nearly always landed with the nigh-apologetic impact of a wet sack of pudding, no matter how fast and hard I threw them. The same thing happened when training for skill points on the heavy bag. Lefts and rights met leather with the gentle force of a father affectionately cuffing his young son on the chin. "Go get 'em, tiger," indeed!
Take this mess of iffy hit detection and blocking, tack on perfunctory online multiplayer and a half-realized match gambling system, and you have a game ... sort of. It's really a shame, because on the rare occasion when a punch does connect with a slight feeling of weight, you get brief flashes of what could have been; potential lost like an aging Steven Seagal's view of his feet below the curve of his rapidly expanding gut. The Fight would have done much better if they'd focused on what it actually does well -- making you work up a decent sweat (it even tracks calories burned in-game) -- rather than trying to make a "serious" fighting game set in an ugly world full of equally ugly characters.
Nearly 1000 milligrams of ibuprofen are coursing through my system while I finish this review, slightly dulling the pain of the strained muscles in my chest and torso that I endured at the hands of The Fight: Lights Out. Please, take this time to write Sony and encourage them to take what they learned from this experience and craft a top-notch, street brawling workout game instead of a crappy sequel. Don't let my sacrifice have been in vain.
This review is based on the PS3 retail version of The Fight: Lights Out provided by Sony. Rob Thomas is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of Crush! Frag! Destroy! Listen to him complain about the weather in Grand Rapids, MI on Twitter.