POSTED ON JANUARY 14, 2009:
Bii Frii with a Wii
Lazy gamers can exercise without sacrificing their favorite pastime
I'm going to be straightforward about this. I'm a typical video gamer. I like to sit on my butt, drink beer and blow stuff up. It's fun. Usually the games I play exercise little more than my thumbs. And although my thumbs are exceptionally strong, gaming like this is no way to get in shape. Well, you might become more shapely (read: round), but that's not considered desirable.
When Nintendo first released its magical motion-sensing game machine, the Wii, I was not an enthusiastic supporter. Ironically, I did not want to play the Wii precisely because of the paradigmatic shift the console presented with its unique interface--you have to move to play with it. Moving while gaming? No thanks.
And then Nintendo released Wii Fit.
What an outrage! Who do these people at Nintendo think they are? Do they honestly think they can turn a calloused thumb-stick jockey like me into one of these people interested in physical health?
And then it happened on a cool November night. A Wii console and a Wii Fit sitting right there in the electronics department at Wal-Mart. With a little coaxing from my fiancé, we left the store with our new toys, muttering about how we didn't need to buy Christmas gifts for each other.
Retailing for $89, Wii Fit comes with the game disc and the key accessory, the balance board. The bright white balance board itself measures about 18 inches long by about 10.5 inches wide. Expect your toes to hang over the edge if you're a guy who wears size 12 shoes and larger. There are two rectangles on either side where your feet are meant to go; the power button for the device (which requires four AA batteries) is on the outside edge and can be easily pushed with a big toe.
The game itself first prompts the creation of a profile with the use of a Mii (a ubiquitous avatar representing the player that can be used in most Wii games). The profile setup involves taking a body test which more or less consists of a few basic balance challenges. The results from these exercises are calculated along with the player's height, weight (yes, the balance board knows how much you weigh) and age to produce the player's Wii Fit Age.
Ideally, the player's Wii Fit Age will be at or lower than his or her actual age. The game also informs the player of his or her body mass index (BMI), a far more useful stat than the made-up Wii Fit Age, especially for players concerned more about weight loss than balance control. BMI is calculated using only height and weight. After the initial body test, the game asks the player to set a fitness goal, a deadline to reach that goal and encourages the player to take the test every day to track results.
In the grand scheme of things, the body tests are irritating. These tests feel like work. There is some intrinsic value in these tests, but they delay the actual workout that most players have likely put off for long enough anyway.
The "Training" portion of the game is divided by discipline: yoga, strength training and aerobics. The fourth category, balance games, will not be covered here. These games include snowboarding, ski jumping, ski slalom and others. In the table tilt game, for example, the player must get a ball (or balls) through a hole (or holes) in the platform they are on while controlling the tilt of this platform with the balance board. While these games are fun, they provide little in the way of aerobic or strength training benefits, and they certainly won't make the player more flexible.
Each category contains its own set of exercises. The player doesn't have access to all the exercises right away. The game doles out credits each time an exercise is completed so that as the player completes more and more basic exercises, more advanced activities become available. This is a real plus because it keeps players motivated to come back for more.
Shape it Up
Yoga is the best category by far. Constantly hunching over a computer monitor or video game controller often leaves one's neck and shoulders very tight. Players are awarded points for how well an exercise is completed. In yoga, players are awarded points for how well they can maintain a stable center of balance. The player's balance is represented on the screen in the form of a red dot inside a box. (Swaying to the left makes the dot go left; swaying to the right makes the dot go right.)
The Half-Moon pose, in which the player clasps his or her hands and then gently leans left and right, is one of the more rewarding and simpler poses. By contrast, the tree pose, in which the player must balance on one foot with hands clasped above the head, can be quite difficult at first. There's nothing quite as silly as falling down in your own home.
I'm no yoga expert, although I have fumbled my way through a handful of classes at the YMCA and at yoga studios. The poses presented in Wii Fit are true to life and, for the majority of yoga beginners, they get the job done. Wii Fit's take on yoga is far superior to other at-home yoga options such as a yoga DVD. Would a DVD know if you're balancing correctly?
The strength training exercises can be physically challenging despite the fact that points tend to be given out quite liberally. For example, the push-up and side plank set will reward the player with a perfect score if the player can simply complete a push-up and plank at the rhythm the game imposes.
Because the strength training games basically rely only on the player's ability to complete the exercise within a given time frame, the innovative balance board becomes little more than a prop allowing the game to give the player a score. The strength training exercises are easy to avoid because they are very boring and provide inadequate motivational incentives. If it's easy to rack up points, why even bother?
The aerobics section of the game definitely provides the most the most game-like exercise activities out of the three disciplines. The rhythm boxing game in this category is among the best Wii Fit has to offer.
The in-game boxing trainer gives the player a rhythm for stepping off and on the balance board and when to punch left or right using the Wii's motion sensitive hand controls. Once the player gets in the zone, this exercise is a great way to relieve frustration while getting the old ticker pumping. This activity is rather vigorous because it requires both upper body and lower body movement. Plan on breaking a sweat.
Hula Hoop is another fun aerobics game. The player stands on the balance board and gyrates his or her hips, racking up points with each spin of the hoop. This exercise works out the abs and definitely gets the blood flowing.
One notable sore thumb in the aerobic activity section of the game is running. The balance board is not used in this exercise at all. The player simply puts the hand-held controller in his or her pocket and jogs in-place. Although the player gets to run through a pleasant on-screen wooded area, this activity seems like the makers ran out of ideas for aerobics activities and slipped this in at the last minute.
Overall, Wii Fit makes for a good investment for people who are looking for a fun way to get in shape. This game would be a great way to get kids already glued to the tube excited about exercise. On the other hand, Wii prides itself on making games that are accessible to anyone. For this reason, anyone willing to give Wii Fit a chance will be pleasantly surprised.
The lack of some sort of playlist feature is the game's only major glaring oversight. The player is forced to take a breather between activities instead of being able to move from one activity to another without going through all the menus again. This will disappoint anyone trying to keep their heart rate in an optimal training zone.
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