It’s been years since my wife took a self-defense course, but apparently the concept of kicking someone in the groin can stand the test of time. So she said, anyway, as she watched me play Ubisoft’s Self Defense Training Camp for Xbox Kinect. “Yep, that’ll get ‘em every time,” she noted, followed by a running commentary about the power of punches to the nose, gouges to the eyes and all the other creative ways Ubisoft teaches gamers to manhandle a man’s handle.
The cover text in Self Defense Training Camp indicates a workout-like experience, one that ladies may just want to buy to double-up as a workout and an instructional video. What you find upon firing it up, though, is that the game’s excruciatingly slow, particularly in the Self Defense Rehearsal section of the game. This gameplay mode comprises the meat of what Self Defense Training Camp has to offer, as it teaches players different self-defense moves and techniques. Unfortunately, the step-by-step “instruction video” format is ridiculously tedious, and the time it takes for the on-screen animations to reflect your real-world moves makes the game seem downright clunky.
Worse yet, you aren’t actually required to move your body, which completely nullifies the required activity level. It’s hard to explain, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of playing Wii Sports and sitting on the sofa moving my arm rather than my whole body yet still being able to win a tennis match. Similarly, Self Defense Training Camp lets you lift your leg rather than kick it because the body profile “seen” by the Kinect hardware doesn’t appear different either way. It hardly provides a workout, and the overall slowness of the presentation just exacerbates the molasses-like feeling.
There also appear to be some detection issues, as it’s hard to tell whether the game actually registers many of your moves. This completely interrupts the flow of what you’re supposed to be learning in the first place, which makes this a double-edged fault: poor programming and poor instruction. The result is that rather than try to execute these moves in “real life,” you’re continually and painfully reminded that you’re really just playing a game. This is the game’s Achilles’ heel, really, and the most disappointing aspect of an experience that’s supposed to be instructional and have real-world application. It really doesn’t take the place of true instruction, as I’d hoped it might — and as my wife repeatedly pointed out.
Outside of the core Self Defense Rehearsal mode, there’s also a Reflex Training mode that has you complete various challenges. The options here include kick attack, punch attack, kick block, punch block and dodging sessions, each of which compels you to do as instructed by on-screen icons. Think of it as a body-controlled quick-action sequence, over and over and over and over. Each level is timed as you try to follow the on-screen prompts, with the objective being to earn as many stars as possible in the time allotted. It’s a pretty straightforward mode that, ironically, causes you to sweat more than the primary instructional mode that gets all the billing. Like the Self Defense Rehearsal mode, though, the actions get repetitive after a while, making disparate lessons seem to blend together into a single experience.
The most unexpected aspect of my time reviewing Self Defense Rehearsal actually came from a mode I didn’t even know existed when the game first arrived: Balance Practice. This is similar to Wii Fit, in a sense, as its 10 sessions force players to mimic the digital instructor’s on-screen Tai Chi-like poses. This mode is quite relaxing if you let yourself get lost in the task at hand, and it has the most spot-on movement detection in the game, which makes your movements seem all the more rewarding. In this mode, you have to mimic the instructor’s hand and leg movements while a Guitar Hero-like meter tracks your timing. Time everything properly and earn enough stars, and you’ll unlock the next chapter in the 10-session mode. With each session lasting four to five minutes, there’s plenty of peaceful time to be had here.
Had this been a review of Ubisoft Zen Master, the Balance Practice mode would’ve rocked. Instead, it’s a review of a Self Defense Training Camp game whose training mode is unnecessarily prolonged by extended animations and whose self-defense “lessons” are essentially “here’s another way to use a scrotum as a speedbag.” My wife will be the first one to tell you this is key to escaping dangerous situations, so in that sense the game succeeds. Yet she was also vocal in saying the on-screen instruction was far too slow to be helpful, and that the lack of precision in the “hit detection” department made the game less than practical from an instructional standpoint. Considering she’s taken self-defense courses before, I tend to trust her. Self Defense Training Camp is an interesting concept, but for people who are serious about self defense, a video game — or at least this one — won’t ever challenge a real venue or trainer.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360 Kinect (platform exclusive)