Commuting Cognition: Martial Arts Brutality

What is this?

I’ve never been a big mobile game player, but I ended up working in a mobile games company (opinions are my own etc), so I’ve been trying to expose myself to more games in this market and attempt to gain an ever-better understanding of them. One of the ways I’ve been doing that is in trying out new games, seeing what they do wrong and right, and try to draw conclusions from them that I can use in the future to make our games better. One of the resources I’ve been using for this is TouchArcade (not sponsored), and their columns listing the new iOS games of the week.

This resulted in me playing a lot more new games during my daily bus rides, but I also feel the need to discuss them somewhere and keep a log of my thoughts instead of just internalising them. So, Commuting Cognition. These will be brief, bus-ride-long thoughts on these games, and should be seen less as reviews and more as first-impression brain dumps. They also may not be daily, depending on how full the bus is that day.

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Martial Arts Brutality

MAB is a unique and very complex blend between a fighting game and a card game.

The basic premise of the game is that, each turn, you have a set of action cards you can use. Using a card will prompt you to swipe a trail on the screen, which will make the attack successful if followed precisely. At the end of your turn’s timer, successful actions will be performed against your opponent. Afterwards, on the defence turn, your opponent will launch attacks at you, represented in cutscene form. Each of those attacks can be deflected by swiping on a perpendicular angle at them; if timed right, a follow-up counterattack can be performed by swiping perpendicularly on the prompted line. This flow continues until either player is dealt enough damage to run out of health.

If that sounds complicated for a basic premise, you haven’t seen anything yet. Attacks require Adrenaline, which is accumulated as weaker attacks are performed. Buff/debuff cards require Chi, which is also accumulated as attacks are performed. Cards also have a damage value and a speed value, the latter of which determines how quick the defence cutscene is. Furthermore, cards attack a specific body part, and this body part is considered to be within a body system; in addition to just dealing damage, completely destroying a system will also defeat your opponent.

There’s also a Taunt mechanic, where you can customise a taunt by writing your own text, choosing its voice effects, and even the portrait expressions. It’s pretty funny.

Outside the game you can level up your character with performance points, which can be distributed in any way in any of the THIRTEEN DIFFERENT STATS. They’re pretty straightforward when you take the time to read them, but it’s an extremely overwhelming sight. And, of course, because it’s a card game, you can open card packs and customise your decks.

Needless to say, the tutorial is humongous. I spent two bus rides on the game and just barely finished the first fight.

In my experience with the game, the short turn timer encourages you to go through attacks as quickly as possible, which makes it impossible to strategise, so i just ended up using whatever was available at that point. You do have a planning screen before starting the timer, where you can inspect your cards, so i assume that’s where you’re supposed to plan your actions. However, you have *eight* cards available on each turn, and all of them look pretty much the same, so i found my eyes constantly glazing over all that overwhelming information. After some time analysing them, i think that the artwork is actually representative of the body system you’re attacking; all the artwork is is a few sparkly effects though, so that’s hardly the most intuitive thing in the world. Combine all that information with no way to sort through it and you’ve got a perfect recipe for indecision paralysis.

As for the swiping gameplay, the swipes must be exactly precise or the attack will fail AND that card will be permanently discarded. This feels like a really heavy penalty, especially when the game encourages you to play actions quickly. There’s no reason why there couldn’t be more levels of success, or even just make you retry until you perform the action correctly – the wasted time on the repeated attempts would be its own penalty.

On the defence side the swipes are far more lenient, and i rarely failed one. However, the timing for the counterattacks is eldritch. You’re supposed to block the attacks when they’re close enough to you, but there’s no definition or visual marker for how close close enough is. Even the tutorial doesn’t clarify it; it slows down time but tells you the swipe was too early if you block at that point.

Overall, there’s a lot to process here. I like how unique it is, and there’s certainly potential in its many mechanics, but there is a LOT of room for streamlining and for UI/UX improvements. As it stands, it feels too inaccessible.

4 thoughts on “Commuting Cognition: Martial Arts Brutality

  1. Pingu

    I have to disagree with you on the counterattack timing. I grabbed this when it came out on beta on android and I mastered counterattacks in under 2 weeks time. As you say it’s complex game. Counteracting is a skill you learn with time just like in real life I guess. It’s second nature to me now. I’ve had enough of silly mind numbing match 3 games, this game is definitely not one of them. This game leaves my palms sweating. Ha ha . Give the counteracttacking more practise you will seriously get good at it.
    Nice explanation of the game you have there. But what do you mean by the game is inaccessible ?

  2. Pingu

    “Combine all that information with no way to sort through it and you’ve got a perfect recipe for indecision paralysis.”
    Ok, I admit it I didn’t really understand the depth of this game until later on. I couldn’t be really bothered watching the toturial video properly either. But it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re windmilling and doing random kicks and punches etc, and I was actually still winning as long as my swipes were good. Then the more I played the more I understood the depth of the game and got more into it and addicted to it. Please don’t take this personally but I feel like the problem with some people who review games, that they feel the need to write review without really getting into the game and giving it a chance unless they personally like the game from the start, although you do seem to understand the game but haven’t given it enough hammer maybe? As you can see I really love this game and I want everyone else to love it.

  3. Gabriel Veiga Post author

    I’m not sure if you’ve read the “What is this?” part of the post, but these aren’t reviews, they’re first impressions; i only played this for about half an hour. So when you say you mastered counter-attacks “in under two weeks”, you’re proving my point that the game isn’t terribly accessible (by which i mean that the player is likely to get overwhelmed and just stop playing).

    Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem, it’s fine that complex games exist, but for me *personally* i prefer to play those kinds of games in other platforms, not on mobile, as does, i think, most of the potential audience.

    Thanks for reading and for commenting, i hope i made the nature of the post a little more clear.

  4. Pingu

    It’s a strategy game, it takes time to get better at it. Many and many successful (phone) strategy games take time to master as well .., and many games are way more complex than this game . Maybe you prefer casual simpler to play games? Nothing wrong with that, I personally love a brain teaser. It’s a matter of preference I guess. You are implying that all phone games should be simple to play, then your review of any complex game will be a bit harsh like this one because that means you won’t like any other games that don’t fall into this category. Thank you for replying.

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