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5/27/2008 01:43:00 PM
Review: Wii Fit
Reviewed By Bryan Graham
Image Credit: Nintendo
Things We Like
Nintendo's balancing act: Eighteen months since the release of Wii Sports had children and adults nationwide flailing their arms frantically into thin air, Nintendo has one-upped their active-play concept with a full-blown fitness game designed to get family members exercising with one another. The brainchild of world-renowned designer Shigeru Miyamoto -- the creative force behind the Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong franchises -- Wii Fit centers around the wireless, pressure-sensitive Wii Balance Board, an ingenious controller which measures tiny shifts in weight and balance with astounding accuracy.
Visionary peripheral: Nintendo has never shied away from unorthodox controllers with its home console systems. And while this outside-the-box approach has produced its share of forgettable duds over the years -- the R.O.B., U-Force or Power Glove, anyone? -- the Japanese company has knocked it out of the park with its latest innovation. The Wii Balance Board is simply one of the coolest peripherals ever made. The sturdy "controller" resembles a step aerobics board and reacts to a user's weight and center of gravity, working with equal accuracy on hardwood or carpet. Fans wary of the bundle's $89.99 price tag need not worry about compatibility with future Wii titles: A number of third-party developers have expressed interest in designing games for the Balance Board, with Namco Bandai having already released We Ski on May 13.
It keeps it real: After creating a profile by selecting a Mii, you'll input your height and take a series of brief diagnostic tests. The Balance Board acts as a scale, displaying your weight at the beginning of every session to demonstrate the effects of exercise and diet on your body. The game processes your vital statistics to determine your body mass index, adjusting your on-screen avatar to reflect your BMI -- and, in my case, a wince-worthy virtual paunch. Detailed fitness logs help users track their progress to customizable fitness goals.
No shortage of activities: Over 40 mini-games and activities fall into four different training modes: yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance games. Yoga offers deceptively difficult tests of balance, flexibility, deep breathing ability and endurance within a variety of poses. Strength and aerobics offer more formal (read: adult) core workouts, with traditional exercises like squats, extensions, rhythm boxing and jogging -- using the Wiimote as a pocket-held pedometer. Many of the strength training activities emphasize slower, controlled motions which might not appeal to those looking for a more traditional gaming experience. But they'll make you sweat.
The balance exercises: The balance games stand out as the game's obvious highlights, with activities like heading soccer balls, tightrope walking and slalom skiing showcasing the Balance Board's hypersensitivity. (My underworked abs are still hurting today after last night's record-smashing run in the hula hoop competition.) Be warned: The gradual learning curve of the Balance Board makes a number of these games straight addictive.
The little things: What the game lacks in mind-blowing graphics and sound, Wii Fit compensates for with friendly accoutrements like the FitPiggy, a high-tech piggy bank which tracks your time spent exercising during each session. Users accumulate Fit Credits exchangeable for unlocking newer activities or higher difficulty levels. The game also allows you to download a Wii Fit channel onto your system, enabling the user to check charts, compare results and take the Body Test without the game disc.
Check out Wii Fit in action:
Things We'd Change
Interruptions: Most of the activities in Wii Fit don't take longer than two or three minutes to complete, so a user must constantly use the Wiimote to select the next exercise, yoga pose or mini-game. This can result in a choppy flow for players looking to complete an extended workout without interruptions. Why not include a mode with a drag-and-drop, GuitarBand-style interface allowing a user to program his or her own routine? Nintendo pioneered this kind of customization 23 years ago with Excitebike, so its absence on Wii Fit is a mystery.
A little help, please?: The traditional exercises in the yoga and strength training modes are demanding and they'll leave you hurting if you don't stretch beforehand. What's more, your occasionally helpful on-screen trainer doesn't always convey the purpose of each exercise, meaning novices might simply imitate the motions on the screen without fully comprehending the goal of the activity.
Kid-sized problems: While the Balance Board's sleek design makes for easy storage -- no small consideration in a crowded apartment -- the controller's modest size is not without its drawbacks. Since push-ups require the user to grip the outside handles of the board, the 20.5-inch width of the controller can create an awkward movement for adult users.
Wii Fit has enjoyed a roundly positive reception in the first week of its North American release, providing a fun introduction to regular exercise without the pressure of a gym setting. This is more than just a novelty; it's a beautifully presented and easily accessible game for players of all ages. Trainers will nitpick Wii Fit to death, insisting no video game is a substitute for a healthy lifestyle and regular workout routine. And the criticism would be doubly relevant if Nintendo was designing a game for the pros and not the joes. But it's not. The game's objective is not to get people fit -- but to get people thinking and talking about fitness. And by inspiring previously inactive people to think about the relationship between exercise and their bodies in a different and engaging way, Wii Fit succeeds in its mission without sacrificing the fun.