Review: Gaming into shape with `Wii Fit'

May 21, 2008 4:16:33 PM PDT
If someone had pulled me away from "GoldenEye 007" in the late 1990s to tell me that I'd one day be using my video game system to get in shape, I would have likely drawn James Bond's Golden Gun and shot a hole in that cockamamie theory. But here I am a decade later, trying to hold a yoga pose in "Wii Fit" ($89.99, Wii Balance Board included), an entertaining, innovative fitness game that will help Nintendo further widen the definition of "gamer."

"Wii Fit" is built around Nintendo's new Balance Board, a rectangular, pressure-sensitive platform about the size of a bathroom scale. The wireless, battery-powered accessory measures not only a player's weight but also the center of balance.

According to the game's virtual fitness expert, people with an uneven center will unnaturally compensate for the imbalance, causing unnecessary strain and poor posture.

To improve that balance, "Wii Fit" guides your customized Mii character through a series of mini-games, strength training sessions, aerobics exercises and yoga poses.

But as with any fitness program, you first must take the dreaded "before" measurements so you can eventually achieve "after" results.

I thought I had originally set up my Mii character to look just like me. But I apparently took quite a bit of latitude with my Mii's body shape, and the game used the Balance Board's weight sensors to make some, uh, "corrections."

It was equally hilarious and depressing to watch my Mii look down in horror as his body ballooned to more accurate proportions. The game then used my entered height to calculate my body mass index before revealing my "Wii Fit" age, which turns out is painfully greater than my real age.

Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?

Not quite. It's first time to set up some fitness goals to track on a daily calendar. One great feature here is an activity log, in which players can get credit for light, medium or heavy exercise away from the console.

Finally, it's time to play.

My ego solidly bruised, I continued to the balance games. One game puts you in the middle of a sports field as a group of fellow Miis line up to kick soccer balls. Your job is to lean back and forth to head the balls into the net while ducking flying cleats and panda heads.

Another fun mini-game involves trying to keep a penguin safely aboard a tilting iceberg.

A ski-jump ramp has players crouch down on the Balance Board to build up speed and then lift their knees at just the right time to achieve maximum distance. (I made the mistake of jumping once and was instantly scolded.)

There's also a slalom ski course in which you must shift your weight from side to side to go through the flags. Here you can begin to see the Balance Board's future as an accessory for third-party skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding games.

It's not hard to burn calories with some of the aerobic exercises, especially the tiring hula-hoop spin. The goal is to swivel your hips at a decent pace to keep your character spinning the hoop, and you can accelerate your scoring pace by continuing to spin while catching additional hoops.

Running games have players step off the board and pocket the Wii remote, while a pacer character leads the way around a scenic Wii Fit Island course. Sure, you could cheat here by sitting on the couch and repeatedly shaking the remote, but then you're missing the point of a fitness game.

The step exercises play like a scaled-back "Dance Dance Revolution" game, with scrolling footprints guiding players' steps on and off the board.

Like many of the "Wii Fit" games and exercises, the step auditorium makes full use of the other Mii characters residing on your Wii console, which makes for some interesting company if you download celebrity Miis from the Internet. I never expected to find myself in a step class with Darth Vader, Ronald McDonald, the guy from "Napoleon Dynamite" and my octogenarian mother.

Your personal trainer - you can choose from a male or female character - guides you through yoga poses and strength training exercises such as push-ups, lunges and leg extensions.

I had never tried yoga and found this aspect of the game a pleasant introduction to the regimen. The challenge here is to try to keep your balance centered while holding various poses, and the game uses an expanding and contracting ring to help guide your breathing.

Coins are awarded in all four categories for completing tasks, and they help you unlock new exercises, yoga poses or games and open additional difficulty levels.

As with most Nintendo games, the menus and graphics are simple and friendly.

Some third-party game companies are already looking at using the Wii Balance Board for upcoming titles.

Electronic Arts and Black Box announced this month that "Skate It" will make full use of the accessory, and an Ubisoft game trailer hints that the company might incorporate it into a "Rayman Raving Rabbids 3."

My kids enjoyed "Wii Fit," but I'm not sure they'd pick it over a first-person shooter if given the choice.

I, on the other hand, wholeheartedly enjoyed the game and plan on returning often during a summer-long weight loss and fitness program. We'll see how that goes.

Three-and-a-half out of four stars.


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