Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wii would like to be fit

Little Spoon and I have made a commitment to getting fitter (no, not just in preparation for the wedding!), and to help us out, we've turned to the Wii for assistance. She's at least previously had good luck working out at gyms; the only consistent exercise I've ever gotten was playing tennis. However, we haven't had a regular fitness routine in quite a while, so the Wii I've had seemed to be a good solution that didn't require plunking down serious money for a gym membership. Here are the games we've tried and my thoughts on them. Click to expand the reviews.

1) Wii Fit: When my parents came down for my 30th birthday early last August (was that seriously almost a year ago?), they brought with them a copy of Wii Fit. It's a charming little game, and the balance board makes for a fun accessory that helps track your movements along with the Wii Remote (and the Nunchuk in certain exercises and games). Unfortunately, it's absolutely impossible to string exercises together, so after each game, stretch, or yoga pose, you have to navigate through the menus and select another one. It felt like just as we were getting going, our heart rates dropped to have to select another activity.

Though there were nice demos of each exercise before you tried them out to make sure you knew what you were doing, we only truly seemed to enjoy the balance and aerobic games. It was difficult to get our heart rates up during these, and even the formerly heart-pumping Rhythmic Boxing left its aerobic stimulation after I got used to the patterns and had to sit around for about 10-15 seconds to watch demos of the next pattern.

I give Wii Fit credit for getting us started on the fitness endeavor, but it didn't sustain our interest. I rate it a 3/5.

2) My Fitness Coach: We saw this game on sale at Best Buy and thought that it might cure our Wii Fit-induced stupor. There is one positive about this game - it does string together exercises for you. Unfortunately, that's about the only positive about this game. It has no discernible demo mode, meaning that you have to flail along hopelessly the first few times you try doing any of the workouts, hoping to keep up. It also plays much more like a workout video; I don't recall there being any motion-sensitive controls to help you know if you were performing the exercises correctly.

The cardio routines were like an 80s-licious nightmare that made me feel more like an arm-and-leg-flapping doofus than someone who wanted a serious workout. On the yoga section, the workouts called out poses left and right; half the time, I couldn't even see the screen to attempt to emulate the poses. Even Little Spoon, who has a much greater exposure to yoga and a much greater tolerance for "aerobic dancing", quickly got frustrated with this disc.

Overall, this was an exercise in frustration. We ended up giving it away to a friend who said she had wanted to try it - though we were sure to warn her about how annoying it was to us before she agreed to take it off our hands. I rate it a 1.5/5.

3) EA Sports Active: After the debacle of My Fitness Coach, I read about EA Sports Active for about two weeks before committing the money for yet another disc and set of workout paraphernalia (a workout band that seems to be a bit stronger than initial iterations of it, along with a holster for the Nunchuk, which is required for all activities in this disc). However, after a week and a half of trying it out, this is by far our favorite. It comes with a variety of pre-strung-together exercises that can either be completed alone or with two players. These workouts are themed; we've done the light total body and sports workouts, and each time you do a new exercise, a detailed video is played to guide you through it, though you can skip it if you know what you're doing. In addition, a single player can do a 30-day fitness challenge, in which workouts are preprogrammed for an entire month (with rest days programmed in!).

This is the one that's made us sweat. It feels like a serious workout regimen, and the computerized trainer is upbeat without being cloying in its feedback. The sports games aren't quite as fun as the Wii Fit's, but they also feel like more of a workout. The controls have occasional issues, but if you follow the onscreen feedback to the letter, you'll soon find your way easily around the exercises and will be able to do them by the 4th rep. You can even customize your own series of exercises if you get bored with the copious presets. I've ordered a kit that will allow us to work out together with the two-player option (it comes with another Nunchuk holder that has a smaller leg strap along with three different resistance bands, each of different intensities), as I want us to be able to work out together, an option that neither of the other games had consistently.

I agree with the other reviews I've seen of this disc that call it the state of the art for Wii fitness, and I look forward to seeing how its sequel improves the minor issues I've noted above. I rate it 4.5/5.

If you're interested in getting fit together as a couple, I'd recommend EA Sports Active, though Wii Fit might give you a gentle introduction to the concept of Wii fitness. Avoid My Fitness Coach at all costs.

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