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Wii Fit - WII - Review


Posted by: jkdmedia

Review Rating 8.0 Great
Are you a couch potato or a calorie burner? A yoga trainer or bodybuilder? These are some of the labels you’ll be given when playing Wii Fit, the innovative exercise game for Nintendo Wii. Using a unique, Nintendo-developed peripheral known as the Balance Board, Wii Fit measures your weight, BMI (body mass index), center of balance, and most importantly, your every movement.

Through this peripheral and 48 yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance games, Wii Fit will get you to step away from the couch, test (and increase) your flexibility, and break a sweat while you’re at it. But as a game, just one thing matters: is it fun?


Balance Me This

Given that Wii Fit has divided its games into four different types, it’s best to cover each section individually, followed by a critique of the game as a whole, and if it all succeeds as an exercising tool.

Let’s start with the nine balancing games, since they will be the most fun to players – especially those who have no interest in working out. The lineup includes Soccer Heading, Ski Slalom, Ski Jump, Table Tilt, Tightrope Walk, Balance Bubble, Penguin Slide, Snowboard Slalom, and Lotus Focus.

Of these games, Table Tilt makes the best use of the Balance Board technology. Imagine a thin platform suspended in air. Throw a ball on top and cut a hole in the middle. Using only your body, lean in any direction to move the platform. Move too harshly and it’ll tilt quickly, dropping the ball. Move too lightly and the ball will barely move. Now add 16 different levels (8 normal, 8 advanced), each with increasing numbers of balls and varying levels of difficulty. This game is tough, addictive, and will make you want to take Wii Fit’s advice to lean on objects or other people to stabilize yourself.

Soccer Heading is a solid test of speed. How quickly can you shift your body from side to side? By leaning left and right, you’ll be able to block soccer balls as they come flying at your head. But don’t hit a shoe or other odd obstacles – they’re tossed in to further test your reflexes.

Ski Slalom and Snowboard Slalom are almost too challenging for their own good. After playing these games, you will have newfound respect for the athletes that do it for real. Without holding onto something sturdy, it’s very difficult to keep your balance while weaving around each flag. I think I could love this game someday, if my skills could measure up… But they aren’t there yet.

Wii Fit's pushups are week, but the side plank addition makes up for it.

Balance Bubble appears to have been inspired by the bubble stages of Super Mario Galaxy. But instead of using a Wii remote, you’ve got to use your feet to move the bubble across a spike-walled environment. Fun, frustrating, and a big time-killer.

Penguin Slide puts you in control of a guy or girl (Mii) wearing a penguin suit. Actually, you’re in control of the iceberg underneath the Mii, with the goal of tilting the platform to make the penguin slide back and forth without slipping off. As the penguin slides, it’ll catch fish that flop onto the iceberg. While not the most exciting mini-game, it is a fair challenge (balancing is harder than it looks), and is slightly addictive.

Tightrope Walk is just what it sounds like. Walk in place (on the Balance Board) while keeping your body level to cross the tightrope. The catch? Moving traps (leg clamps that bite) are dispersed on the rope and must be jumped over. The way in which you jump over them is described next. Once the first difficulty setting has been conquered, another is opened. A third and final setting adds the element of wind and a camera shift, decreasing your chances of a successful stroll.

Ski Jump, while cool in theory, is simple and gimmicky. When Wii Fit was unveiled at last year’s E3, Nintendo reps repeatedly warned: “Don’t jump on the Balance Board!” But on your first try, that’s a natural reaction: you lean forward and hold still to gain speed, and when it comes time to jump, it’s very hard to make yourself stand up quickly and not jump. It’s also unnatural. With the wrong gamer on board, I’m afraid it could lead to injury. I’m insanely competitive, so if I didn’t know better, I’d snap myself upward as fast as possible. But my gut tells me that snapping joints is dangerous. Besides – standing up quickly just isn’t as fun as jumping.

Finally there’s Lotus Focus, a game that defies the point of Wii Fit by asking you to sit on your butt. The goal is to be completely still and prevent the candle from flickering. If you like Japanese oddities, this is cool. But if you just want a workout and/or are looking to have some fun, Lotus Focus won’t suffice.

The Balance Board

Stretch Your Heart Out

Yoga is the pinnacle of Wii Fit. As you play the game, you’ll realize that, once learned, many of the exercises can be performed without the Balance Board. Your success in yoga, however, can only be measured with the board.

In the beginning, only a handful of the 15 yoga games are unlocked. Deep Breathing is the cakewalk of the bunch: stand completely still while slowly breathing in and out. The breathing part is easy; the game uses an expanding and collapsing circle to help guide how slow or fast you should be breathing. The standing still part, however, could be a challenge.

If you are a fidgety person and/or have bad posture, or have never done anything like this before, the balance indicator – a small red circle floating around a large yellow circle – is going to drive you nuts. At the same time, it gives you a hint of things to come: if you can’t make the red circle stay within the yellow circle now, in the easiest of all Wii Fit games, you’re going to have a very hard time with the more complex yoga moves.

Half-Moon, the next yoga game, challenges you to hold your arms up and stretch your core muscles by leaning left and right for 30 seconds each. Again, you have to hold your body very still.

The Tree pose is extremely difficult, even for myself who, strangely enough, is used to standing on one leg (it’s a weird thing I’ve been doing since I was a kid … don’t ask). While standing on either leg, you’re expected to stretch your arms up, join your hands, and be completely still for 30 seconds. Then gently drop your leg and do the other side.

From here on the game fluctuates in difficulty. New games from all four categories are unlocked not for succeeding, but just for playing the existing games for several minutes.

Downward-Facing Dog, the tenth pose (which has you forming a triangle with your body, placing your hands on the Balance Board and your feet firmly on the floor), was less difficult than the Sun Salutation, the fifth pose (which requires you to touch your toes, a move I cannot do, among other things).

While this might sound overbearing, the good news is that Wii Fit doesn’t penalize you for sucking. Exercise ratings (ranging from 0 to 100 points, and from one to four stars) are used solely for the purpose of showing player success, or lack thereof. They do not have anything to do with a goal – in this game, the ultimate goal is to achieve a greater level of fitness.

If you take your foot off the Balance Board (after losing your balance or for any other reason), the game will know. This is by far the smartest game/peripheral combo on the market. But that knowledge leads to nothing more than a simple question from the in-game trainer: “Did you put your foot down?” Again, no penalty.

Cobra, Bridge, Spinal Twist, and Shoulder Stand, the last four yoga poses, are a bit surprising in that they don’t use the Balance Board or the Wii remote. How can the game measure your progress then? Well, that’s the thing – it can’t. Granted, it’s not realistically possible to incorporate the board (ex: to get in the Shoulder Stand, you’ll have to lay on your back and lift your legs high into the air). But while they’re challenging and appear to be beneficial, their inclusion was unexpected.

Overall, yoga is the best part of Wii Fit. You may have more fun with the balance games, but you’ll benefit the most from yoga, and will want to continue using (“playing”) the game long after each yoga pose has been mastered.

Strength Training

Wii Fit’s strength training games combine balance, strength, and endurance. Their Balance Board use isn’t too extensive. It’s a necessary part of the Single-Leg Extension, an exercise where you’ll stand on one leg and kick the other one backwards while leaning forward and extending an arm. The Balance Board measures how stable your stance is while performing each extension.

The rest are less dependent on the Balance Board. Pushup and Side Plank, a great exercise for increasing your upper body strength, combines a simplified pushup (the board isn’t very wide, so your arms will be closer than normal, thus making the pushups easier) with planks for each arm (from the raised pushup position, swing one arm outward while turning sideways and pressing all your weight onto the arm resting on the Balance Board).

I love this exercise. I’ve been doing pushups since I was 12, but while this style of pushup is easier, the side planks added a new degree of difficulty. I could really feel the muscles working in my arms. After 16 reps in one session, I could still feel it in my arms a couple days later.

But while balance is integral to so many of the yoga games, it is not a necessary component of pushups or side planks. Thus, the Balance Board only measures your weight, pressure, and hand placement to keep track of each move. That, of course, is something you can do in your head.

The same is true for most of the other exercises, such as the Jackknife (rest your heels on the Balance Board, then bring your arms and legs up to form a V-shape with your body) and Tricep Extension (uses the Wii remote but not the Balance Board). The Rowing Squats exercise measures pressure and balance, but since you’re moving consistently, the balance rating is not as strict. Lunges work in a similar fashion.

After proving your strength at pushups, jackknifes and planks, the game opens three challenge modes where the goal is to outperform your trainer. This is a great way to push yourself a little further – just don’t do it on your first or second try. At that stage, your muscles aren’t likely to be ready yet and may be very sore afterwards.

While not as Balance Board-dependent as the yoga poses (once learned, many of these can be performed just fine without the game), the strength training games are really solid. At the very least, Wii Fit will teach you 12 different ways to increase your strength. And at the very best, you’ll want to continue exercising because of the game’s inviting environment.

I've got a Wii Fit pool going... $5 says she falls by Monday.

Get Up and Move

You’ve heard the hype, watched the video on YouTube, and likely wondered: can a video game really simulate the act of Hula Hooping? As it turns out, one actually can.

Hula Hoop is one of the aerobics games featured in Wii Fit, and it’s just as you remembered it (minus the actual Hula Hoop circling your body). Swing your hips quickly to pick up speed, and lean left or right to snatch additional hoops as they’re thrown in your direction.

In addition to two Hula Hoop games (normal and Super modes), Wii Fit also offers dancing as a form of exercise. This isn’t the best feature in the world – if you’ve played DDR, there’s no way you’ll consider this a workout. Then again, if you haven’t, and if your fingers and thumbs get more action than your feet, this isn’t a bad way to get you moving.

Everyone knows that you can burn tons of calories by running. But what do you do if you can’t strap a Wii, TV set and power source to your back? You say the heck with going outside, let’s just run in place! Get off the Balance Board, grab the Wii remote and plop it in your pocket (or hold onto it, if you don’t have any pockets). Though this couldn’t possibly be as effective as actual running, it isn’t a bad way to get your heart pumping. It’s also good for those who don’t have the space for a treadmill and/or live in a climate where outdoor running isn’t feasible for several months of the year. A two-player mode is offered as well (just in case you can’t bear to run in place alone).

Among these aerobics games, Rhythm Boxing is my favorite. It challenges you to get on and off the Balance Board while repeating a pattern of punches. It isn’t a super-workout, but if you don’t have a punching bag, or would just like to break a sweat, Rhythm Boxing is great.

Cover Your Eyes

For everyone out there not wanting to know their BMI and if they’re in the “normal” range (any rating between 20 and 25), get ready to shield your eyes. Before any workout routine begins, Wii Fit asks you to calmly stand on the Balance Board in order to verify your statistics. You’ll also be asked to enter your age, height, and birth date – all of which are taken into account when calculating your BMI.

Those stats, as well as your ability to stand straight and still, are also used to calculate your Wii Fit Age. One final test comes into play – a timed balance game where you must lean from side to side, shifting your weight from one leg to the next. Two colored bars appear, and you must lean in either direction until the balance indicators are within both bars. Hold that pose for three seconds to pass each of the five rounds.

My first time was a tad depressing, as the game awarded me an age 12 years older than I really am. I had good balance, and passed the first few yoga tests without too much effort. But since my ability to lean wasn’t very good, I couldn’t make it through each balance test round. That, apparently, meant that my body was old.

One week later I took another crack at it and passed with a few seconds to spare. My Wii Fit Age then dropped to just one year above my real age.

Given how strangely the game measures your Wii Fit Age, I would advise you not to pay much attention to it. Surely we all want to feel young. But do I really believe that my balance improved by 11 years in one week? Not a chance. The more likely truth is that, after playing each Wii Fit game, my body got used to the idea of balancing to interact with a virtual environment. This is something that, excluding a few (and rare) arcade titles, most gamers – and certainly most average Joes – have never had to do before. But like any game, I figured out the solution and was able to prevail.

Before your workout begins, Wii Fit will also provide a few supposed facts, one being that people with a BMI of 22 are the least likely to get sick. True? False? Who knows. But since the game wanted me to make a commitment and lock in a BMI goal, I decided to shoot for 22 (my current BMI is close to 24). That means I have to lose about 12 pounds. Well, I can tell you right now that I didn’t lose any in my first week playing Wii Fit. Am I surprised? Considering I didn’t alter my eating habits (no red meat and avoids fatty entrees but embraces dessert), and continued my normal non-Wii Fit workout (30 minutes of minor weightlifting) without any additions – no, I wasn’t too shocked.

Players can set their weight loss goal from two weeks all the way up to one year. I knew there was no chance I could lose 12 pounds in two weeks. That sounded unhealthy, given my height and weight (neither of which am I going to share here, but will be doing so on a very special episode of Maury Povich later this year).

Rather than two weeks, I went with a ridiculous number: six months. Will I succeed? I don’t really care. I’m happy with my weight, which makes me sound like I’m the opposite of Nintendo’s target market. However, I want to be much stronger, much more toned, and much more energized. That’s my real goal, and is one I think I can achieve much sooner than six months – partially with the help of these exercises, whether I use the Balance Board or not.

A look at the balance test.

When The Fit Hits The Fan

Wii Fit has its share of annoyances, some of which you’ve read about in this review. But one of things that bugged me is its lack of a warm-up program, a lack of stretching (yoga excluded), and a lack of clear warnings. Warm-ups can be forgiven; many of the exercises are low-key, and some of the faster ones begin slowly. But for all the tips Wii Fit provides at startup, the game doesn’t note the importance of warming up. Worse yet, where are the tutorial videos on proper stretching? These wouldn’t have to include Balance Board support, but most certainly should have been included in the game.

At this stage in my life, I can’t touch my toes while standing without bending my knees. I could when I was a young kid, but at some point my body no longer wanted to let me. Knowing the dangers of forcing it (the back problems it could cause, among other things), I decided years ago to toss that aside and stretch in other ways.

When it came time to perform similar moves in Wii Fit, I expected the game to gradually ease players into it. Or at the very least, provide a warning. Nope. After the Sun Salutation begins, the game says that you should only push yourself as far as it feels comfortable. By that time it might be too late – you may already be hurting yourself to mimic the trainer on screen. Note that it only says this during some exercises, not all. Yes, I am all for getting people to work hard and get in shape. But not all yoga poses are beneficial to all people. The instruction booklet provides a few warnings, but only to those with pre-existing conditions.

This might just be my own paranoia. And if that’s the case, I’ll be thrilled. But shouldn’t Nintendo – the company that repeatedly tells us to wear our Wii remote wrist straps in every game – have played it safe? Isn’t it more likely that I’m going to get hurt playing Wii Fit than playing Wii Sports Bowling? If not, then I think I’ve just entered the Twilight Zone.

And here’s another oddity: before playing, Wii Fit tells you to make sure the room is clear and that you have plenty of space to play the game. Later on, if you start to stumble, it tells you to lean on objects or other people.

But wait, I just cleared the room. I don’t have any objects to….AHHH! (THUD!)

Note: No game journalists were hurt in the making of this review.

Review Scoring Details for Wii Fit

Gameplay: 8.0
A great start to a solid workout. Wii Fit will show you how to exercise, monitor your progress (mostly), and track your daily, weekly and monthly success. The Balance Board is a must-own peripheral. The highly-sensitive (analog?) technology allows the game to detect your every pressure and weight-based movement. Its implementation here is excellent, and is an invaluable tool for anyone who wants to learn yoga.

On the down side, once you learn the strength training exercises, you’ll find that it’s quicker to perform them without the game. Many of the balance games are awesome but short; I would love to see a full-fledged Table Tilt, but for now you have just 16 levels to conquer.

In the long-term, well after I’ve graduated from the strength-training games, I see myself coming back to Wii Fit for two reasons: yoga (to ensure I’m improving) and measurements (weight, BMI, and the ridiculous Wii Fit Age). Of course, I hope to actively use the Balance Board for many years to come. But that’s up to the development community, and the number of games they design to use it properly.

Graphics: 6.0
Wii Fit’s visuals are not at all spectacular. The trainers (male and female) are well animated, but their bland color design isn’t too impressive. The backdrops are equally plain.

Sound: 5.0
The music and sound effects are light and calming, but also very repetitive. Fortunately, by the time they become an annoyance, you should be at the stage where you no longer need to listen to the trainer speak. Now it’s time to crank your stereo.

Difficulty: Medium
As someone who’s in fairly good shape, only a portion of Wii Fit was a challenge. But to a beginner, or someone that just spent the last two months on the couch playing Smash Bros. and Grand Theft Auto, Wii Fit could feel like quite a workout.

Concept: 8.5
Using an innovative Balance Board peripheral, Nintendo has created an exercise game for any person of any age.

Multiplayer: N/A
Running in place with a friend isn’t multiplayer.

Overall: 8.0
A good reason to get off your butt.

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